A HUGE HUGE HUGE thank you to sjt from https://therhymingleaf.info/ and Sara from https://italianteasociety.com/ for smuggling this water to me. Sara stopped by Puerh Brooklyn last Sunday to give me two 1.5L bottles of this water – a common water found in Italy. Water is heavy, so this is no small favor! Sjt has been working on replicating this water from scratch on his blog, which you should definitely check out. Amazing detailed explorations and experiments.
What’s interesting about this water is that it’s incredibly low TDS, at 22, but has been reported by sjt to have amazing aroma, body and texture. How could this be? I was very excited to try it, and it really delivered.
7.2g 110 ml glazed pot
Conductivity: 37 uS/cm
Silica: 6 (measured)
Arrives surprisingly deep and savory. Already really detailed in the middle and back of the mouth with big aftertastes and a sort of effervescence of flavors on the tongue. Whoa!
The taste is not too strong at all but is very present. It doesn’t attack the front of the mouth but instead hits the whole palate at a moderate pace, about 2-3 seconds after the sip arrives. I can already tell there is a balance here. It seems so textured and rich for a water this light. Compared to Poland spring origin which is more forward and front of mouth (still with body).
Steep 2: vivid, oily, citrus oils, wood oils pungency is there like bright hops (think New England IPA) what’s funny is I’ve had and made many waters that have this sort of arrival, but end up tasting muddy and flat – this holds up that structure without weighing itself down. But it’s not being too nice! The strength of a water like Truth Serum from way back in the early experimental days, so high in sulfate – there must be a good amount of sulfate in here doing its job to deliver plenty of strength and potency. Empty cup aroma is so nice, honey and flowers.
Steep 3- Really enjoyable and refreshing, full. You can taste the medium -endness of this tea, strengths and limitations. There’s a slight leafiness that brings it down to its level of $68/200g.
Steep 4- You can start tasting how lean this water is, as I’ve reboiled it a few times the texture starts to decrease a little bit. It still rings with very present flavor, very easy to drink, and the texture still holds together. I feel like I can taste layers of fine details. The huigan is ringing and buttery. Astringency is not a problem at all, less astringency than average.
Steep 5- Oily – it really highlights flavors you would usually find in a scotch, and I don’t mean smoky – I mean the alcohol-soluble fruits, peel oils, savory herbs, wood… But somehow here conveyed by water. Fresh and deep.
Steep 6- Qi is definitely there. I have a feeling that when the tea tastes good, it activates and allows the circulation of qi, as well as the focus and attention conducive to experiencing it. But anyway… The tea maintains great structure, tasting deeper into the leaf, as the high notes fade away to a fruit pectin and wood oil kind of experience. It’s sweet, not too sweet, bitter, not too bitter, has tannins, but not too much. I do have to say the arrival of flavor is much more immediate now; pretty much instantly when you take a sip there’s the citrus oils being presented. There’s a little peach juice too that comes later.
Later steeps- simply fades out elegantly. Some heavier waters make the tea go a bit off tasting in late steeps, but this water simply has nice, sweet, quiet late steeps.
From this session, I can tell – this water is definitely the type I look for, but on the lightest possible end of that. It’s amazing what it does with so few minerals and I believe everything here is in balance, with enough silica and good dissolved gases to be just as water should be. It makes me think my previous experiments are not too far off track. It’s just so pure and precise, and I love how it delivers every aspect of the tea. I’m very excited to try it with some mid-aged puers, like 2016 Treachery pt. 2, and also some dancong against nyc tap in a side by side. Thanks again to Sara and sjt!
These are some casual session notes for a water recipe I created as part of my ever-continuing research.
Major ions in mg/L
Tea Urchin 2019 LaoManE
It started out very fluffy and nondescript, and kept that throughout the session, and there’s a strong astringency throughout. However, underneath those there’s a fairly cohesive quality, although it lacks a solid present weight. It’s as if the astringency breaks apart the “ball” of tea that would be there. The astringency is good quality, but way too much. Anyway, underneath all of this is the beautiful citrus-spice flavor, with less bitterness than expected. So… where’s this astringency from? Signs point to potassium, as it’s very common for it to cause astringency, but natural waters with potassium don’t have such a severe effect. They also have different compositions, though.
