Feb 26 2011

Water For Tea – Purified, Spring, or Tap?

February 26th, 2011 at 3:35 pm (AST) by Jake Richter

I have been camping out in a hotel for a month and a half, and in order to still enjoy my whole leaf tea, I have my Teavana Tea Steeper and a small hot water heater. Local tap water here in Cincinnati is rather foul (my apologies on multiple levels to Cincinnatians), so I have been buying cases of bottled water for me tea brewing.

A couple of weeks ago instead of buying my usual case of spring water (no brand preferences), I went and bought a case of Niagara “purified” water, which appears to be pretty much pure water with nothing in it. I thought that would be better for my tea making, and certainly better for my hot water maker (which was constantly getting crusty with white mineral residue from the spring water I had been using).

However, over the last week I have noticed that the purified water produced much paler and weaker flavored teas (also lacking in aroma). This result applies to all the teas I have tried, but for me has been most apparent with green teas. Increasing the brewing times or steeping temperature makes no difference.

Today I switched back to spring water (Ice Mountain brand, in case that’s of interest), and voila, flavor and color had returned to my brewed teas, at normal brewing times and temperatures.

So, what I take away from this accidental experiment is that apparently a bit of alkalinity and mineral content is necessary for the water to release the full flavor and color of the tea. Interesting thing to learn.

I did some online research about the subject and came across this article (which is experiential, and not really scientific, but interesting nonetheless) – Water for Tea.

In any event, I have learned my lesson, and while the purified water resulted in a much cleaner hot water pot, it’s not something I ever want to voluntarily use to brew tea again. I’ll suffer with mineral residue in the pot in exchange for better tea brewed with spring water.


Aug 15 2010

Pu-erh Tea

August 15th, 2010 at 10:27 am (AST) by Jake Richter

My first introduction to aged Pu-erh Tea was at The Fat Duck restaurant in England a couple of years ago, when I finished my meal off with a nicely brewed chunk off of a 50-year old Pu-erh tea cake (the tea is usually packaged up in compressed cakes of aged tea leaves). It was heavenly.

Close-up of the inside of the pu-erh cake

Close-up of the inside of the pu-erh cake

I’ve since tried to find pu-erh tea cakes during my travels, but only found pu-erh in loose form, of questionable origin, and usually quite bitter and earthy. I will normally brew that stuff with chrysanthemum blossoms for a more pleasant blend – the blossoms sweeten the tea and overcome the earthiness of the low-grade pu-erh.

However on our recent trip to Hong Kong we found a couple of tea shops offering vintage pu-erh cakes, so I plunked down 800 Hong Kong dollars (just over US$100) for a cake I was told was 17 years old.

A cake of 1993 pu-erh tea (I hope)

A cake of 1993 pu-erh tea (I hope)

Back of the pu-erh tea cake

Back of the pu-erh tea cake

As I don’t read Chinese, I don’t know for sure if my pu-erh patty is from 1993, but the first bit of it I brewed was wonderful – it had a full, warm, rich flavor without a hint of must, and better yet, the tea is good for multiple brews (I did four on the small chunk I extracted from the cake), and each was as good as the second. I say that because the tea store owners I bought the pu-erh cake from suggested (mostly with sign language) that you quickly rinse the tea leaves with hot water and discard the water (the first brew), and then you can consume the subsequent brews.

Close up of the edge of the pu-erh tea cake I bought in Hong Kong

Close up of the edge of the pu-erh tea cake I bought in Hong Kong

If any of you read Chinese, I would love a translation of the front and the back of the pu-erh packaging shown above. I’m curious if I got a good deal or got taken as a Gweilo.

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Update – August 16, 2010: I have just added the photo below to this blog entry per Kay’s offer in the comments on this post to have her sister-in-law translate. I didn’t realize how much text was under the folded wrapper. It does say 2001, so perhaps that’s the year of manufacture? We’ll find out soon!

The small print on the back of the Pu-erh Tea Cake

The small print on the back of the Pu-erh Tea Cake