On Tuesday this week my Tea School offered its first 'seriously' nerdy tea masterclass, a tea brewing bootcamp. It was such an enjoyable evening as we worked our way through a number of tea experiments, taking the opportunity to brew tea under the same conditions, adjusting one variable; and comparing the infusions side by side. Our experiments covered brewing vessel material, leaf quality, leaf weight, water, water temperature and steeping length.
It was always my intention to cover water for tea. And I was lucky to have special guest Danny Andrade, Product Development Manager of Di Bella Coffee and Australian winner of the 2018 World Tea Brewing Championship, introduce this topic to the participants. Thanks Danny and Di Bella Coffee for supporting me in growing the local tea community and being so open to the sharing of knowledge.
I thought I would share some of the experiences the masterclass had when delving deeper into this topic of water for tea.
We very simply did some sensory tests to compare Brisbane tap water (a hard water) with a Melbourne (built) water (a soft water). The attendees first tasted these two waters on their own before we brewed the tea. The general impression was that the Melbourne water was noticeably softer to drink, cleaner and didn't leave any chalkiness in the mouth compared to Brisbane's water. We then took this to the next stage to see the impact of using the different water sources to brew tea.
I selected an Oriental Beauty (a beautiful exceptional quality Taiwanese oolong) for this experiment as my experience to date has highlighted that higher oxidised, aromatic teas tend to fall flat when brewed using the local hard water source.
And before I forget, here are the measurements of the water.
| Brisbane water - HARD
||Melbourne (built) water - SOFT
Total dissolved solids 290ppm
General Hardness 120ppm
Total dissolved solids 55ppm
General Hardness 22ppm
The experiment was approached as a blind cupping with none of the attendees knowing which water had been used. The brewing parameters for this tasting were 2.5G tea per 150ml of water at 95˚C for 3 minutes.
For me, I noticed the difference in the colour of the liquor. The hard water brewed a slightly lighter colour compared to the soft water. But the biggest difference came in the taste. The Oriental Beauty brewed using soft water was delicious with bright floral top notes, a long-lasting honey sweetness and it's distinct fragrance. No astringency could be detected. Compared to the the hard water that tasted flat with some muted floral notes and a noticeable astringency. The overall mouthfeel was not pleasing. And based on attendee comments this was the same general impression they had also arrived at.
Interestingly there was overwhelming support for the Mebourne soft water over the local hard water. Based on this weeks experiment I can completely understand the blank looks I receive when talking to colleagues in Melbourne about water. It is very clear that Melbourne tea drinkers have nothing to complain about!
On a side note the experiment also highlighted to me that there might be a bias or preference to a water source that we are familiar until your palate evolves or your journey in tea reaches a certain experience level.