The body of the tea is really nice, as well as the residual oils. The throat/bitterness is not great, though. It’s too candied and mild, I’d prefer some deeper yun and stronger bitterness from this tea. Why is the bitterness so low? There’s plenty of sulfate, so it should be high. My only explanation would be an excess of bicarbonate due to a measurement or calculation error. The bicarbonate could be eating up the bitterness and potency. The last possibility is the zerowater pitcher making the water alkaline due to trace NaOH. This would be solved by purchasing a good RO filter.
I came back to water chemistry recently because I’ve been watching so many chemistry videos on YouTube – I realized that although the chemistry in mineralizing water is fairly simple, the work itself, the trial and error, and the problem solving is very deep and interesting. Hearing stories from research chemists made me feel like I’m in the same boat – trying to accomplish a goal and trying different ways to get there, with no idea when you’ll find the solution.
2012 TU the orchid in valley
Really highlights the woody aspects. Initial taste was not a good experience but it grew to be more engaging with high quality rear tastes and deep flavors with a little heat and acidity too. Very pencil shavings-y. A bit juicy, which is nice. Could be 3x more though. Astringency medium.
2017 YS wild jinggu
Water diluted to 3/4 strength
Immediately smoother, round, still has a weird bitter co2 taste maybe? But a beautiful presentation. It sort of tightens into a slightly astringent finish when I’d like it to expand on release. Overall a nice session.
Some encouraging results! These sessions will give me a direction forward for future water batches. I’m simply enjoying the exploration.
I recently completed a gallon of water from one of my water recipes, and the result is interesting! I designed it based on the mineral content that I could find of various bottled waters related to wuyi yancha, like Wuyi Nongfu. This recipe is loosely based on loose data, but follows some conventions. These conventions are a dominance of bicarbonate, low sodium, <80TDS, and medium to high silica content. This is also similar to what you might find in Seattle, but just a bit heavier.
This batch was double distilled in glass from bottled Poland spring water, with a bit of fractionation involved. Silica content is 8 ppm. The water was well aerated before bottling overnight and brewing the next morning. I made some Old Ways Tea Da Hong Pao in a glazed Jiri Lang pot.
Initial onset is sweet and gentle, with a lot of the action happening in the rear throat, mineral tastes. Texture arrives a bit thin but some structure builds on subsequent steeps. Aftertaste is very long on the breath. The water does not feel heavy, there is a refreshing quality. A lot of nice sweetness and very integrated roast with some fruit and toasty rocky flavors. Some astringency but not very much. With this water, the tea doesn’t burst with flavors, it calmly settles into them.
Overall, it’s a bit too veiled for me, but worth trying. I’d love to try some real Wuyi Nongfu someday to compare. I wonder how to improve this water – for now I’m not sure, and as usual will keep making different waters and exploring. There seems to be a few things in my water making process that need improvement regardless of recipe, so I’m looking forward to working on those too.
Over the past few months, Arby has been making progress on his water recipes, crafting and dialing in various waters for tea. His online store, empiricalwater.com, is launching soon, and he sent me four waters to test. So much progress has been made and I’m excited to see how these waters affect the tea world. Although Arby and I work separately, and I don’t know what these recipes specifically are, I can tell we have reasonably similar standards and ideals, so when Arby sends me water, I know to look forward to some really nice and fresh sessions. Let’s get into it.
White2tea 2020 Turtle Dove white tea – 3.3g/50ml gaiwan
This water is definitely aerated:
Lots of small leaves as it’s near the last of my cake, but it’s a tea I know and love.
Original is a water that is made without a Sodastream, a latruth serum / complex syrup. This allows it to be easier to make and very concentratable.
Turtle dove with Original sips light and floral with a richness and slight oiliness. Immediate first impressions are positive here. The taste of the tea is quite present and fills the mouth. It’s sweet and the floral notes are vivid. I’m struck by the amount of thickness in a tea so light:
There is definitely texture without significant astringency. The tea melts in the mouth leaving behind tea oils that coat the mouth. Am I dreaming?
