Sunday, February 6, 2011

The Water Experiment

No more tea bags for you. Nope. Not going to happen. You go straight to the high quality, right for the good stuff – the loose leaf stuff, nothing less than the SFTGFOP for you. You open up your box and stare at the golden floweriness of the leaves… and then drown them in chemically treated tap water full of who knows what. You take a sip and wonder why your super fine tea doesn’t taste so super. Before you blame the leaves, the company, the farmer, the crop, and the weather, you might want to take a good, hard look at your not-so-good hard water.

Roughly 98% of what is in your teacup is water. If you don’t like the taste of your water, then more than likely you are not going to like the taste of the tea. What I mean is, if your water tastes like you are licking a metal pipe – water that has a lot of heavy metals, chlorination by-products, and other pharmaceuticals – then your cup of tea is going to reflect that metallic/sulfur aftertaste.

The importance of the right kind of water for tea is not something new. For centuries, the Chinese insisted that the best water to use for Dragon Well tea was water from the Dragon Well spring in the FengHuang Mountain region of China. Although, we cannot all have access to the Dragon Well spring, we can reach for the next best thing: filtered water.

PUR, a company dedicated to water filtration systems, sent me their PUR one-click faucet mount filter to put to the test. I decided to do a blind experiment involving four different water sources: the PUR faucet mount water filter, a Brita water filter pitcher that I currently use for tea, my tap water, and my boyfriend’s apartment tap water.

First, I would like to say that installing the PUR filter was very easy. We have a fairly old faucet and I was worried if the filter would attach, but PUR includes four different washer-like attachments so you can choose the right one that fits your faucet. After screwing in the washer, the filter slides in easily to the body of the case, and the whole thing snaps on with one easy click. They really aren’t kidding about the “one-click” process. De-packaging to installation only took about five minutes.

For the procedure I lined up four mugs and four glasses labeling each pair A, B, C, D. Like I said earlier, this was a blind test so I left the room and had someone else fill each mug with a different type of water, with them keeping the key to what water was in what mug a secret. In each glass I measured out and placed 2.3 grams of Adagio’s White Peony white tea. I chose this particular tea because of its delicate taste. I also chose glasses instead of my fancy tea ware because I didn’t have four of the same tea ware pieces and I wanted each batch to be uniform. It is not the most aesthetic set up, but this way each batch was subjected to the same heat dissipation and steeping conditions.

Next, I heated the four mugs in the microwave until the water reached a temperature of 185°F, allowing for a loss of 5°F when hitting the room temperature glasses to acquire the recommended water temperature of around 180°F. Then, I poured each mug of water into the respectfully labeled glasses containing the white tea. I allowed the tea to steep for the recommended seven minutes then decanted the tea into their respected mugs. Finally, I allowed the tea to set for about five minutes in order to be cool enough to taste.

The results were very interesting. I have known for quite some time that water affects the taste of tea, which is why I invested in my Brita pitcher, but I had no idea of exactly how much water plays a role until I tasted each cup side by side. I was very surprised! Here is what I found:

Please remember that even though I have now paired my notes with the actual water source, at the time of the tasting, I had no idea as to what water was in what mug.

(A) PUR faucet mount water filter – It has a strong, full, brisk flavor for being white tea. I can taste the slight fruitiness at the end, along with a hint of sharpness. It is rather dry than the other three, but holds more complex flavors. There was hardly any residue on the side of the mug.

(B) Boyfriend’s apartment tap water – It has a strong flavor but also a harsh bite in the beginning and end. I have a hard time tasting any fruitiness that normally accompanies this type of tea. The sharpness is distracting. The color seems to be the darkest of the four. This one is astringent as well, but not as much as A. There was a lot of residue on the side of the mug.

(C) My tap water
– It has a good flavor, but not as strong as A and B or as complex as A. It is crisp with no sharpness like B. I can taste way more of the fruitiness of the tea but less of the other slightly grassy, nutty flavors like in A or B. It is smoother than A and B – not as much dryness – but the finish is flat. There was a fair amount of residue on the side of the mug.

(D) Brita pitcher water filter – This is almost the same as C. This tea has the lightest color of the group. The flavor also seems faint and a little flat. It is crisp and smooth, hardly any dryness. It lacks the body and briskness that A has. There was hardly any residue on the side of the mug.

My conclusion was a hard one to make. I liked the full flavor of the PUR, but the dryness caught me off guard. However, like wine, good tea is supposed to have some dry qualities. I think I am going to avoid ever making tea with the tap water at my boyfriend’s apartment and at my place. As for my Brita pitcher, that one really stunned me. I have been making tea with this water filter for over a year now, and I didn’t see anything wrong with it. I am wondering if something went wrong with the steeping process in this batch. I want to give old faithful another chance before nixing it. For now, I think I am going to use the PUR filter. It is easier to use than my Brita pitcher (which I have to pull out of the refrigerator and refill almost every time I use it) and the PUR filter makes a decent cup of tea.

For my final thoughts, I suggest investing in a water filter of some kind if you want to enjoy delicious cups of tea or even healthier cups of water. By the way, if you are thinking about buying bottled water instead of a filter, don’t! Filters are a heck of a lot better for the environment, so I believe bottled water isn’t even an option. So I don’t have to go through my diatribe of why I think bottled water is bad, just don’t do it… or I will make you hug a tree!


Nicole said...

The results of your experiment were really interesting and there is definitely some food for thought. I am lucky in that I live close to New York City, which has some of the best water around.

Lelia said...

Here in Seattle we think we have great water but now I really want to try your experiment. I don't think i will be as scientific and just use the Pur filter vs tap water. But it makes sense that all the "healthy" chemicals that are added to the water plus what is not taken out by the water company would impact the flavor of our delicate friends.

Ben Cox said...

PUR has a particular type of filter called the PUR Mineral filter. It fits their standard sink contraption, and adds a bit of minerality to the water. For tea, I've found that to be the best treatment for my particular tap water.

Generally, though, I go with spring water - Deer Park (sadly, not available out here in CA) is the best I've tried so far.