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A Primer on Water Types and Tea

[Editor’s note: See a list below of more articles on this blog about water, including recommendations on which is best for your tea.]

Water should be a fairly simple thing. You use it to wash your cat and to fill water balloons and most importantly, you use it to make tea. But of course when it comes to drinking water and preparing tea with it and whatnot the topic can actually start to seem a bit complicated. But since it’s one of the two main components in tea it pays to be sure that you’re using the best water you can.

Water - essential to life and tea! (stock image)
Water – essential to life and tea! (stock image)

The topic came to mind recently when I bought a bottle of artesian water and used it to prepare tea. Because I wasn’t doing a side by side comparison with my usual filtered tap water I can’t say if there was much of a difference. More research will be needed.

What I did realize was that I only had the vaguest notion of what exactly artesian water was. With that in mind, I’ve prepared an overview of a few types of water you might encounter and what differentiates one from the other. As you read it, keep in mind the advice of the ancient Chinese tea expert Lu Yu, who claimed that the best water for tea came from a mountain stream, with the runners-up being rivers and then wells.

Tap water
The commonly held wisdom is that some municipalities are blessed in the tap water department. Manhattanites claim to have very good tap water but not everyone is quite so lucky. With regards to tea, your end result may vary depending on the hardness of your water. Too soft and the tea brewed from it may tend to be flavorless. Too hard and the tea may turn out harsh and astringent, a situation that can also apply to mineral water (see below).

The following are mostly based on a government agency’s descriptions for different types of water. For a variation on the theme, see this Consumer Reports article.

Artesian, Spring, Ground, and Well water
Water from an underground aquifer which may or may not be treated. Well water and artesian water are tapped through a well. Spring water is collected as it flows to the surface or via a borehole. Ground water can be either. The Consumer Reports article describes artesian water as “water obtained from a well that taps a confined aquifer, an underground layer of rock or sand that contains water.”

Descriptions for the next four types of water also come from Bottled Water Basics. Mineral water will provide mixed results when making tea depending on its makeup while you should probably steer clear of the other three types.

Mineral water
Ground water that naturally contains 250 or more parts per million of total dissolved solids.

Distilled water
Steam from boiling water is recondensed and bottled. Distilling water kills microbes and removes water’s natural minerals, giving it a flat taste.

Sterile water
Water that originates from any source, but has been treated to meet the U.S. Pharmacopeia standards for sterilization. Sterilized water is free from all microbes.

Purified water
Water that originates from any source but has been treated to meet the U.S. Pharmacopeia definition of purified water. Purified water is essentially free of all chemicals (it must not contain more than 10 parts per million of total dissolved solids), and may also be free of microbes if treated by distillation or reverse osmosis. Purified water may alternately be labeled according to how it is treated.

More articles about water on this blog:
Super-heated Water and Tea Flavor
The Do’s and Don’ts of Boiling Water for Tea
Water and Oxygen and Tea
Tailoring Your Tea to Your Water
Tea Water: To Microwave or Not?
Getting into Hot Water — Tea Kettles Galore
Oxygen, Water and Tea
Special T, Water Fans and More
Rethinking Water Temperature
Water vs. Tea
Water Water Everywhere
The Importance of Water
The Perfect Water Temperature for Tea
Boiling Water for Tea: Is It Just Water?
Using the Right Water for Tea
On the Science of Perfect Tea

See more of William I. Lengeman’s articles here.

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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