Now for some critique: the water is very present, but I could see it becoming fatiguing after a while. There’s a slight sharpness to the water, by no means excessive, but it does lean a bit forward. I think this is something many people will like, but I do notice it’s a bit “hot”. Perhaps the warm edition will be more calm in that respect.
I’m impressed right off the bat. Present but not too present, sweet but not too sweet, thick but not too thick, potent but not too potent. Well balanced on the forward side. 8.2/10
Note: all ratings-out-of-10 in this post are Session Ratings – more sessions would be needed to form a well-informed Water Rating.
White2tea 2021 Fox down black tea 3.2g/50ml
The texture on this session feels a little flatter/more collapsed. Wet leaves smell of fruit leather, raisin and chocolate. On the second steep, a little thickness is building. The tea is sweet but there is a certain restrained or veiled quality. Velvety.
Immediately I think I would rather drink this tea with Original non-warm. The tea has nice structure but it doesn’t have that refreshing quality that I crave. I’d say Original non-warm is more refreshing. Perhaps 20% warm and 80% original could be a nice sweet spot.
I’m getting those bubbles I like. A good sign. I’m also feeling pretty calm while drinking these, which means these waters work well with the body.
As my distillation setup drips away in the background, tasting this water and tea, I’m feeling proud of how far handcrafted water for tea has come. I’m also very inspired to make my own waters again in due time.
2003 Hong Kong Henry conscientious prescription
This water is an updated version of what I last reviewed. I liked the old version very much and am excited to try the update. This is a water which contains calcium carbonate and therefore requires carbonated water to produce. This increases the labor involved but also increases the possibilities for the composition of the water – mainly a reduction in sulfate, chloride and sodium. Let’s see if it’s worth the trouble:
Wet leaf smells of old wood furniture, grandma’s closet, wet sand, and the like.
I find the tea made with this water extremely friendly and gentle, yet present. Immersive. There is a je ne sais quoi here. Buttery. Huge echoes of flavor. Can’t shake the sensation of butter, like I just ate bread and butter or buttered popcorn. I’ve noticed this with some of my own waters too.
Texture is a different kind than that of Original. With original, there was a nervous thickness and presence – with Untitled there is a calm, settled thickness and presence, with a structured hierarchy of flavors. First, a sweetness on the front of the tongue. Then, old woods on the sides traveling backward. Then, light tannins coating the mouth with buttered popcorn flavor. Then a deposit of aged fruit/citrus woody oils. Finally it all clears away into sweet buttery huigan (aftertaste). Empty cup aroma is nice too.
This is quite elegant, the qi is great, warmth and relaxation. I like this as much as the old version, but this one is definitely different. Very refined.
A gorgeous sencha that rivals many gyokuro. I’ve actually made a couple waters for the fine people at Kettl to try, and got some positive feedback. If you’re in NYC, definitely visit their Brooklyn location!
I find it interesting that a warmer version of Untitled would be good for green tea, but I imagine it has something to do with a texture and umami focus.
As an aside, the smell of the steam of all of the waters is really clean – Arby has a great filter system and probably fewer VOCs in his water supply. I should really get an undersink RO. There is a salty smell to the steam, though- I wonder what it comes from.
Oh baby. Really umami-focused sencha experience. Not as much on the front of the mouth, all toward the rear and middle. Buttered snap peas, sweetness, thickness. Purity. For me, it’s impressive, but it’s not refreshing enough. Like with Original, I would rather use the regular version of Untitled.
This is still an elaborate, pure, direct and complex cup of sencha. On the second steep, that pure leaf/grass taste is coming through. Even a slight dryness that I like. Sweating – this is a lot of tea today! Impressive globular texture for sure. 300ml of sencha feeling like a very significant amount with this water!
I’ve noticed I’ve been engaged this whole time. With these waters, there’s always something new, each steep is dynamic, the tea goes to your core. With so many bottled and tap waters coming up short, these waters could change everything for many people who want to connect with their tea in that special elevated way.
Arby noted to me that the waters are all fairly close in total mineral content, so they are very well suited for blending. This allows you to tune the water to your liking, and experiment, all while being confident your tea sessions will be nice no matter what.
