NOTE: The recipe was called Simple Syrup at the time of this review, and is now called Complex Syrup to reflect the complexity of the tea.
I just moved to NYC, which is famous for its tap water quality. I’m currently distilling water in glass behind me while writing this review, listening to techno and doing a side by side Tap vs Recipe water review. I’m pretty excited that I can do all this at once! I recently watched a James Hoffmann water for coffee video where he compared four water recipes without a control, and everyone in the comments was quite upset about it. So, I decided to review Arby’s (empiricaltea.com) new water recipe (which I helped a bit on) against a good, well-reputed tap water. Check out his post on it at https://empiricaltea.com/water-recipe-complex-syrup/ and try his 10x concentrate method, which lets you make a concentrate you can then use to make ten gallons! I just made one gallon this time, but it’s more accurate to use Arby’s method. Complex Syrup was designed to be more friendly to drink than Truth Serum, but will there still be flavor complexity? And how will it do against normal tap water? Let’s find out.
(To purchase the materials you need, please visit the Water Guide.)
Short instructions: in one gallon of distilled or other 0 ppm TDS water, add each mineral one at a time. Carefully weigh each mineral on a milligram scale (not a regular gram scale) and make sure all of it has made it into the water and none is left stuck to the tray. Clean the tray between weighing each substance. Wait at least a minute between adding each mineral. When done, wait 20 minutes for the minerals to dissolve, shaking occasionally. If you have a different size container, use 1 gallon = 3.785 L to convert the amounts. For example, if you’re only making 1 liter, divide every amount by 3.785.
|221.0 mg/gallon Baking Soda (NaHCO3)|
|99.6 mg/gallon Calcium Chloride (CaCl2)|
|45.7 mg/gallon Gypsum (CaSO4.2H2O)|
|141.5 mg/gallon Epsom Salt (MgSO4.7H2O)|
|Hardness||45.5 mg/L as CaCO3|
|Alkalinity||34.7 mg/L as CaCO3|
|Hardness to Alkalinity Ratio||1.31|
|TDS (calculated, will not measure nearly this high due to ion conductivities)||112 ppm|
|Electrical Conductivity at 25ºC (calculated, expected to measure)||189 μS/cm|
|Electrical Conductivity at 25ºC||175 μS/cm|
|pH (Measured with new fancy pH meter)||7.9|
|TDS (calculated from Electrical Conductivity error and calculated TDS)||104 ppm|
Side by side, small gaiwans, with a bland snack in between sessions.
Session 1: 2020 White2Tea Turtle Dove
3.6g/50ml gaiwan, 100ºC
Early impressions: Complex Syrup sips with thickness, smoothness, florals and caramels coming in after a watery start. NYC water much more watery, with less presence but more quiet subtle tastes. On the second steep, it’s clear that Complex Syrup is steeping darker and denser. Wet leaf aroma on NYC is sweet and light, while on CS it’s richer. Nyc session is on light, sweet hay, some oils. CS is on very complex, sweet fruit syrups, more oils, density. A little bit grippier, but no mouth drying, just some light tannins. These two parallel gaiwans are the same tea, but in the cup, they’re so different. The CS cup is more present – not more forward, just more taste overall. The NYC cup could be perceived as more refreshing.
Mid-session: The CS cup has the clearest most vivid note of blueberries I’ve ever witnessed in a tea. The NYC tap is more subtle buttery sweet floral hay. A deep throatfeel is also present in CS. Aftertaste is more long-lasting. It’s much more dense, double IPA dense, but still in a full range of flavors. NYC Empty Cup Aroma (ECA) is better.
Long Late Steep: NYC sort of bitter, nice aftertaste of brown butter and various green raw vegetables. CS also bitter, but more concentrated, a bit more upfront, thickness, an evaporating quality, wood oils, syrups (haha), sort of this idea of flowers with muscles (strange). Pepper. Back to the NYC cup, a little bit more easy to drink, but the tannins dominate without much else to engage.
Ideally, the CS could be modified to be more refreshing while maintaining its complexity and delivery of flavors – but this is not simple, and as is, it was very very impressive and I enjoyed it more than NYC tap water for this tea.
NYC Session Rating: 6.8
CS Session Rating: 8
NYC Water rating for this tea: 7.5
CS Water rating for this tea: 8.4
Session 2: 2008 Tung Ting Yiwu Anniversary
Let’s try a Malaysia-stored aged Yiwu…
3.6g/50ml gaiwan, 100ºC
Early impressions: NYC slightly sour, light but with savoriness, slight smoke. CS savory, smoky, tart, richer. Much darker in color. CS has sweetness, sweet wood, sugariness underneath. NYC doesn’t have that same sweetness and instead has a thin herbal quality. Qi immediately – no way to know which cup it’s from. CS deeper and sweeter. Thick oils. NYC more refreshing, but I’m not sure that’s good for this tea. Perhaps more leaf would be necessary with NYC. Second steep of NYC is still weak and watery, starting to open up. It’s so much lighter. With CS, it’s full force. Perfect grippy tannins, yiwu sweet syrup, and all sorts of candied and wood flavors. CS makes it deliver like a whisky. Qi is definitely from CS, wiggly upward fluid sensation.
Mid-session: NYC strength starting to build, but there’s something weak and eggy about it. I filtered it through a good carbon filter, so it’s not from the water itself. With CS, I’m getting more information, conveyed well. Much better balance than Truth Serum. Present, sweet, clear wood-plum, not sour. NYC is reading sour, while CS is making it not sour. I think, perhaps the increased sweetness in CS is balancing it out.
Long Late Steep: NYC very oily, sweetness and dark fruits coming through, strong woody tannins. Not a ton of tertiary notes coming through – simple. CS very strong. Huigan, fruity, bursting with citrus peels/furniture polish. It’s clear here that there’s more in CS.
NYC Session Rating: 6.9
CS Session Rating: 8.2
NYC Water rating for this tea: 5.8
CS Water rating for this tea: 8.8
Wow. The catchphrase for Complex Syrup should be “get more out of your tea” because that’s exactly what I got during this review. I didn’t even think the NYC water was flawed, but then again, I started making recipes in NYC because I wasn’t getting enough of an experience from the tap water. The side by side brought great perspective to just how much more flavor you get out of a well-tuned, well-designed recipe like CS. The mouthfeel was also great, and even when I oversteeped I wasn’t punished for it like I was with Truth Serum sometimes. Truth Serum is good as a tool, but Complex Syrup brings great enjoyment, with vivid, bursting notes across the flavor spectrum.
By the way, NYC water changes all the time, so it’s quite difficult to get good data on it. However, the conductivity was 104 μS/cm. This is about 70 TDS.
Average NYC session rating: 6.85/10
Average CS session rating: 8.1/10
NYC Water rating: 6.7/10
CS Water rating: 8.6/10
More water and tea pics can be found on the tea secrets Instagram! Check out the Water Recipes page for a list of all recipes you can try. The Water Guide is just getting started, but check back for updates there.