Though we perceive an obvious difference between water and tea, the fact is that whatever the tea leaves actually donate to the end beverage is minuscule in proportion to the amount of water. Of course, the leaf is the most important part of the tea-making process, but the quality of the oft-overlooked water can make or break any infusion.
Water my options?
There are many options when it comes to drinking water, and in the end it comes down to personal preference. Still, there are advantages and disadvantages inherent to each choice.
•Tap water. The water that comes out of your tap may or may not be chock full of minerals and other nasties, depending on where you live and how old your pipes are. Tap water is not recommended unless you know you have the good stuff. If you should decide to use tap water, though, make sure to draw COLD water from the faucet. Sure, it will take a little longer to heat up, but the process of heating your water makes it borderline unpotable. It's ok for washing dishes, but I wouldn't suggest consuming water that was drawn hot from the tap.
•Distilled water. Distilled water would, at first, seem to be the best choice. It has virtually no dissolved minerals, so it will not leave mineral deposits in your teaware, and it is the most pure source of water for the average tea drinker. However, distilled water is very flat-tasting, and will leave your tea tasting dull and boring.
Note: Many people have heard that drinking distilled water is bad for you. This is not true. The source of this rumor is that when single cells are placed in distilled water, they rupture. This happens because the cell membrane is permeable to water, so water will freely flow into the cell in an attempt to equilibrate salt concentrations inside and outside the cell. The cell ends up taking in too much water, grows too large, and ruptures its membrane due to internal pressure. However, the human body has mechanisms to prevent this and is, in general, impervious to damage in this manner. So, drinking distilled water will not likely have any effect on your health. Theoretically if you drank enough distilled water this could happen, but at that point you would have already died of hyponatremia, which you can get from drinking too much of any kind of water.
Still, just so I don't get sued, I take no responsibility for anything that may happen to you or anyone else as a result of drinking too much water, distilled or not.
•Bottled water. This stuff is expensive, but tastes pretty darn good. It will have some dissolved minerals, which can lead to scale buildup (a post on scale is in the works), but it tastes much better than distilled water. There is a limit to how much mineral content is good for tea water, though. I would avoid bottled water labeled "mineral water," as the mineral taste (while delicious) may overwhelm the subtleties of your tea. Don't even bother with carbonated water, although it does seem like a pretty cool idea, now that I think about it. Also, you *might* notice a plastic taste to your tea if your bottled water came from a plastic bottle.
•Filtered water. This is, in my opinion, the best option. Most filters (Such as those made by Brita or Pur) do a good job of eliminating the bad-tasting stuff (usually chlorine, most microbes, and sediment, among other things) from your water, so filtered water tastes pretty good and is pretty healthy. Activated charcoal filters do not remove much else, though, so using filtered water can lead to scale buildup in your teaware. Another nice thing about filters/pitchers is that they do not impart a plastic taste to water like some plastic bottles can. So, unless you have VERY hard water, an activated carbon filtration system will probably give you the best bang for your buck.
Solvation is yours
When it all boils down, I prefer filtered water for my tea. You can get some nice bottled spring water and it will probably taste better, but it may end up costing more per cup than your tea leaves. Filter pitchers are convenient and (relatively) cheap, and provide pretty good tasting water.
There is, however, one important thing to remember when using a filtration system. Change your filter regularly! Using an old activated carbon filter is worse than using no filter at all. Sure, activated carbon will trap microbes, but it won't kill them. Those little buggers can thrive in filters, so replace yours every two months (or however often the manufacturer suggests). Don't be scared, though. Filtered water is perfectly safe as long as you follow the filter's instructions, and it remains my top choice for tea water. Enjoy!
Oh, and sorry about all the puns. See how many you can find!