Welcome to Water Matters! A series of tea & water experiments here on TeaCurious, because I am kind of crazy about water.
I firmly believe that good water is just as important as good tea.
I know, I know. The idea of water tastings might seem… a little ridiculous, and almost snobbish. Remember those articles about water sommeliers that came out a few years ago? From what I remember, many people thought it was super pretentious.
If you live in Las Vegas like I do, though, you might understand. Our city has some of the worst water ever, and it’s so heavily treated with chlorine that it might as well be pool water. It leaves a hard water stain on everything, and slowly kills any plants I water with it. It also kills tea. Don’t believe me? Just ask any tea lover who has visited to Las Vegas (and who brought their tea stuff, of course), then tried to brew tea using the tap water at their hotel….
…Yeah. Bad water means bad tea.
In 2008, when I started getting into tea, I was already living in Las Vegas, so I ran into problems very quickly. Something that tasted heavenly at the tea store would taste like dishwater at my house. Also, my tea would often have a gross, oil slick-like film on top of the cup, because of all the heavy minerals in the water. Finally, after Googling “weird film on top of my tea”, I discovered the importance of good water, and I’ve been obsessed ever since. Now I know that the right water can make a flat, bitter tea turn into something magical, fragrant, and sweet.
For example, out of the 8 waters in this experiment, only one water brought out an awesome, chestnut flavor in the tea. None of the other waters even came close. Half the waters made the same tea tasteless or bitter. If we want to make good tea, water matters…
About the Experiment
In this experiment, I tested 8 different waters (7 bottled, 1 tap) with the same green tea.
Green tea was selected to be the first experiment for this series, thanks to the folks on Instagram who voted on my poll. Thanks for helping me pick, you guys! And don’t worry if green tea isn’t your favorite – I’ll eventually cover all major types of tea.
Green tea is a great starting point for our experiments, since green teas are easily affected by water. Their light, fresh flavors are easily overwhelmed or muted by the wrong water. The specific tea I used was Chun Mei, a common green tea from China. This one is from Spring 2017, and in my experience, it tastes pretty strong, with grassy, nutty flavors, sometimes a little fruity. It can be bitter or tart if brewed incorrectly.
I chose Chun Mei since many popular tea brands offer green teas similar to Chun Mei, so you’ve probably something similar before! It’s a pretty universal green tea profile. You may even have some green tea bags or grocery store green tea uses Chun Mei.
As for the waters, I used Aquafina, Arrowhead, Dasani, Evian, Fiji, Glaceau smartwater, Nestle Pure Life, and my own tap water. To get more information on the waters I chose, including things like the source of the water (spring, municipal, artesian) and price per liter, read this companion post, “Details on Bottled Waters”.
Tea: 1g Chun Mei green tea
Water Volume: 1.5 oz (45mL) water
Water Temperature: 200-204 ºF (93-95 ºC) *
Brewing Time: 1 minute
Kettle: Bonavita Gooseneck Variable Temperature kettle, 1.0 L, stainless steel
Brewing Vessel: Ceramic cup, + stainless steel strainer
*Note on temperature: Water boils at a lower temperature at high altitude. At sea level, the boiling point is 212 ºF (100 ºC), but because I live at 2,500 ft, my boiling point here is around 207 ºF (97.5 ºC), so the water I used is pretty close to boiling. Be sure you know what your local boiling point is! At first I thought my kettle was bad because it could never reach 212 ºF…
I used two identical Bonavita kettles to heat the waters, which were cleaned beforehand to remove any residual minerals. By using two kettles, I was able to lessen the time between brewing the first tea, and tasting the last tea in the batch, as tea tastes different after it’s been cooled down.
I tasted the teas in two batches, with the waters divided in alphabetical order.
Finally, please excuse my overly bright photos of the brewed teas. I just took really quick pictures, so I didn’t risk cooling down the tea too much! I definitely edited these pictures to show the color of the tea as true to life as possible.
Aquafina, Arrowhead, Dasani, Evian
Check out those color differences! It looks like there are different teas…
Usually, heavy waters (with lots of minerals / Total Dissolved Solids) will brew up darker-colored tea. Heavy water isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but if a water is too heavy for the tea, the tea becomes flat.
In this case, the mineral-heavy waters were too much for the green tea. The worst one was Arrowhead, a heavy water that made the tea taste… like not much, really. The flavors were weak and muted. The texture was nice and satisfying, but what’s the use if I can’t even taste the tea?
Evian, another heavy water, was a weird one. Like Arrowhead, it also made the tea tasteless, but it did do something interesting. Evian gave the tea an amazing aftertaste, all flowery, fruity, and sweet! It was crazy good… except, it’s seriously all in the aftertaste, like a delayed reaction. It tastes like nothing at first, so if you’re not paying attention, you’d miss the best part for this tea. So weird.
