April 13, 2006
Tea originated in China 5,000 years ago and the selection and brewing of tea has been refined to an art with health and spiritual aspects emerging as part of the process.
Experienced tea drinkers throughout the world generally follow established guidelines for infusion or brewing of tea and the infusion process is often as important as the initial selection of tea. For many tea enthusiasts, brewing tea is the most soothing and spiritual part of their day. Brewing a good tasting cup of tea releases tensions for many and has a definite comforting effect.
It is a fact that since 99% of tea is water, better water makes better tea and water is critical to the final outcome of tea preparation. Brewing tea can be complex or simple. For many tea enthusiasts the brewing process is an important part of the tea experience that culminates in the preparation of a satisfying beverage and a way of life. Fine teas are especially sensitive to the nature of water for infusion.
The best water for successful tea infusion is low in mineral content, free of contamination and additives and high in oxygen content.
Water Quality and Brewing Tea
Good tasting tea requires good tasting water. A simple test is that if the water tastes good by itself, the resulting brewed tea will also have a good flavor. Because a brewed cup of tea is mostly water, the quality of the water is often as important as the quality of the tea leaves. The water must be free of contaminants and minerals and contain enough oxygen to enhance the natural tea flavor. Moreover, there are a number of additional factors that will affect the taste of the infusion. These include water temperature, the mineral content of the water used and the continued presence of a sufficient quantity of oxygen in the water.
If one is using tap water, filtration is often required. Many tap water suppliers use chlorine to kill bacteria and chlorine in tap water combined with mineral and chemical deposits can significantly affect tea taste and the tea drinker’s overall health. The brewer will want to remove chlorine and other chemicals as well as sediment from the water. It is best to check the composition of tap water on EPA or AMWA websites. Frequently there are also local water quality analysis data available.
Chlorinated tap water for example destroys the flavor of tea. No matter how skillful the preparation or spectacular the tea, bad water will make a bad cup of tea.
Most experts recommend that one never boil water for a prolonged period or re-boil a previously used supply. The more that the water boils, the more oxygen that is driven out of the water .When water is boiled, oxygen evaporates, and the crisp taste in the brew is lost..
Fresh cold water is important. In areas with poor tap water, use bottled or filtered water that is free of contaminants. Never use water from the hot water tap. If only tap water is available, run the water until it is cold and has a chance to aerate and infuse oxygen.
Poor quality tap water, containing mineral content and other contaminants, even if it is very cold, should be avoided since its chemical treatment imparts undesirable flavors and odors which interfere with the delicate aromatics of tea.
Mineral Content – Soft vs. Hard Water
Water described as “hard” is high in dissolved minerals, specifically calcium and magnesium. These minerals accumulate in the water, adversely affect the taste and clarity of the tea and accumulate in teapots and infusers. Teas brewed with pure water containing no minerals produce a crisp flavor and a clear brew that is aesthetically agreeable.
Hard water can also affect the appearance of tea by making it dark and murky. Hard water often results in an undesirable chalky taste and can also reduce the aesthetic portion of the tea brewing process by bleaching the color of the leaves.
High mineral content bottled water has the same negative impact on tea as hard water particularly when bottled water does not include significant oxygen.
Oxygen and Water
Oxygen plays an important role in brewing because it helps to release the best flavors of tea. As a result, one must use water that is aerated (full of oxygen).It is an established fact that the presence of oxygen in water is required to maximize tea flavor. Aeration is particularly important when brewing fine teas.
Avoid re-heating water because previously boiled water will have lost much of its dissolved oxygen which is important to bring out the tea flavor Always use freshly drawn water that has not previously been boiled to maximize the oxygen content of the brew.
Water Quality, Purity and Taste for Tea Drinkers in the United States
Historically, in China, great attention was give to supplying high quality water from a reliable source. The emperors of China appointed royal springs reserved for use in tea brewing and developed special messengers that would guarantee the freshness and availability of supply. This procedure was repeated throughout history and in other tea drinking areas of the world. Supply of water was an integral part of the tea experience.
In the United States utilizing a pure water supply is also critical to proper brewing but the water supply generally comes form one of three sources: Municipal water, spring and well water and bottled water.
Municipal water is the predominant form of water supply and is controlled by standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency. It is important to note that EPA Regulations do not eliminate the presence of harmful minerals from water but merely set upper limits on the presence of contaminants. In addition, chlorine is often added to municipal water to kill bacteria but this chlorine has a distinctly undesirable taste.
Spring and well water are a major source of water in rural areas but it is unregulated and subject to serious contamination from organic, chemical and human sources. Individual wells and springs must be tested to determine the source and level of contamination.
Bottled water is the best for brewing flavorful tea but care should be taken to determine the source of the bottled water. Bottled water from springs is subject to contamination while mineral water often contains the minerals that are most detrimental to good tasting tea. Of the various sources for bottled water only purified water is best for the brewing of good tasting tea.
Purified water means that all minerals and contaminants are filtered and removed from the water using a purification process but that is only the first step. For tea brewing purposes purified water must also be infused with oxygen to guarantee the best flavor. Only those companies that use a multi-step process of filtration, purification and oxygenation should be considered as a reliable source for the brewing of good tasting fine tea.