Hey everyone! Long time, no blog. Hope everyone’s been enjoying their tea in the meantime – I know I have! I took a trip up to Setting Sun Tea Hut in Vermont, which has beautiful tea, an awesome experience, and great well water for tea – they don’t even have to filter it. There, we had tea with tetsubins, clay kettles (chaozhou and novak), and copper kettles. The differences in each were striking – I had never tried a tetsubin before. I am sure there is a reaction going on in there on the iron-water interface.
In the above reaction, the iron from the kettle binds with the water and releases hydrogen ions. Interestingly, a similar thing happens in a Brita filter, the most popular water filter around.
I’ve been familiar with them for a long time, but only recently did I understand what a Brita filter does. If you have a TDS meter, you may notice that water run through a Brita has around 20% lower TDS reading, and has a more acidic pH. They curiously don’t advertise these two features – probably because “alkaline water” is believed to be better than acidic. But why and how does it do this to the water?
In addition to activated carbon, which improves the water’s taste, Britas contain ion exchange resin pellets. In this case, these are beads that specifically accept a calcium ion (Ca2+) and give off hydrogen ions (2H+). The result of this is twofold. First, the hardness of the water is reduced, due to reduced calcium. Second, the alkalinity of the water is also reduced, because (and this is what I just figured out) the acidic hydrogen ions are neutralized by the HCO3- buffer forming H2CO3, or carbonic acid.
I used to think this was a very mild and subtle change – after all, TDS only goes down 20% on average. But recently, I took very hard, 500 TDS spring water that scales aggressively when boiled, ran it through the Brita, and boiled it. And what did I find? No scale at all. I was shocked! This means that almost all the temporary hardness (calcium-bicarbonate) is taken out. The resulting tea was way different. With the unfiltered 500 TDS water, tea is thick and muted. After the Brita, the water measured only 220 TDS, and the tea was hollow and forward.
This is when I realized that Brita filters radically alter the mineral profile of water. They cause already forward waters to be more forward and hollow out/brighten up, and cause less-present waters to become thinner and milder, but also brighter. Now, don’t get me wrong, they can still make good tea – in fact, I had a great session with an older raw puer last week with Brita-filtered NYC (Brooklyn) tap water. However, it’s definitely worth knowing that Britas don’t just make your tea taste better, they radically alter the mineral composition – and not always for the better. It’s worth testing for yourself – what do you like? Brita, or something like a Waterdrop that doesn’t change mineral content at all? (EDIT – waterdrop now reduces hardness…..) Or even a blend? I personally am still alternating between many different options in order to learn more.
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)
Resulting ion concentrations in mg/L at pH 8.3
45.5 mg/L as CaCO3
34.7 mg/L as CaCO3
Hardness to Alkalinity Ratio
TDS (calculated, will not measurenearly this high due to ion conductivities)
Electrical Conductivity at 25ºC (calculated, expected to measure)
Electrical Conductivity at 25ºC
pH (Measured with new fancy pH meter)
TDS (calculated from Electrical Conductivity error and calculated TDS)
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.
I’ve been wanting to try Chinese tea with Chinese water for a long time, because it would be so cool, but only recently did I stumble upon some good data that I could use to replicate Chinese water at home. This water is a replica of the Xi River in winter (seasonal variation in natural water is significant, as TDS changes around 50% from winter to summer.) The main branch of the Xi River is located west of Guangzhou, but the basin of the river extends all the way to Kunming, in Yunnan. This water is rather difficult to make, and can not be made without a Sodastream. I used a new method to get silica into the water, and decided to test the new method by adding double the silica that was in the data. I don’t think it should make too much of a difference, but I wanted to note it here. Silica is not an ion, so it doesn’t have as significant an effect on extraction, only on texture (as far as I know now!)
After a lot of work over two weeks, here it is.
