Water accounts for 98.5% of the volume in a cup of tea so the quality of the water you use is equally important as the quality of your tea. You could steep fantastic teas in poor water and the result would always be less than perfect.
Students of tea have always been aware of water’s importance in the art of making good tea since Lu Yu, author of Cha Ching in 780 A.D, stumbled upon a glorious spring where the water was extremely clear and clean. He brewed tea with this spring water and found the tea tasted unexpectedly better than usual.
Even the early settlers of Manhattan had designated tea water pumps to be used only for drawing water for making tea.
Most Americans are fortunate to have safe and affordable municipal water but that rarely means tap water is best for brewing tea. How can you enhance the quality of your home tap water for steeping tea?
Here are four initial observations you can make concerning your water:
The look of the water. Is there anything floating in the water or is it off-color?
The smell of the water. Are there traces aromas of sulfur or chlorine?
The taste of the water. Can you taste any dominant minerals?
The visual signs of water hardness. Do you see heavy calcium buildup in your water kettle or around your faucets?
Unless you have extremely hard water, the easiest solution for most consumers is a one or two-stage filter system. Simple countertop water filters will remove visible solids and chlorine and improve the taste of most water. But, they do not substantially alter the mineral content of water known as total dissolved solids or TDS. Mineral content can be removed by a reverse osmosis system that gives you totally pure water. The downside is that reverse osmosis removes all the minerals and that’s not the best water for making tea. Some mineral content is needed—just not too much or too little.
Here is the ideal tea water analysis if you have your water professionally analyzed:
- 80 ppm Total Hardness
- No Chlorine or Iron
- 150 ppm Total Dissolved Solids (TDS)
- 40 ppm Alkalinity
- 6-8 pH
Should spring water or bottled water be used for tea? Be aware that all waters are created equal. Check the bottler’s website for an analysis statement and compare it to the ideal analysis shown above. Keep in mind that distilled water has no mineral content and is too flat for tea making.