Water – The Mother of Tea
“Water is themother of tea. Ateapot itsfather. Andfire theteacher.”
We’ve all had a bad cup of tea. A bitter, stewed cup. A stale, aromaless cup. Even a weak, tasteless cup.
Often we’ll blame this on the tea being old, or the teabag too small. Sometimes we’ve steeped the tea too long, or used water that is too hot.
But sometimes, the water is to blame.
This may seem strange to you – after all, water is water – but tea scholars have long known that a tea can only be as good as the water in which it is steeped.
The Perfect Water
According to the Chinese tea scholar Lu Yu, the perfect water is hard to find. Writing over 1,000 years ago in his book “The Classic of Tea” Lu Yu explained that to brew the perfect tea, you need to use mountain water from stony lakes, calm water from the middle of a slow-flowing stream, or the white water of a milky spring to brew the perfect cup.
Unfortunately, a modern home is unlikely to have a tap dedicated to stony lake water. But that doesn’t mean you should abandon hope.
What If You Can’t Find a Stony Lake?
Let’s forget about finding the perfect water for a moment, and look for an alternative.
The closest commonly available alternative to water from a mountain lake is clear bottled spring water. As this water is low in minerals, it imparts very little character to the tea, allowing the leaves to provide all of the flavour and aroma. This is especially important for a subtle tea such as a Japanese green tea, but all teas can benefit.
I suggest using one of the following:
However, bottled water can be expensive, and many of us are worried about the waste created by plastic bottles. If you are one of those people, you have two options.
Firstly, invest in an effective water filter. Filtered tap water is similar in quality to the spring water mentioned above, and a high quality filter will work for a number of years. Filtered tap water is perfect for Japanese teas, and good for all manner of other varieties.
Secondly, you can use a reverse osmosis filter. Some people claim this is an improvement over spring water, while others claim it removes subtle flavours from the water itself. In our experience, this kind of water makes a delightful cup, and we would highly recommend seeking out a reverse osmosis filter.
Thirdly, you can learn to love the robust, full flavours imparted by water which is high in minerals. While we cannot recommend this for subtle green or white teas, we agree that a mineral water can provide a strong black or oolong tea with another dimension of flavour.
Whichever water you choose, there is one more thing to consider. How you heat your tea.
Fire is the Teacher
We always provide a recommended temperature for a tea to be steeped at. Water which is too hot can scald or stew the tea, harming the flavour.
But there’s something else to consider.
Boiling water removes oxygen. This oxygen is necessary to create flavour and aroma, so by boiling the water you are harming your chances of brewing the perfect cup.
If you choose the right water for your tea, heat it to the correct temperature and steep it for the right amount of time, then the perfect cup will be yours to enjoy.
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