Cha Qu 茶趣: How water affects the taste of tea

Chinese see everything in the world as a manifestation of either a male or female principle. For example, water is female, which means tea must be male. A funny thing is that when a boy chases or flirts with a girl, it is called “to brew – pao 泡” in Chinese. Well, if water is female, this means a woman brews a man in this situation, and a man wishes to be brewed by a good woman, don’t you agree? The quality of a woman has a strong effect on a man.

Now, you don’t need me to tell you why a good man deserves a good woman, but I would like to point out why bad water affects the taste of tea.

Why is the quality of water important?

tea-leavesTea is very sensitive to the pH value and mineral components. The softness of water affects the pH value of water. ( If the consistence of Ca 2+ & Mg2+ in the water is less than 8mg/L that is soft water; more than 8mg/L is hard water.) When pH is lower than 5, it doesn’t affect the color of tea liquor, and a cup of black tea would be bright, clear and golden color. On the other hand, when the pH is higher than 7, tea pigments
automatically oxidizes and theaflavins茶黄素disappear, making the tea liquor color dark and dull. In addition, if the aluminum is 0.2mg/L, the tea will be bitter; when the calcium is 2mg/L, tea will be rotten and astringent, up to 4mg/L, the taste will be bitter; when the magnesium is 2mg/L, the taste will be mild. When the lead is lower than 0.4mg/L, tea will be light and sour, above 1mg/L tea will be astringent and

bamboo-fountain-2spoutsHow did people choose water in ancient times?

There was no science and technology to prove any of the boring but important numbers above in ancient times. But Chinese tea drinkers have been very careful and picky choosing water for their tea since Tang Dynasty. The Chinese even reckoned that if a best tea met ordinary water, the tea would become ordinary, and when an ordinary tea met the best water, the tea would become better. Water was taken directly from nature; collecting rain, harvesting snow or ice, filling it from a spring, lake, river or stream, pulling it up from a well. According to “The Classic of Tea” from Lu Yu 陆羽(the sage of tea), the best water was mountain and
spring, river water next, followed by well water. For the spring water, the slower the water flowed, the better it was.

mountain-stream -by-tang-yin
mountain stream by Tang Yin

Why? Generally, the water from a well is alkaline, the taste astringent, river or lakewater is cloudy with impure smell, from a stream is heavy, rainwater is mild, and spring water is sweet and fresh. However, even though water comes from the same source, the quality would not be the same. It depends on if the water comes from the surface of the earth or a deeper level of earth. Which means, water from the center of river is better than edge; and the depth of well affects the quality of water. Zhang Yuan in Ming Dynasty recorded that the spring on top of a hill was fresh and light, the spring on the hillside was fresh and heavy, the spring in the rock was fresh and sweet, the spring in the sand was fresh and cold, and the spring in the earth was mild. The spring out of yellow stone was the best, but the spring coming out of green or blue stones was useless.


How to choose good water in the modern days?

Today, the water flows directly into our homes and right out of a tap. Many people filter their own tap water using one of the many commercially available home water filtration systems, while others obtain their water from reverse osmosis filtration services, or from machines dispensing “pure” water outside of grocery stores.
Whether or not these water sources are suitable for tea depends on the quality of the local tap water they are filtering.

tea-kettle-glassBoiling water can kill bacteria but it cannot remove chlorine, lead, rust and other pollutants. It is also a common knowledge that fish die from living in unfiltered tap water or boiled water within a few days due to chlorine and other contaminants. To choose a water to brew tea, the mineral content should be low-soft water (more mineral the water contains, the harder the water is); the taste should be fresh, crispy, clean, and avoid water with a distinctively mineral taste; there should be no other odors in the water, including the container of the water and the kettle you use to boil water.
There are two tips to use tap water:

a). turn on the tap for a little while before filling the kettle in order to get ride of rust from the pipe;

b). after boiling, open the kettle cover for 15 seconds to volatile chlorine.

Tap water in most cities, e.g., Vancouver, BC and Seattle, WA, is acidic and has a pH of 6.5 on average. Most bottled water, filtered water, mineral water, spring water and other beverages have a pH below 6.5. On the other hand, Water80 ionized micro cluster alkaline water is weak alkaline and has a pH around 8.0.

There is Chinese old saying that water is also the mother of tea, as well as the soul of tea.

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