The water was distilled from my local tap water, which recently tested over the safe limit for PFAs, a pollutant that can cause health problems. I get a kick out of removing pollution from water by purifying it – distilling water removes PFAs entirely, and I distilled this water three times. Two of these distillations were in glass laboratory equipment dedicated to water. This resulted in my base water being some of the cleanest and purest I’ve managed to create, with the downside being 10 hours of distillation time to get only 2750 ml. I’m sure I can cut that time down in the future. I’m just really happy I can get pure tasting water at all, as it was a big struggle just a year ago. The distilled can go side by side with lofoten and hold its own! It’s not perfect by any means, but it is around the same level as very good natural waters bottled in glass.
Once I had this base water, I had to add the minerals to it. It wasn’t too difficult really, and took around an hour and a half to get everything measured and added properly. I’ve shared the water with friends and family and they’ve remarked that it tastes like water, nothing is wrong with it, and it’s rather dry (not drying, but referring to not too sweet). I suppose that is a success as water is concerned, though I’d love to make water that makes you go “wow!” I personally find the water quite voluminous in a nice way, but we will get to that later. The big curiosity is, does using (replicated) Chinese water “work” with tea grown near it? Does it express the taste as nature intended? Let’s find out.
139 mg/L as CaCO3
121 mg/L as CaCO3
Hardness to Alkalinity Ratio
TDS (calculated, will not measurenearly this high due to ion conductivities)
Electrical Conductivity at 25ºC (calculated, will not measure this high due to ion behavior)
Electrical Conductivity at 25ºC (measured)
Testing the Water with Tea: White2Tea 2016 The Treachery of Storytelling Pt. 2
I chose Treachery because it’s a tea that demands good water, all about power and subtlety, in an interesting stage of aging, just beginning to darken in leaf color. It demands a water that can bring out both the youthful and aging side of the tea. It also has an energy that I’d like to experience in a comfortable way throughout the session. Aside from those considerations, I’m open to any outcome here, as it would be interesting to see how water that may be similar in mineral profile to what the tea “drank” in order to grow will interact with the tea and the experience of it. I’m not sure that tea drinkers even use tap water in China, depending on the area, or if the tap water is not altered in mineral content from the river water, but it’s worth a try for curiosity’s sake.
The water hits the teapot, sending an immediate aroma of flowers and dried fruit upward. The rinse pours a pale straw yellow. Empty pitcher smells of sweets. The leaf in the pot is intensely fragrant, like sunscreen and leather.
After the first steep is poured, immediately scale is forming in the kettle. This water is rather heavy, so I expected this to happen. It is kind of strange how rapidly this occurs, but I think natural water of this heaviness would do the same thing.
The taste of the first steep – bitter. Watery. Smooth. Many subtleties immediately – I’m delighted! Oiliness focused on the front of the tongue, evaporating into many tiny flowers and fruit essences. This is the most clear this tea has ever tasted for me. A brilliant oily soapiness blooming into a rose flower aftertaste. ECA is mild.
Second steep – the mouthfeel is so very soft, the silica is making a huge difference. The tea sort of inflates in the mouth. Juicy. Qi hits here. Downward qi, clarifying. The wateriness persists, refreshing. Extremely smooth, a lot of rear activity, experience of drinking moving from front to back to front. Leather and tobacco fairly obvious here, but the body and watery quality make this steep seem almost crystalline.
Speaking of crystals, unfortunately there’s a colossal amount of scale forming unlike any I’ve ever seen, forming crystalline globs on the bottom of the kettle. Luckily they’re not actually stuck together, just powdery scale collected in various spots on the bottom of the kettle. I’m sure this is changing the mineral content quite a bit, removing calcium carbonate from the water. This scale looks different than usual, so it could be silica in the scale too.
Third steep was similar to second.
Fourth steep – great bubbles on the surface of the tea, meaning we haven’t lost too much bicarbonate to scaling. Beginning to be a more full-mouth-all-at-once-experience. Darker, deeper, tannins showing up. Something that reminds me of citrus, like deep tangerine, or bitter orange juice. Smoother than any water I’ve ever made by far. 30 ppm silica is a big difference. The water holds together nicely. Huge focused relaxed energy. In tune. Heating in back. Not very sweet, like a very dry orange wine (white wine with the skins kept on) or a wild ale. Big pollen huigan!!
