It's been 3-4 years that I've been sticking to one kind of water for every family of tea I drink. This water is extremely low on minerals (about 50mg/l). The aim of this exercice is to develop my palate, so that the only thing that changes from one session to another (than I can control anyway) is the tea itself, in an attempt to try and spot its qualities and defects. Trying to do so is not an easy thing to do by oneself for sure, and I should have done way more side by side tastings and water exercises too. But some among you might have an idea of what a teaaddict's life is like : there are always at least a dozen samples to drink, try to taste all there is to taste, barring the really suspicious sources of course...
I don't think that it has been a bad thing. And anyway, I have a scientific mind, I can absolutely not change more than one parameter at a time. To give this a chance, I have been putting away all my teaware that is not neutral, banning the use of yixing or other clay pots or kettles 99% of the time, using only (if possible good quality) porcelain. I've been bringing my water to work also, using a dedicated kettle so that my coworkers do not use it with the very nasty local water.
So far so good. But I am beginning to feel that it may be time to end this penance and to jazz up my tea sessions with different brands of water, and hopefully to continue learning this way. Akira (Hojo) told me that my water may lack a bit of calcium, while during a recent tasting, Tim (from Postcard Teas) showed me first hand that some teas can shine way better using a water with a higher concentration of minerals. Akira again told me that one tea of his selection does not show off while he drinks it in Japan, while it is really great in Malaysia. In my mind, all this needs to be taken into consideration and eventually put to the test.
So, here I am, beginning new experimentations. It's been a long time, and I honestly don't know what I am going to find out. I began by drinking quite a beautiful tea this morning, a Koshun cultivar futsumushi sencha from the skilled teamaker Tsukiji. I have compared side by side my usual water to Volvic, which has 2,5x more minerals. So far, I think that I have noticed one thing : flavors were a bit more detailed with the old water, but, and this is a pretty important "but", throat feelings were better with the Volvic. Tuning down flavors a bit to gain a better throat action and maybe depth? Isn't that what my good teaware does? Very interesting.
The same day, I took a few grams of one of my most loving 2014 puerh mao cha. And I did the same experiment. I knew in advance that I would finish super-teadrunk, but I had a slow and lazy evening in front of me, so I figured "why not?". And this tea I know well has been better with Volvic on every criteria, hands down. The tea made with the old low on minerals water may have been more detailed in a way, flavor-wise. But I stopped drinking tea for flavors and aromas some time ago. They are at the bottom of my list now compared to other things, throat feeling being at the top atm.
At the end of those 2 sessions, and one more with a pretty good Bai Mu Dan (white tea) the next day, I felt a bit "scared" by the results. If it is so easy to improve a tea, will I be able to judge its quality using this new water in the future, if I should decide to stick to it? Of course I could switch back to the old water when I am trying to analyse a tea, cause I don't want to stop doing that, and use Volvic when I am in a more casual drinking mood.
Also, the tea made with Volvic also has this quality that I barely have with my old water unless it is a pretty good tea : it is like a super soft mouthfeel, oily in a way but quite light at the same time. And throat feelings are so much better.
Of course, these are just a few sessions, and it proves nothing. Yet, I didn't expect that much of a difference between the cups, at least not such an improvement. I'll have to repeat this a lot of times with all the kinds of tea I have at hand. Thanks to the hints from my friend Tim, I know that the difference can be much bigger when dealing with rock teas, dan cong and black teas (for which he sometimes uses Evian, which sounds kind of scary tbh). I expect puerh to be a challenge, because there are so many different terroirs, which soils are completely different. Water may react differently. But one thing at a time.
Anyway, I must say that I am pretty excited about the new discoveries which lie ahead of me, at least I hope so. I really feel like tea is a never-ending learning experience, during which you may stumble quite a few times. And I have, and I will. Any kind of wisdom you might have on the subject would of course be welcomed. In the meantime, I'll keep in touch hopefully with some interesting thoughts on the subject.
May everyone have a wonderful holiday season.
NB : the water I've been using for a long time now is from Mont Barbier, Auvergne : 52,2 mg/l, pH=7,3, calcium : 4,1 mg/l. Volvic : 130 mg/l, pH=7, calcium : 12 mg/l.