A tale of two waters

I got an email early today from Toki, who’s been rather quiet lately (note: and as I just noticed right now on his blog, whose grandmother has just passed away…). He asked me if I have tried a water called 5100. I haven’t, so I prompted went out and got a bottle.

This is a pretty expensive water for Chinese standards, with this particular one costing about 1 USD for 750ml of Tibetan water. It’s piped from some spring at 5100m elevation, and supposedly glacial in origin. It boasts boatloads of minerals, among which are Lithium and Strontium, which I’m not sure is actually good for human consumption in large quantities. Anybody knows?

Since I’ve already said yesterday that I’m going to brew some Yunnan Red (aka Black) Tea, I did. This is a tea that my girlfriend brought me from New York, from a place that sells both tea and coffee. The tea is basically a typical Yunnan hongcha, nothing fancy, and not of the “Golden Yunnan” variety where all the leaves are golden buds. Instead, it’s mostly broken leaves with bits of golden buds mixed in.

I wanted to test the new water I got today, so I brewed this tea using the two small gaiwans I have, putting in a small amount of leaves in each, eyeballing them to about the same level (damn the broken scale). One is to be just the 5100 water, and the other is my regular supply — Nestle water from the Shanghai plant.

I didn’t bother washing the leaves. Since the amount of leaves I used was small, I brewed each infusion with about one minute steeping time each. Let me show you the first one

Hmmm….

That’s a big difference in colour, and trust me, even though I think I added slightly more leaves to the gaiwan on the left, it was by no means a huge difference.

As you have probably guessed, the left gaiwan used 5100 water, and the right used my Nestle water. They definitely LOOK different. I mean… it’s night and day.

Thinking it might have to do with the slightly different levels of leaves, I reversed the water for the two gaiwans for the second infusion

And got the reserve result. This is not an illusion.

So far I’ve only been talking about the look of the tea. How did it taste? Well, the tastes are definitely different, although the true test would be if I were able to taste them blindfolded, not knowing which one I were drinking. The tea brewed with 5100 water tastes a little heavier, whereas the one with Nestle water tastes crispy. I’m not sure what the best way to describe this is, but the 5100 water gives the tea a slightly more intense and deep flavour, as if it had condensed something from the leaves, while the Nestle water just skimmed the surface, but the aroma from the Nestle water was more apparent, “higher” in Chinese terms, and just lighter in general. There was a slight hint of sourness in the Nestle water sample on the second infusion that I didn’t detect in the 5100 sample. The mouthfeel of the 5100 samples were obvious a little softer as well, but not definitively so. Again, it would be more convincing if I couldn’t see which cup I was drinking from.

I switched the teas back to their original waters

And a final, long steep, with the left now being a mix of 5100 and Nestle water, and the right only of Nestle water

Meanwhile… I consumed some snacks, which I don’t mind doing when I’m drinking red (black) tea. In case you’ve never seen them… these are egg tarts, “Portugese style”, but really from Macau as far as I’m aware. The ones that look burnt have caramel added to the custard mix, whereas the ones that aren’t burnt do not have the custard and are therefore a little less sweet and a little less creamy.

One interesting thing about the 5100 water, which I’ve noticed with Evian as well, is that they leave sediments behind when boiled. Notice the white deposits….

It will be interesting to see how this water changes the way certain other teas taste, stuff I’m perhaps more familiar with. I’m wondering what to try next with this. Perhaps the Best Tea House “30 years” loose puerh will be a good candidate for the same treatment, or maybe some Wuyi tea. I don’t think I’ll want to use only 5100 for brewing, for a few reasons. Cleanup is definitely one, since I think the amount of deposits in the kettle is quite high, and although I know I would be gulping down all of this if I were to drink the unboiled version of this water, it’s still a bit… jarring. Also, it’s not cheap…. and I don’t think the way it changes the tea is entirely positive. That is, I don’t think one can say with no reservations that this water makes today’s dianhong better in every way. It was different, that’s for sure, but I couldn’t say I liked it more, necessarily. I think it was interesting to see the difference though.

What’s a day’s drinking without a shot of the wet leaves?


Comments

A tale of two waters — 7 Comments

  1. Yes, great posting. It’s so interesting to see the drastic differences in color.
    Most famous Chinese teas have a spring associated with them that gives the best flavor (like Long Jing). I’ve experimented with trying to recreate the taste and texture of ideal tea brewing spring waters I’ve tried in Yunnan by blending a lower mineral content bottled water with a higher mineral content water (like Trinity Springs). It seemed to work out well. Tea can only be as good as the water you brew it in 🙂

  2. Look at those colors!!!

    … Ooops, please let me pop my eye-balls back into their sockets before continuing…

    Why, that’s some water you have there. It immediately brought to mind a bottled “glacier” water that I once used,  http://www.iceagewater.com/index.htm. Having read about yours, I checked their water analysis (http://www.iceagewater.com/WATER%20ANALYSIS%20REPORTS%20NSF%202003/2003%20WATER%20PRODUCT%20ANALYSIS.pdf ) and found that Li (isn’t that found in batteries…) and SR (it’s used to make the CRT in TVs, among other things!) are not even among the minerals being tested for. But then I tried Ice Age for its alleged purity, rather than mineral richness; I turned out not liking it that much any way.

    It would appear that whether a water is good for brewing tea depends a lot on what kinds of minerals are in it: some minerals (say, Li and SR?) are good, whereas others (mercury, lead and so on) should be avoided. But too clean a water, like Ice Age, is not that great either.

    Thanks for the demo! I’ll go look for water with Li and Sr, if available; otherwisde, I know a place or two that sell old TVs and used batteries…

  3. I’m not sure Li or Sr are really ideal in a water for tea, and I think the taste of the tea was not dependent on these. Rather, it was just the high concentration of minerals generally that made the taste and colour different.

    And I really don’t think Tibetans are using this kind of water to brew their mushroom teas, although I’m sure the water they use must be pretty clean anyway.

    I generally try to blend water and adjust as I go along. One thing I have found is that different teas require different water, and that, really, is where the difficulty lies…

  4. That’s a seriously braeth-taking difference, thanks for documenting the trial.

    I would be very wary of using any water that resulting in such white accumulation as a “daily” source. It’s interesting that it’s so markedly more expensive. In my experience from examining British and French waters, it is generally true that the cheaper the water, the more white sediment one would expect in the kettle. Some even look milky when pouring from the kettle, resulting in cloudy tea. Fascinating that such an expensive water would have such residue. Calcium carbonate, if it is indeed that which is in your kettle, is certainly not something you want in great amounts!

    http://www.lenntech.com/elements-and-water/lithium-and-water.htm gives a good summary of the health effects of lithium in water, and they’re not generally positive ones!

    Strontium: http://www.lenntech.com/elements-and-water/strontium-and-water.htm

    I see words like “toxic”, “carcinogenic”, and other friendly terms. I wonder if it might be wise not to indulge any further in “5100”. 🙂

    Toodlepip,

    H

  5. Well, since I’m in the beautifully polluted city of Beijing, somehow I think any air that I breath is probably more carcinogenic and harmful than the small amounts of Li and Sr that are in the bottle of water I had.

    Also, from the webpage you found (which is great, by the way):

    “Strontium is usually immobile in the environment, because of rapid precipitation as strontium carbonate, or because it is applied in shells.”

    So, rather than Calcium Carbonate, it was probably Strontium Carbonate that was the percipitate, at least until the Sr ran out. Therefore, I probably drank very little of it.

    Lithium, as the webpage describes, does not get absorbed by the human body and goes out the other way.

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