Tea and Water – Does Water Quality Alter The Taste Of Brewed Tea?
In a humble Chinese village, a man walks into a legendary local tea house situated at the very peak of the highest mountain in the region. As a dedicated connoisseur of the finer things in life, the customer had travelled for hours to reach the tea house and enjoy a cup of the most extraordinary tea he had ever tasted in his life. Astonished, he requests some to take back to his family at home.
The man is greeted warmly when he returns to his town, and all the people gather to share the tea he has brought with him. His first guest takes a sip, then frowns. His second guest also takes a sip, and does not appear impressed either. They all agree on the bland aroma and lack of flavour present in the tea before them. How could that be?
Certain that he has been tricked, that the tea he bought was not the same tea he had tasted upon the mountain, he makes the long journey back to demand a talk with the master of the house. The tea master is a patient business man, and he takes the leaves which were returned to him, brewing them in front of both men. The aromatic scent of premium tea fills the air and when they taste it again, it is just as flavoursome and delicious as the first time the man visited the tea house.
Baffling. One tea, with such differing results. They ponder upon this for some time, until finally, the tea master makes an enquiry about the water used back in the man’s village.
“Ordinary river water,” says the man. “And what about you?”
“Fresh mountain snow melted and filtered through metres of volcanic rock, heated in highly porous bamboo charcoal, made from bamboo that is fifty years or older and burned inside an oven at 800 to 1200 degrees Celsius.”
While we don’t quite have easy access to ancient bamboo charcoal mountain water in Australia, we are very blessed to have high quality tap water and a multitude of choices when it comes to bottled products at the supermarket. In addition, some of us have filters we use at home or the office to create what some people describe as a ‘cleaner’ taste.
Here at Altitude Tea, each harvest we pick is a labour of love and we want the leaves to impart only the very best in flavour and aroma. We already know that tea plants grown with mountain water produces a higher quality leaf, but what about the water used to actually brew the tea?
Deliciousness is our top priority, so we took it upon ourselves to experiment with different kinds of water so that the results might be helpful to tea lovers all around the country. We’re not scientists by any means, nor are these definitive findings, but the opinions gained were unanimous across participants.
Sydney Tap Water: high quality, easily accessible, convenient, contains natural minerals and additives like fluorine, environmentally friendly, $0.0022/litre
Filtered (Clean Water Products P/L): experts in filtration, removes many sediments and impurities from tap water, usually a ‘cleaner’ and more refreshing taste, requires ongoing investment
Mt. Franklin: most popular bottled water in Australia. It might be worthy to note that Mt Franklin water does not actually come from a mountain, but is purely from various Australian springs. Relatively neutral in pH and balanced in mineral content. $2/litre
Evian: sourced from the French Alps, filtered through mineral aquifer for 15 years within the mountains before emerging at the spring in Evian-Les-Bains. Balanced mineral composition, $4/litre
Authentic Black: Grown at 3000 feet on our family estate for generations. Black tea pyramid brewed in 220ml of freshly boiled water for four minutes
Authentic Green: Grown at 3000 feet on our family estate for generations. Green tea pyramid brewed in 220ml of 80 degrees Celsius water for four minutes.
Although the flavour profile remained consistently excellent throughout all eight trials, we found some differences in other aspects of our tasting experience.
Both the black and green tea made with tap water produced a lightly fragrant cup with a clean mouthfeel, robust flavour, smooth finish and brought out many subtle nuances within the interplay of different tasting notes. We were able to detect different layers of sweetness.
Filtered water produced a stronger and brighter colour, as well as a more aromatic scent but these aspects did not translate into the flavour, which we found to be lacking in depth. This may be due to the removal of minerals which enhance the complexity of certain notes. These cups also brought out a shallow bitterness inherent in the tannins of all caffeinated beverages.
Cups made with Mt. Franklin were light in colour, strong in fragrance and very smooth in mouthfeel. We found that this smoothness became a slight detraction as it produced a beverage with a ‘one-flavour’ impression and dimishes the appearance of more subtle aromas.
Evian was the other impressive contender. Although the colour of Evian tea seemed darker with a slightly dirty appearance, and in the case of the black tea, produced a light oily film on the top, perhaps this is due to the efficient extraction of essence from the leaf and we enjoyed the well-rounded, balanced flavour with a pronounced lingering aftertaste.
If we were to rank the four choices, these are our impressions:
- Sydney Tap Water
The Altitude Team found it rather satisfying that the most cost-efficient and environmentally friendly option happened produce the best tasting cup of tea. Nothing is else is needed but a tap, a kettle, and Altitude tea leaves. It is small reminder of how lucky we are to live in Australia, for not all regions of the world have access to good quality water.
It also made sense to us that Evian mountain water came in at a close second, and we’re happy to recommend this bottled water if one is curious about the difference. However, it is by no means strictly necessary for a delicious cup of Altitude Tea.
The personality of Mt. Franklin and filtered water made it less suitable for hot tea, but perhaps they would be more desirable when cold-brewing tea due to their smooth characteristics. This may be an avenue for further research in our office.
Overall, we are happy with our findings and hope that this has been a useful guide to you. We enjoyed all eight cups and encourage your experimentation too!