Fifth – Under-lid aroma is flowery, in a settled way, not like a brand-new tea would be, balmy. The scale is not showing up in the cup at all, though, which is nice. I’m very happy right now, for many reasons – the base water is good, the tea is good, the mineral composition is natural, the result is somewhere in the liminal space between natural and… well, not artificial… what is this? I guess this water is a secret, nobody has ever tried it, let alone with tea, except maybe people in the Xijiang Basin have this running in their house all the time. That’s a secret from me, I’ve sort of taken this water out of context and placed it in a new context that reflects a reality that I’ve probably made up. Not the first time this has happened in tea culture. Please contact me if you know if this water is used by many people. I believe it is similar to Guangzhou tap water, which is taken from six tributaries of the Pearl river, and the Xi is one of the main tributaries. I’m aware of water pollution in china too, so if everyone uses bottled water, or if it’s a mix, I appreciate the info. Back to the session – I’m getting a woody-stemminess, and awesome petroleum power. The tea isn’t heavy though, it still floats and has structure.
Sixth – What is this water? I mean, when you have a beyond burger, it’s kind of natural, but it’s fairly obvious you’re having something that’s been built from something else. But with this, I distilled water, which is what nature does with clouds and rain. Then I added minerals, which is what happens when water flows over rocks. There are some things missing, like the volatile scents of rocks, which are a real thing, such as the many volatile compounds that cause the petrichor effect after it rains. But chemically, it’s nearly identical to natural water at this point. It’s more like a photograph, or a sculpture of nature.
artificial (adj.) late 14c., “not natural or spontaneous,” from Old French artificial, from Latin artificialis “of or belonging to art,” from artificium “a work of art; skill; theory, system,” from artifex (genitive artificis) “craftsman, artist, master of an art” (music, acting, sculpting, etc.), from stem of ars “art” (see art (n.)) + -fex “maker,” from facere “to do, make” (from PIE root *dhe- “to set, put”).
Earliest use in English is in the phrase artificial day “part of the day from sunrise to sunset” (as opposed to the natural day of 24 hours). Meaning “made by man, contrived by human skill and labor” is from early 15c. The word was applied from 16c. to anything made in imitation of, or as a substitute for, what is natural, whether real (light, tears) or not (teeth, flowers). Meaning “fictitious, assumed, not genuine” is from 1640s; that of “full of affectation, insincere” is from 1590s. Artificial insemination dates from 1894. Artificial intelligence “the science and engineering of making intelligent machines” was coined in 1956.
Sixth (cont.) – present. Roots, like fennel, parsnip. Dry huigan, dry mouthcoat, but not drying. Dry in taste in every aspect. Rather elegantly dry. The idea of sweetness is still there though, thank goodness.
Seventh – a 45 second steep, lighter than expected, too short of a steep. Taste is fairly mild here. I’m surprised at the slow extraction. Still has dried raspberry, creamy, qi. While the next steep is happening, let me talk about the chemistry of this water. High in bicarbonate, calcium and sulfate, higher potassium than normal, medium-low sodium. Low in magnesium. The potassium and sulfate contribute to the dry flavor and depth. The low magnesium and high calcium create a smooth and settled profile, and may cause the slower extraction.
Eighth – 2 minutes, good color, more present. Still quite watery in a way, but I’ve heard of this tea being like this. It’s watery but not underextracted. There’s plenty to chew on here. Oats and grains, definitely. I love the purity of the base water, free from plastic. My body is refreshed, back sweating, butter and bubblegum aftertaste. The tea is always shifting, elusive. Foresty taste, dense deep mouthcoat.
Ninth – Ripe peach. Only noticed this obvious note now, the florals were so distracting earlier! Getting more and more ethereal, focused on aftertaste, so vivid. There’s something natural and microbiological about the tea, as if some sort of fermentation is happening in the cup, like wine. It’s not close to sour or anything, but complex and active, alive.
Tenth – I am out of water in the kettle, let’s see if a fresh boil will revitalize it. A smell in the glass water container confirms that this water is indeed odorless, which is great. Tenth steep, still from the first boil, same boil as the last nine steeps, is a bit flat, but still nice. Suntan lotion, banana, bubblegum, irises, corn. Mouth is happy, not dried out at all. Pleasantly coated in tannins.
