A key factor in the taste of tea has been acknowledged by many tea experts to be the quality of the water. All lot has been said in articles and blogs about water’s impact on tea taste, but that won’t stop me from reiterating the most important points here. It is the most obvious but most often overlooked factor affecting your tea experience.
Hard or Soft
Soft water (with a minimum of minerals in it) will steep tea up differently than hard water (which has higher concentrations of various minerals). A big issue is the amount of calcium (contained in such minerals as dolomite, calcite and gypsum) and magnesium (most often found in dolomite) in that water, and those amounts vary based on the source of water such as an aquifer. The calcium and magnesium ions are usually charged (fairly active). Hard water full of these minerals can make your tea taste one way, and soft water with low levels of these minerals produces another tea taste.
Oxygen levels in water, especially when making tea, are a subject of much concern. Tea sages caution against using water that has sat awhile or that has been boiled and then has cooled and so has to be re-boiled. A bit of research showed that re-boiling water does not change the amount of oxygen in it. The concern is that boiling produces steam and carries away water molecules, leaving minerals and increasing their concentration.
Many municipal water systems add in EPA-mandated chlorine and/or chloramine into the water that flows through their pipes into your house. Chlorine has a very noticeable odor (think high school swimming pool). It tends to dissipate fairly quickly, though, and can be mostly gone by the time your turn on the tap in your home. Thus, chloramine, which is more stable and lasts longer in the water, has come in to use, with chlorine only being used for one month of the year as a “system flush.” Since the chloramine does not dissipate quickly, the old adage of drawing a gallon of water and letting it sit in an open container for a couple of hours will no longer work to remove this chemical from the water. It will interact with the tea leaves and also remain in the liquid after infusing.
One option is a water filter, but remember that you are not removing the chlorine/chloramine (you’d have to use one of the super filters for that) but only the smell and taste, which helps when it comes to tea.
How It’s Heated
What method you use to heat your water can affect tea flavor, also, sometimes in such a subtle manner as to be detected by only the most sensitive palates (but still worth mentioning here). Microwaves are generally panned as being totally unsuitable for this task, but the issue seems to be more about temperature control. When you heat in a microwave, how long to heat is a guessing game, since wattages/voltages vary. One solution is to follow what some tea vendors advise: heat the water to boiling and then let it cool to the desired temperature. For purists, though, using water that has been boiled and then cools even if only slightly gives a stale, flat taste to tea. That brings to mind the electric tea kettle.
Electric kettles have temperature controls. Fill the kettle with water, set the temperature you want, and hit “Start.” Simple. And you are totally at the mercy of the accuracy of the kettle’s temperature gauge, so shop for one that has a good reputation for reliability in the area. You will also want to be sure to clean it periodically to remove any mineral deposits from the water that have built up on the inside walls of the kettle.
Here’s hoping you’ll have even better tasting tea by paying closer attention to your water.
See also The Impact of Tea Temperature on Flavor.