It’s November, which means rain and more rain for the Pacific North West. Time to put on the woolen socks, cuddle under the blanket, get that fire going, and slip on crosswalks while running into Starbucks or is that just me? Does anyone else slip on painted strips while wearing Toms? I feel like a little penguin doing baby steps as I try to run as fast as possible because of course I forgot a coat and I just had to get one of those infamous red cups.
Usually we start getting rain around the end of September, but October was an abnormally dry month with beautiful sunshine and temperatures. As much as it put a smile on my face to walk to the library in just jeans and a t-shirt, the lack of rain has me worried. Vancouver lives for its rain. Yes, we may complain about it on months end, but we need it to survive. Without rain there is no snow on our slopes, which means a reduced amount of tourism money coming into the city. It also means that throughout the province there will be a reduced amount of snow falling this season causing a decrease in run off in the spring. Where will our reservoirs be in the summer?
Personally I feel there’s a distinct lack of care when it comes to rain. I say this because a couple of days ago we had a downpour that didn’t let up all day. When I made a comment to most customers they were shocked to find that I absolutely loved it. For you see most people will think of the weather today without thinking of how it effects the future. People grumble about the water without really realizing how everything revolves around it.
For a tea blog, you’re probably wondering why I’m talking about the weather, but this analogy is the same for tea.
During my first tea class I had a eureka moment; my teacher described tea as 90% water, that good water can make an ok tea leaf taste good, but crappy water can turn your very expensive high quality tea into the most disgusting cup ever. When we think of tea, we focus more on the actual leaves than the water we brew the leaves in. We compare brands against one another, just like fashionistas comparing labels; using highly chlorinated tap water to brew an expensive First Flush Darjeeling, can make that cup taste like a Lipton tea bag. So once you wrap your mind around the concept of water characteristics first, it helps shift your focus into realizing how important water is to the overall end result. Just like shifting focus into embracing November downpours for the future Summer comfort.
There are three types of water general tea drinkers use to steep tea:
- Generic tap water
- Distilled water
- Mineral-spring water
But each one has their own issues.
City water comes through the tap already filtered and disinfected with chlorine. If you ever drink from the tap and get that drying puckering mouth feel afterwards, it’s usually the chlorine having an effect. Depending on where you live you may have a high or a low amount of chlorine in your water. It’s this chlorine that has an objectionable effect on tea flavour. So the same tea can taste differently to people on opposite sides of the country. One can try filtering this water to remove the chlorine or at least trying to deactivate it by charcoal to help improve your tea flavour.
Distilled water is water that has been vaporized and recollected, it’s essentially stripped of all its naturally occurring mineral compounds. It’s empty, dead, when you taste it, you can’t taste anything but a cool liquid sensation.
The only water in this list that may present a true clean tea flavour is mineral-spring water, but that depends on the minerals found within the water. Each brand comes from a different spring therefore there is no accurate compound list.
You see the truth about water and tea – is “steeping, brewing, infusing and extracting describe a critical chemical reaction between compounds already in the water and compounds already in the leaf.” If you can control the amount of compounds found within water such as calcium, magnesium, silica, iron and other salts, you can control the end result. This is a why a cup of tea made at a professional tea house can taste completely different than the same leaf you brew at your own house. Most tea houses have machines that calibrate the water to the exact concentration of compounds they want in the water to make the best cup of tea.
What Can You do at Home?
If you’re a tea connoisseur and want to improve your tea flavour at home, be acutely aware of the water you are brewing with, don’t just pour tap water into your kettle and boil. One of my teachers told me to use Evian spring water for tea tasting due to the neutral ph, but that can get really expensive if you drink tea on a regular basis. Personally, I only used it when I was doing my blind cuppings to try and get as close to an accurate and clean flavour as I could. At home, I use a filter stick that increases the ph of my water so it’s more alkaline and infuses my water with calcium, magnesium, and other beneficial minerals as well as reducing the chlorine content.
The best recommendation I can give you is try different waters, taste them before you brew tea and after. Taste the difference and come up with the water that works best for you. As soon as you see tea as water first, it opens up a whole new world of control and flavours.