Eleven – fresh boil, 3 minute steep. Actually not enormously different. A bit more vitality and strength. This session overall is very relaxed, yet bitter, watery, yet potent. I love a good paradox in a cup! Sessions with other waters have been sort of similar, but not as bitter. It’s much less bitter than, say, the Truth Serum water recipe would make this tea. Grape skins, red and white.
Twelve – Final steep, ten minutes. Still so smooth, mild, chewy. Tobacco, simmered root vegetables, oils, coconut. Such an endlessly interesting profile and cohesive texture.
Session rating – 8.8/10
Water rating for this tea – 8.5/10
Reviewing the Water Itself
55ºF. Odorless, it hits the mouth, very thick and full for water. Holds together well. Mildly sweet, can taste the air in the water. It really is smooth and dry in the same way that the tea made with it is. Aftertaste is pure enough, could be more pure. Extremely slight CO2, not as much as Saratoga. The sulfate expresses itself with a thickness and presence. Really smooth, not particularly crisp, heavy but empty. Satisfying water with a sort of plain, ordinary and natural character. Could be more thirst-quenching.
Water rating – 8.1/10
What did I learn?
First, Xi River is really heavy. Unless there’s something I don’t know about how to get scale to stay in water and not precipitate out, it’s just a water that scales aggressively. I feel like the time investment that it took to make this water was worth it in the same way that the money investment for Treachery is worth it. I learned that silica makes a positive difference. I also learned that I can make good base water now, albeit with great effort. I got to know Treachery more, the qi was extremely comfortable and beneficial. This is good tea water in my book. I thought it could be a bit more present, but there was a sort of authenticity to what I was replicating here, or at least my idea of it, having never tried it. It tasted ordinary yet elegant, and seemed to express the tea in a beautiful, rather emotional way. I want to improve my process and make more water – I have plenty to replicate and even more water to create and design. I really enjoyed this session and process – it is like reverse-engineering nature.
I’ve come across a lot of analogies when talking about water for tea. A memorable one is: tea is the music, water is the speakers. Thats pretty close to how it is, but maybe tea is the music and water is the orchestra playing it. Both of these analogies involve the reproduction of music, but with the orchestra analogy there’s more responsibility given to the water. Furthermore, the orchestra would have a conductor, which would be the human brewer. But then, is the teapot the first chair, the best player in the orchestra? Or would that be the dominant flavor? No, the dominant flavor is part of the musical composition. Then, the cup must be the acoustics. But isn’t the acoustics the actual space that the tea drinking is happening in? The teapot might be the instruments that the orchestra is playing. So the water is playing the teapot, which is playing the tea into the cup; all led by the brewer.
I’ve gotten feedback on discord from people who tried a different water and were struck by how big of a difference it made, more than teaware, brewing temperature, ratio, or any other parameter. Water can be heavy, light, vibrant, muddled, astringent, subdued, dense, spacious, fluffy, metallic, smooth, and more. Water can, by the way it extracts, cause tea to be any of these things. You can even have a smooth water that makes astringent tea, so there can be a mismatch. That’s like how a shy violin player can play quite loudly and with great presence on stage.
The point is, there are many different kinds of water, and different levels. You wouldn’t yell at a 6th grade orchestra for not sounding like the Vienna symphony. So, either you have to accept your water as it is, with its flaws, or you have to figure out something better. I’ve found that there’s not much you can add or change with a bad water to make it better, just like there’s not much you can do with a not-so-talented orchestra to make it world-class. For the orchestra, you basically have to kick out all but the best players, and then replace them with better ones. With water, it’s similar. By diluting the water, you make room to introduce a better group and balance of minerals. Since every water is different and mineral content reports are so spotty and often incomplete, it’s hard to know what to add to the diluted water. So, it’s often easier to simply throw out the old water and get a new one.
With the modern recycling crisis and the expense of water transport, coupled with the non-availability of good water in glass bottles for any reasonable price, and the difficulty of making 0ppm TDS water to make recipes with (home Reverse Osmosis filters make 10ppm usually, depending on starting TDS, and distillers don’t make good tasting water, at least that I’ve tried) we as tea drinkers have to get lucky with our tap, or make do with a difficult and imperfect solution for the time being.
