Part of a series on Water.
The importance of water to good tea continues to reveal itself. It has been a major consideration even before Lu Yu’s Cha Jing, will continue to be for centuries to come.
Most of the issues regarding good water relate not as much to the H2O itself as the elements that come in the water. It is doubtful that a universally “perfect” water for all teas will ever be found or developed. There is a spectrum of better and worse waters, and that spectrum may vary according to the teas being steeped and the conditions in which it is steeped.
Nevertheless, there are some considerations that may put us on track towards better water.
1. Understanding Chlorine and Chloramine
Chlorine and Chloramine are disinfectants, and a major improvement over worrying about exposure to cholera, typhoid, and dysentery. On the other hand, these can affect the flavor and odor of water and tea.
Removing chlorine depends on what kind of chlorine is being used. Free chlorine is more easily removed from water than chloramine. Chloramine has come under increased use because it is effective for a longer period than chlorine. Internet sites that discuss removing chlorine from water do not always consider the presence of chloramine in place of chlorine.
There is also a popular misconception that boiling water removes chlorine from drinking water. This is true, but a extended period of boiling is often necessary. This experiment from the Home Brew Digest tracked the release of chlorine and chloramine from 10 gallons of boiling water. Removal of chloramine and chlorine can take minutes or hours. Either way, simply reaching 212° F and stopping isn’t enough to remove a significant amount of chlorine. Letting the water sit in an open container allows an even slower release of chlorine or chloramine.
Filtering is an option. Based on the Home Brew experiments, filter pitchers with activated carbon (Brita is mentioned) are rated to remove about 92% of chlorine/chloramine in water. The experiments yielded results similar to the ratings.
Flouride in drinking water is tasteless, odorless, and colorless. Additionally, tea leaves can also contain varying levels of flouride. Larger, more mature leaves are believed to contain more flouride than younger leaves and buds. It is theoretically possible that flouride in drinking water could affect the steeping process of tea, but I have seen no factual evidence that flouridated water significantly impacts the appearance or taste of tea. There is evidence to suggest that peoples’ perception of the effects of flouridated water differ from the actual effects. This study reveals how some of the hype surrounding the flouridation of water may lead to false detection of flouride-related symptoms.
Because of the benefits of flouride, some water filters do not remove the mineral from drinking water. If they do not (or cannot) remove one mineral, one would wonder how they remove other minerals. More on that below.
Am I suggesting that there is no danger in flouride? I am suggesting that the likelihood of flouride creating a significant health concerns seems relatively low. Some people are quick to cite this report of a woman whose bones and teeth were destroyed by flouride and tea. But she was using 100 – 150 teabags a day. Every day. For 17 years.
3. Mineral Content
As I mentioned in a previous article about water, minerals in water come in different forms. Water hardness is classified as either temporary or permanent. If it is temporary, boiling and some pitcher filters can remove or reduce the amount of minerals in water.
In the case of boiling, temporary hardness can result in more rapid scale buildup on the metal components inside a tea kettle. Questions about how to best remove scale steadily pop up on tea chat forums. My advice – use white vinegar (strait or diluted 2 parts vinegar : 1 part water) and leave in your kettle. No need to boil. Just let the kettle sit for the time needed. In some cases this is just minutes, in other cases it is overnight. It will depend on the degree of scale buildup.
If you are looking for a filter or filter pitcher to remove minerals, it needs to have ion exchange resins, or something similar. I have found no evidence that active carbon filtration alone can remove significant amounts of minerals. I would include bamboo charcoal as an unreliable solution to mineral reduction or removal. If carbon filtration did reduce mineral content, it might remove small amounts of temporary hardness. Permanent hardness is usually addressed through water softening systems, or filters that include ion exchange resins.
Besides, your aim should not be 100% mineral-free water. Distilled water produces flat, tasteless tea.
4. Other Treatments
My search for sweeter waters turned up some other useful discoveries:
There are certain mineral nodules believed to improve the taste of water. When these rocks are added to water, they may be releasing minerals that enhance the taste of the water. This article from The Tea Gallery describes rocks from Mongolia believed to be adding potassium and silica to improve the tea water. If so, this aligns with the experience of water connoisseurs.
One of the common assumptions is that fresh water (from the spring or from the tap) is the default choice. The folks at The Tea Gallery may have found an exception to this rule too. Water allowed to sit in certain types of porcelain for hours or even days has won-out over other waters in blind tastings. On a related note, ceramic filtration systems may be seeing a resurgence in delivering cleaner water in developing areas.
Finally, the vessel used to heat water contributes to the character of water. TeaMasters took an unscientific look at the differences in waters boiled in a silver kettle and an iron one. Both metals have been used for centuries to enhance the taste and/or quality of water. In the article, Stephane also concludes that certain teas are better suited to water boiled in iron and silver.