Water Quality

waterHere in the Pacific Northwest, we have very high standards for water quality; however, while the water that comes out of the tap is safe to drink, that doesn’t mean that it tastes good. If you put even the hardiest fresh-water fish in water straight out of your tap it will die. It is the chlorine that kills, and I do appreciate the necessity for it in city water systems, but a liquid toxic enough to kill fish merely swimming in it and passing it through their gills is not something I want to consume, straight or with tea brewed into it. Thus, whenever possible, I avoid drinking straight-out of the tap water and I don’t make tea with it.

Filtered water is a little better than tap water. The chemicals and minerals are removed enough to result in a purer water, but the results are not altogether satisfying for me. I do not like the charcoal taste of water run through Brita filters. In my opinion Pur filters yield better tasting water, but I do not like the mechanism of the filters themselves. In my experience, the filtering methods that attach to the kitchen faucet are intrusive, get covered with mineral deposits and don’t stay on straight. Moreover, I do not like any of the container methods used with these filtering products because the vessels are plastic and also collect algae and other undesirable microbes. So, while the results are better than unfiltered tap water, I find these home purification methods unacceptable.

I do not want water that has had the bad stuff removed. I want unadulterated water from a pure source. This also rules out commercially available bottled water that has been purified or filtered by the bottler.

My experience with brewing teas with spring water have been very good. In Japan and China, nearly all sources, from conventional wisdom to the most stringent and formalized tea protocols, state that the ideal water for tea is mountain spring water. If you are positioned conveniently close to an actual mountain spring, then this is an easily obtainable substance. If you are, like most of the rest of us, living in a city, this is not as easy. There are, however, quite a few types of good bottled spring water available. Basically what to look for is pure spring water, bottled at the source. It is exceptionally nice if it is in a glass container, but I’ve only found one brand from Italy that was in a glass bottle and it was too small to be practical for keeping at home for brewing tea. I always pour the water immediately into a glass container once I get it home. There are slight variations
between types of commercially available spring water, some of which are going to come down to individual preference. Hibiki-an has a very useful list of recommended brands of bottled water that work well with green tea.

My essential point is that water, making up such a large portion of the substance of that wonderful drink called “tea,” should not be overlooked as an important element. I am aware of the differences in taste between teas brewed with tap water and teas brewed with spring water, and I can’t find any good reason to settle for the former. At 8 pounds per gallon, transported water is a bit of a hassle, but I am more than willing to carry water jugs down the 78 stairs to my house to ensure that my tea tastes better.

For more reading about tea and water, there is an excellent article on Choosing Water for Tea: A Simple Guide on Stéphane Erler’s Teamaster blog. He also has a great article on his experiments with different kettles and their effect on heating water for tea and one on Chinese water for Chinese teas.

Possibly Related Posts:


6 Comments

  1. Enjoyed your article, but your comments about tapwater and fishkeeping in the Pacific NW are inaccurate. In most areas, the chlorine levels that come out of your tap are enough to bother only the most sensitive fish.

    Most water around here is chlorinated at a very low level because other water treatment levels reduce the need for chlorination. Thus the chlorine that is added has largely evaporated by the time it reaches its destination, the tap. One of the problems can occur when water still has slight chlorination and is introduced to a dirty fish tank. The remaining chlorine can react with ammonia and create a much more stable compound called chloramine. Chloramine also accelerates water deterioration in the tank.

    Still, it is unlikely to kill any but very delicate fish. I’ve tried this in my own tanks, with many different types of fish, and I rarely treat my water any longer, simply test the parameters of the tap water and give it the “sniff” test.

    So while tap (in PNW) may not be ideal for your tea, it is a myth that chlorine and additive levels are significantly toxic.

  2. That is really interesting and good to know. The water here doesn’t have that harsher chlorine smell that is more evident in other parts of the country, so I shouldn’t be surprised, but it’s hard to let go of such a long-held belief in the absolute necessity of de-chlorinating solutions for aquariums! It would sure be a lot less of a hassle to do water changes in my fish tanks if I didn’t have to be quite so careful about treating every ounce of water before it goes in. (My tea is considerably more delicate than my fish are.)

    Thank you for setting me straight on this.

  3. YW, :). For the record, most times when I do a water change, I’ll let the tap run right into the tank (I use a Python), and hit it with a little bit of dechlorinator while the water is running. Never lost a fish to a water change yet, except for the time when one of them jumped out of the tank.

    For tea, the boiling process should get rid of all the chlorine. The real problem is all the other dissolved substances in water that can really ruin your tea. Iron from the pipes, water quality in general. pH can vary widely in this area depending upon how long it has been since a rain.

    Good article, I love your blog. I wish you guys would quit referencing that article about the silver kettle. 😉 It makes me want one tooooo much. I’ve spent way too much money lately on tea stuff and can’t afford a real silver kettle anyways. Ha!

  4. I’ve had to resist looking around for a similar silver teapot like that one myself! Thank you for reading.

  5. Hi Gong Fu Girl,

    The H2O issue has been on my mind too lately. My wife and I use filtered tap water for our tea but have recently begun experimenting with different spring waters to very good results. I guess its a cost and availability issue for us city kids.

    Cheers,
    Brett (yep I still follow your blog after all these years!)

  6. I have found it very hard to use anything other than spring water now that I have determined how much better it is.

    Thank you for your loyal readership!