I was recently featured on Crimson Lotus Tea’s livestream show, Between Two Teapots! I got to talk about water with Glen, founder of Crimson Lotus Tea and with Arby, my friend and water collaborator. We drank the same tea with the same water recipe that we created, Truth Serum. Two hours long, I feel like we only scratched the surface. Here it is for you to watch!
I found it amazing that Glen noticed an obvious difference in the tea brewed with Truth Serum compared to his normal water. This is due to the Hardness to Alkalinity ratio (see the WIP Water Guide) being twice as high as his usual. The sensory overload of extraction that you can get with TS is really quite fun to explore! I can’t wait to make more waters that are a bit more subtle and subdued, while still delivering plenty of power. Feel free to message me on IG @teasecretsblog with any water questions – I’m here to help you dial in your tea.
With the help of Ward Labs, now I know what minerals are in my tap water. For $48, they analyze any water you send them for the main important ions, plus iron and nitrate. I was really excited when I got the results, because they confirmed a lot of my hunches about its composition from simply tasting tea made with it and comparing with my various experiments. Without further ado, here is the composition of my local Massachusetts groundwater.
70 mg/L as CaCO3
13 mg/L as CaCO3
Hardness to Alkalinity Ratio
TDS (calculated, will not measurenearly this high due to ion conductivities)
Electrical Conductivity at 25ºC (calculated, expected to measure)
It’s immediately apparent that there’s a lot of sodium and chloride in this water. I had a feeling this would be the case, as our roads are heavily salted in the winter and that all goes into the ground. I also had a sense that with such a high TDS, but no scaling, a lot of the mineral content would be salt. This salt doesn’t make it taste salty at this concentration, but does increase the mineral taste of the water and adds a bit of viscosity.
The other strange thing about this water is the high Hardness to Alkalinity ratio of 5.36. This is caused by medium calcium and magnesium but very low bicarbonate. I’ve never seen a hardness to alkalinity ratio this high in a natural water – they are almost always between 0.5 and 1.4. But, this is proof that water comes in all different shapes and sizes. When I make tea with my tap water, I notice that it does lack some of the deep texture that it would have with more bicarbonate, doesn’t scale as it would with more bicarb, and has very present flavor and brightness, as those bright acidic tastes are not buffered by any bicarbonate alkalinity. It’s not particularly harsh water despite this high H:A, it’s actually really smooth and enjoyable. The silica in there is a nice bonus, too.
Cupping the replica tap vs the real thing
I decided to replicate the tap water with distilled water and various salts, down to the milligram. I even added some eidon silica concentrate. Then, I used a cupping set to see if there was a difference – I want to see how fake water stacks up to the real thing!
I used a dancong from Yunnan Sourcing to do this comparison, with 3.1 grams in each 150ml mug, steeping for 5 minutes. The fake tap came out a bit darker than the real tap, but it was pretty close.
Smooth and oily with fragrance
Texture better, airy, thicker
More rear focused
Despite my criticisms of the remade tap, they were fairly similar, with the same general idea – high fragrance, high minerality, low alkalinity. The flavors were similar as well. I have a theory why they were so different – I used sea salt instead of pure salt. Sea salt is 30 percent magnesium chloride. Whoops! So, to anyone making a mineral recipe with salt, including Truth Serum, it makes a big difference if you use pure NaCl (which is hard to find without anti-caking agents, but there’s a link in the Water Guide). This experiment will be worth repeating in the future with pure NaCl.
What did I learn?
The general takeaway, besides the impurity of sea salt, is that fake water is an approximation, and there are many factors that make natural water superior to it. (Edit: this is to say, given the same mineral profile. An artificially made good mineral profile is better than a naturally bad one.) Now that I know the mineral content of my tap water, I can make small (or large) adjustments to it to modify how it behaves with tea. I really appreciate that my tap has good amounts of sulfate and chloride, as I can always fall back on it for a decent cup of tea.
Sorry for being so slow on the water guide, there’s a lot to type. It will get done though! Let me know if you get your tap tested, and what the results are!