Taste calibration

Traveling with tea is important, lest you have to resort to desperate measures like drinking McDonald’s teabags. When I am on the road these days I usually bring one of my early 2000s puerh with me, because 1) puerh is made for traveling and 2) they taste great when drunk grandpa style, which is really the only way that is practical when on the road. I tend to know these teas well, so it’s always fun when you go to a different place, and you brew a cup, and the tea tastes different.

The only difference, other than not having my usual mug or what not, is the water. Specifically, it’s the tap water. I still remember when I first went to college in the great state of Ohio, and tasting the water there at the school, I wondered if I was drinking from some horrible swimming pool. I promptly bought a Brita, which didn’t do a lot other than removing some of that chlorine taste. It was horrid, and remains, to this day, some of the worst tap water I have had access to. These days I normally drink tea using Hong Kong tap water, which is a mixture of local reservoirs and river water from the East river in Guangdong, not exactly known for great water quality. The result is ok, but certainly not great.

So being here in Vancouver BC, where the tap water quality is great, comes as quite a nice change of scenery. The water here is a combination of lakes, creeks, and snow melt. It’s got a typical low mineral content taste, crisp, cold, and somewhat light in body. Drinking my Menghai tuo with this water makes the tea more floral – the “green” notes are far more present here than when I drink them in Hong Kong. My pet theory is that water with higher (but not too high) mineral content actually somehow manages to pull more “stuff” out of the tea than water with very low mineral content. The result is that lower mineral content water actually means more infusions for the same tea, at the cost of thickness/fullness in taste.

It is also a good reality check for a tea that you drink often – recalibrating your expectations with regards to a tea that you think you know well already. This is easily achievable without having to fly 10 hours to a new city – the many kinds of bottled waters out there can do that for you. For a good all-rounder that is available everywhere, Volvic is always a good option for tea. For those seeking lighter water, something from Iceland, with their glacier melt source, tend to provide a nice, crisp experience. Putting your own tap water in that spectrum helps situate where your water source is, and thus helping you figure out the most important ingredient in your teamaking other than the leaves. It’s a useful exercise and something that I recommend everyone to do every so often.


Taste calibration — 8 Comments

  1. REPOSTING (as the first had missing chunks)

    Hello Marshaln,

    Thank you for another insightful post. I always enjoy reading your blog for the simple reason that it exercises my brain 🙂

    REF from your post
    >> … water with higher (but not too high) mineral content actually somehow manages to pull more “stuff” out of the tea than water with very low mineral content<> Distillation is the process in which water is boiled, evaporated and the vapour condensed. Distilled water is free of dissolved minerals and, because of this, has the special property of being able to actively absorb toxic substances from the body and eliminate them. Studies validate the benefits of drinking distilled water when one is seeking to cleanse or detoxify the system for short periods of time (a few weeks at a time).

    …… Cooking foods in distilled water pulls the minerals out of them and lowers their nutrient value.<<

    As a new Blogger I have learned a lot from your posts especially in keeping my mind open to new perspectives.

    Thank you

    • ” Studies validate the benefits of drinking distilled water when one is seeking to cleanse or detoxify the system for short periods of time (a few weeks at a time).”

      Do please quote those studies, because on every bottle of distilled water there is a clear warning “distilled water is NOT for consumption” (at least in my country).

      Through what mechanism does distilled water pull out toxins out of your body? Osmosis, what you would probably answer, pulls out sodium, cloride and so on, because the osmotic pressure is lower than that of your serum. That does not make it beneficial, since it could lead to an electrolyte disbalance, which, in certain illnesses, can cause life-threatening complications.
      And what are those toxins called? Everywhere where fasting and “detox” are being talked about, there is mention of “toxins”, but what exactly these toxins are and where they come from is never discussed. The discussions are based on pseudoscientific premises, and without any factual evidence.

      But enough of that. MarshalN, thanks for the really nice post. For someone who hasn’t touched tap water in 15 years (not even when parched!), I am wondering how you can tolerate tap water in your tea. With a tea-trained palate that gets quite sensitive, doesn’t it bother you to taste that sort of water? I know buying bottled water gets quite expensive over time, but if we’re already bothered by pesticide in tea, why do we get cheap when it comes to our source of water?

      • Agreed on the toxins.

        While I am not a great fan of a lot of tap water (but there really are places in the world, like Vancouver, where tap water tastes quite good) the alternative, buying bottled, is not something I’m happy with either. While I do it sometimes, shipping water from sometimes thousands of miles away stored in plastic bottles is really not my idea of good. And where I live anyway, getting your own water is not a possibility.

  2. We’re totally spoiled here in Norway, the tap-water at my house is supersweet! I hadde a good Sheng with me to Kuala Lumpur, the tap water tasted nasty swimmingpool. And bottled water boiled in the waterboiler tasted bad as well, probably because it had been used for boiling tap water. In the end I had to boil bottled water in a pan to get a good cup.

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