Thursday, February 15, 2007

Water you doing to your tea?

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. Water DropletIf 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. Bottle 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!


Mary R said...

Wonderful post! I had *just* begun a draft of a post when I got bored and wandered over here. I think I'll shift my focus somewhere else now. :)

The health concern with distilled water, though, is that if you drink it exclusively you will not get certain much-needed minerals. While this can be true, a normal diet should compensate for any missed minerals in the water, so it really isn't the issue some will make it out to be.

Salsero said...

Thanks for the thoughtful discussion of this important topic. I tried some bottled, French mineral water lately: it formed a jelly-like substance in my kettle and white stuff came out of solution. That was after boiling only about a pint! I wouldn't consider drinking the stuff after that, much less feeding it to my tea!

MarshalN said...

I think one key is actually to try different kinds of water with the same tea, and not to be shy about mixing and matching waters to create the right taste.

While using pure Evian might make the tea taste awful (it will) adding a splash to an otherwise somewhat dull tap water might make it more interesting. It's worth a try.

Anonymous said...

I use distilled water for my tea and I prefer it over water with even medium mineral content. It really depends on the person and the type of tea. I personally like full bodied non-blend black teas like Darjeeling and Ceylon and I find minerals distract from the flavor of the tea rather than add to it. The flat taste comes in when I brew tea at lower than optimum temperature or when I don’t add enough tea for any amount of water. I experimented a lot with this and I can relate to why some people like some mineral contents since in a way it works like adding salt to food -- I'm not one of those people.

Sadly where I live, regular filtering of water is not an option as we have methylisoborneol produced by algae that PUR and Breta filters reduce, but don’t remove and when you heat water and add to tea it gives it a bad nose. The way I see it, my Darjeeling costs me about $1 a cup, I'm not going to ruin it with smelly water.

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