I would like to introduce you to the most basic ingredient of tea, often underestimated and most of the time unappreciated – Water, H2O.
It is a crucial element, 95 percent of the liquor and can have a major impact on the quality of the tea we will be drinking.
For that I would like to share an essay I prepared for one of my classes and give you a bit of background on the terminology of professional tea tasting.
I had a lot of fun with this assignment and it shook my core foundation when thinking about tea. I am currently developing a method of pairing waters with certain types of teas to achieve the best desirable outcome.
I also have some great ideas on how to present tea on a tea menu (How about: A 2014 Margrets Hope Spring Flush Darjeeling brewed in fresh Tuscan Spring Water and served in an Yixing clay bowl– Doesn’t that sound nice?)
Italy has quite a remarkable water culture and history. Romans are proud of their Aqueducts, famous for the multiple arches, bringing water from distant sources into the city and dating back to 145 BC. Every town in Italy is proud of their own local spring water and there are many different types available across the country.
Good tea water should have the following characteristics: A ph level a bit below 7, a TDS ideally below 30 and not too crazy on the mineral scale. Sounds scientific, which it is , but good water has these numbers on the bottle label. You can also contact your local water company and get these numbers for your tap water.
Roman tap water is drinkable but quite normal and flat. It is usable for tea but I am filtering the water before using it for tea. Most Romans do not drink tap water in restaurants, only bottled water, but it is quite common to see Romans order a ‘bicchiere di l’aqua, a glass of tap water, with their espresso in the morning.
It was hard for me to choose the mineral water as there are so many favorites. I finally chose Cottorella, my personal favorite which stands out for me for its pleasant, bold and inviting taste.
I like the labeling of waters in Italy, which includes laboratory results of the main minerals from a nearby university.
Distilled water is unusual in Italy, normally sold in Pharmacies, and it took me quite some time before I could convince the Pharmacist to release a bottle for a tasting! Stay away from distilled water when making tea.
I had to include the evaluation of the fountain water of Rome, coming from “nasinos” (named after the little nose shaped spout). These water fountains are across town on every corner, running non-stop and the water is cold, refreshing, and best of all, free!
I would like to share with you my tasting notes on water for one of the classes.
Appearance: Water from the tap in Italy is drinkable and has a clean and fresh appearance.
The observation of the water does not show any trace of visible impurities. It has a pH of 7.45 in my neighborhood, a bit high on calcium (97) but overall low mineral content.
Recommended to filter before use. When observing the boiled water a little trace of very small white particles.
Aroma: It has a chalky, almost iodized nose. It comes with a bit of a mineral hint at the end.
Flavor/ Mouth Feel: The hot water has a thin and sharp entrance with no specific aftertaste. A flat and boring mouth feel with no grounded pillars for a special experience. It quickly fades away.
Finish & Overall Impression: Not a specific bad taste, drinkable and clean but an overall flat experience. This water lacks complexity and dynamic tones which could elevate the taste buds. It does not have a remarkable finish. It is probably better for making pasta than for brewing tea.
Appearance: Cottorella is a spring 50 miles north of Rome, Italy surrounded by an amazing, unspoiled terroir.
It has a low nitrate and fluoride content with a pH of 7.4. It has a low and balanced overall mineral content. The water is a bit high on bicarbonate (318) and calcium (101.5).
It has a clean visual appearance with no signs of impurities or particles. This water brand is being marketed as a safe and balanced water for the entire family and for hydration support for sports activities.
Aroma: A fresh nose with a hint of granite. My first impression was almost a hint of vanilla.
Flavor/Mouth Feel: A light and dynamic experience with a bold mouth feel and an overall positive experience around the taste buds. There is a light sweet hint of vanilla in the flavor.
Finish & Overall Impression: An expressive water that wants to be remembered. A clean entrance with a reviving mouth feel and a dynamic and nourishing finish. A good candidate for brewing tea.
Distilled water ( Aqua purata)
Appearance: Here in Italy it comes in a white (almost chemical type) bottle. It has a clean and light appearance.
Aroma: It has a sharp and a bit biting nose.
Mouth Feel: The flavor is unusual for the taste buds to accept, a hint of sourness with a thin and unremarkable mouth feel. A bit of piercing on the tongue when tasting.
Finish & Overall Impression: Overall an interesting experience when comparing to spring water and tap water.
Lacks the character to make it as a water with an impressive complexity and it takes the taste buds some time to adjust to the unusual experience. An unbalanced finish leaving the taste buds a bit confused and wanting to move on to a different type of water.
Fountain Water (Rome Italy, Fontanelle)
Appearance: Fountain water runs non-stop in Rome and has a vibrant and fresh appearance. It has a pH of 7.4 with a calcium content of 100, magnesium of 20 but overall not too high of a mineral content.
Very refreshing and quite cold when drinking directly from the fountain. At this temperature still clean and vibrant.
Aroma: A well rounded and inviting nose with a hint of chalky and mother of pearl hints.
Flavor/ Mouth Feel: A good and appetizing journey around the taste buds. This water has a vibrant and dynamic mouth feel with a fresh impression.
Finish & Overall Impression: A good, vibrant and dynamic water with a finish to be remembered (a bit of sharp). It has a good aftertaste with a lively and savory taste. A good candidate for brewing tea.