The Importance of Water in Tea
The subject of water is huge when it comes to tea, and we don't have to get too scientific about it. We just need to realize that not all waters are created equal, then choose the best one for the job. I have tasted hundreds of teas over the last few years, especially these last almost 2 years when I decided that I wanted to offer a small selection of some of my favorite leaves. At first, I tasted each tea with three different types of water: well water (hard water), bottled spring water (sorry, I don't have access to a natural mountain spring), and triple-filtered water stored in glass. The latter option has become my go-to, resulting in some of the tastiest sips to date, while extending the life of the tea leaves and allowing for many more steeps—often double than what I would get from well water, for example.
One would think that pure well water, which is hard water, is perfect for tea. It's important to know that well water isn't as great as some might suggest. In fact, well water can have contaminants that can cause all sorts of ailments related to digestion. The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) is not responsible for the potability of well water on one's property. The owner must check his or her water on a regular basis, making any adjustment necessary to render the water safe to drink or use in general. Additionally, well water is hard with minerals, which is too harsh for delicate tea leaves.
Many of today's tea experts consider glacial spring water to be the best option. I've had the pleasure of tasting (and cooking with) with spring water in Japan. I remember all too well how light and clean this type of water is, not to mention the soft and sweet finish it offers on the tongue. You feel instantly rejuvenated from such an experience. But how many of us have access to a natural spring on a daily basis, if at all? One can only dream. The bottled type is, for most of us, the only spring water option we have—and it's not perfect. Consider that bottled spring water comes in direct contact with the plastic in which it is stored. In some instances, the plastic is so cheap it alters the flavor of the water. You can't get rid of the nasty taste, not with a filter and not by boiling it. Some bottled waters are better than others. I say go for glass bottles, but if plastic is your only option, then be sure it is quality plastic, not the clearly cheap thin type. Additionally be sure you know your source. If it doesn't move off the shelves, go to a store where you know the water sells quickly. You don't want to get stuck with an expensive water that's been sitting there absorbing plastic for months at a time.
Tap water is truly not the best option either. Tea masters of yesteryears would roll in their graves, if they knew just how many of today's "tea masters" tend to use tap water for steeping quality leaves. That said, I will argue that it is the best option with a few tips to correct its quality.
Trying to recreate spring water from New York City tap is impossible, but you can create drinking water that is excellent for tea, extending the life of the tea leaves so you can enjoy many more steeps than you might using bottled water. How do I do this? First, I visualize the Ashokan Reservoir in the Hudson River Valley and the Catskills, where the water comes from. That helps a tiny bit... hahaha :) Then I use a commercial filter, placing a couple of pieces of bamboo charcoal in the catching reservoir below the filter. I have three GLASS bottles, each containing two pieces of bamboo charcoal (part 3). I pour the filtered water into these glass bottles, and wait at least 4 hours before steeping tea. Most often, my water sits with the bamboo charcoal in the glass bottles at least 12 hours or overnight. The result is sweet, soft, and neutral, and quite good for all types of leaves, whether green or dark roasted, oxidized or fermented, newly harvested or aged. It's the best option with consistently good results that I have found to date.
Of course, not all tap water is created equal. Please check your State, do your own testing with various types of filtering, and proceed accordingly.