I’m not sure what I feel about the Evian. While the aftertaste effect was awesome, the right water still shouldn’t make the tea taste flat. The Evian was just too heavy for this tea.
Aquafina was my second favorite of the entire experiment. It made the tea nice and smooth. The flavors were sweet and bright, grassy, and almost fruity and floral. It was lacking a little something, though, especially in terms of the texture – it had that “empty” feel that I usually see in purified waters. Still, it was good enough, and complemented many of the classic green tea flavors.
I hated the taste of Dasani on its own, so I couldn’t believe how damn good it was with the Chun Mei! I guess that’s why we do these experiments… you never know what to expect. My written notes speak for themselves: “Nutty! Like a different tea [compared to all the others]. Almost like cashews or chestnuts. Very tasty, simple but satisfying.”
Out of all the waters, I thought Dasani was the best match for the Chun Mei. The only downside for the Dasani is that it made the tea taste maybe a little too simple, but that nutty flavor was so clear and delicious. I think that suits the Chun Mei really nicely.
Unfortunately, it just goes downhill from here… I thought that at least a couple more of these waters would do okay with the tea…
Fiji, Glaceau Smartwater, Nestle Pure Life, tap water
Still some pretty obvious color differences here!
I wasn’t really happy with any of these teas in this batch, but I was most disappointed in the Fiji. Fiji is my favorite water for tea. From what I’ve experienced, it usually does well for most lighter teas. I thought its gentle, soft taste would be good for green tea, but no go… It was weak and uninspiring with the Chun Mei.
The texture was very nice, and what little I could taste was pretty complex, but the tea struggled here. I guess Fiji is also too heavy for the Chun Mei. It’s strange, since I’ve tested Fiji before during a similar experiment with high quality Chinese Dragonwell, and Fiji did amazing things for that particular green tea. High end Dragonwell is very different from Chun Mei, though (more tender, young leaves), so I’m not totally surprised that different waters are good even for different green teas. Again, I guess this is why we do these experiments!
Glaceau smartwater and Nestle Pure Life were pretty light waters, but they also made the tea taste flat, in a different way. Like the Aquafina, both had that “empty” taste that I get from overly purified waters, but even worse than the Aquafina. Glaceau smartwater made the worst tea of this entire experiment. It was sour, bitter, astringent, tart, rough, and with a terrible drying texture. Everything was completely wrong with it!
Pure Life wasn’t as bad, it was just weak with barely any taste or texture.
I’m actually shocked that my tap water wasn’t as bad as I thought it’d be. I mean, it was still pretty bad, but the smartwater was even worse. With my tap water, the tea was thick and satisfying, with a mild sweet flavor, and almost nutty like the Dasani. It was really, really dry though, and while the flavor was okay, there was a weird, funky sourness that I couldn’t get past… While I couldn’t taste the chlorine directly in the tea, I felt like that was lurking underneath and making the tea taste really funky.
Good waters (improves the tea): Dasani
Decent waters (matches the tea): Aquafina
Weak waters (worsens the tea): Arrowhead, Fiji, Nestle Pure Life
Terrible (ruins the tea): Glaceau smartwater
Weird (???): tap water, Evian
Conclusion: Chun Mei performs best with very light waters. Spring & artesian water is usually too heavy. The best water, Dasani, is a treated city water, meaning many may get good results with filtered tap water at home. These results will probably apply to other similar, mid-grade Chinese green teas, but the ideal waters will be different for high grade Chinese green tea, and other green teas like Japanese sencha.
Even after doing many of these water experiments, I’m always still shocked by the results. So many of these waters did so badly with the tea. Imagine if you just found an awesome new green tea, and it tastes fantastic at home. You bring it to a friend’s house to show them the wonders of good tea, but when brewed up with their house water, your new favorite tea tastes like crap…
But hey, it’s not about selecting the absolute perfect water for every single tea. That’s not realistic, nor is it sustainable (with all that plastic bottle junk). It’s about being just a little more aware of the variables that affect our tea, so if there is a problem, we have some idea of how to fix it.
After all, tea is a journey. Sometimes the fun is in messing up, making mistakes, and discovering something new along the way. And once you do find the right water for your favorite tea, it’s totally worth it, as good water can bring out a whole new experience for your teas!
Anyway, that’s all for this month’s experiment. I hope you guys try doing your own experiments, too! You don’t even need so many bottled waters: you can start with testing just your tap water vs. filtered water, or a couple different bottled water brands.
And if you do try your own water experiments, I’d love to see your results! Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or hashtag #TeaCuriousExperiments on social media. I’m super excited to see your results! It’s always better to learn together.
Till next time,