ancient wisdom, tips and modern secrets to great tasting tea & healthy water
by Tea Master, Daniela Cubelic
The important relationship that water has to tea is encapsulated in an ancient Chinese saying, which is that water is the “mother of tea” – first because it nourishes tea bushes as they grow, but also because water releases the tea’s flavour when you brew it.
From the days of the earliest tea connoisseurs in ancient China, there was a recognition that water quality affected the taste of tea, and this subject has gone on to occupy tea experts for thousands of years. Tea Masters throughout Asia went on pilgrimages to discover the ideal water for tea, and water sources were often closely guarded secrets. The best water came from the most remote mountain springs, lakes and rivers because their distance from human inhabitants ensured they were pristine.
As well, charcoal made from bamboo was traditionally placed in water to purify it, and in fact even today, many modern water purifiers still use charcoal! In India, water is stored in copper jugs, which are believed to naturally purify it, while enhancing the water’s healthful properties. Copper is a mineral involved in many processes in the body, and we don’t always get enough of it in our diets. However a small amount of copper is released into water if it’s stored in a copper jug, so this traditional practice isn’t as out there as it might seem.
Specialized clay teapots, cups and water jugs were also sought after in China, Taiwan, Korean and Japan, because the minerals in the clay make the water (and therefore the tea) taste sweeter. They also improve the oxygenation of the water, which further enhances the taste of tea.
Regardless of the method of purifying it, water quality is absolutely critical to the taste of your tea. Tap water is often chlorinated, which can also saturate delicate teas with a chemical taste. As well, hard water has a strong mineral taste, so it requires strong tasting tea because it overwhelms delicate flavours.
Unfortunately, although bottled water from spring and purified water sources is widely available, it has a high carbon footprint and is usually sold in plastic bottles, which are a potential concern both from an environmental and health standpoint. Provided your city’s tap water is not contaminated with hazardous chemicals, it can be a more environmentally friendly choice, as well as one that may be healthier in the long term if you’re concerned about the potentially negative effects of plastics on your body and the planet.
There are also a few simple things you can do to improve the quality of your tap water. Let it stand for a few hours in a glass or porcelain pitcher (without a lid) on your kitchen counter. As soon as the chlorine evaporates, it will taste better. I’ve been doing this for years, and it works very well.
If you want to go further and have your tap water approximate the taste (and even the molecular structure) of fresh spring water, there’s a surprising method you can use, based on the fascinating research of a Japanese scientist who discovered that the molecular structure of tap water was dramatically different from pure spring water.
It sounds like science fiction, but exposing water to certain gemstones (including quartz and amethyst) can increase water’s oxygenation and make it more alkaline. It actually alters the molecular structure of tap water to resemble spring water. These two factors in water (alkalinity and oxygenation) make tea and taste sweeter and more flavourful. Intriguingly, before the science came along, some ancient civilisations used to do just that. Romans placed amethysts in water and wine to improve taste. In Asia, water was placed in jade vessels (or jade was kept in water) to improve the taste. Nowadays in Europe, sommeliers have returned to the practice by exposing wine to specialized carafes containing selected gemstones before serving it, to enhance the taste.
As a tea lover and expert, I’ve tasted very many different types of water and judged their effect on tea, and yet I was astounded when I was in Europe a few years ago, and sampled tap water that had been exposed to specific gemstones. It tasted incredibly fresh, delicate, and revitalizing – and amazingly similar to water from a fresh, pure, stream. I became a convert and brought a specialized gemstone water device back with me, and completely switched over to drinking tap water infused with gemstones for my daily tea, and surprised guests with how great my tap water (and the tea made from it) tasted. Eventually I was finally able to bring some of the European gemstone water wands into the shop for sale. I love the wands because of how they delicious they make tap water taste, but also because they are continuously re-usable, cost-effective and eco-friendly. If you doubt the effect these gemstone wands have on the taste of water, stop in and ask to taste water infused with the gemstone water wand.
In addition to water quality, there is a great deal of ancient tea wisdom that relates to teaware and how it can enhance the taste of tea. The shape and style of teapot and teacup, as well as the material it is made from can also affect your ability to perceive flavours in your tea… but we’ll save that topic for a future post!