This is a project I have wanted to tackle for a while, and the desire to do this only increased when reading ancient Chinese texts on which waters are best for brewing the perfect cup. Granted most of those were very specific springs or rivers around China, or rain from certain times of year, and I do not have the ability to test the exact waters listed...but I do have access to various bottled waters! This is going to be the first part of a series looking at bottled waters and how they affect tea, and hopefully in the future I will test things like rain, snow, and local spring water, but for now we have bottles and my usual water for tea.
First up a look at the subjects! I am testing all these waters with Eco-Cha's Award Winning Alishan from May's tea club, the same porcelain cup and 50ml gaiwan, 2.3 grams, 195 degree water temperature, and 30-60-90 second steeping time. The waters tested were my usual Pur filtered water, Fiji (Artesian), Evian (Spring, glacial sand filtered), Smart Water (vapor distilled cloud water), and Dasani (purified water). Before I test them with tea, I tried them all solo, The Pur filter is smooth, sweet, and a little flat with no mineral quality. The Fiji was very clean and clear with minimal sweetness, fairly flat texture. The Dasani tasted like flatter and less sweet Pur filter, like the way my filter tastes when it is totally spent and needs replacing. The Evian, well hello mineral, you can really taste the minerals in this one, in fact it tastes a bit salty and it is thick, almost like drinking watered down electrolytes. Lastly was the Smart Water (once upon a time it was my favorite bottled water when I splurged on such things) it tastes like nothing, like wet air with a tiny bit of mineral, I always found it very refreshing. I am not going to put the results in order of testing, but in the order of least favorite to favorite, because why not?
First up we have lucky...or unlucky...Dasani! With a pH of 4.0, this water is reverse osmosis filtration using local water, though my bottle says it came from my old home of Atlanta, granted that is where Coke the company that puts Dasani out is from so who knows. What I do know is that this water made everything distinctly not good, starting with the color, it was paler through all three steeps than any of the other waters used, this was reflected in the mouthfeel which fell very flat and watery. The taste was impacted negatively as well, where the tea is usually sweet and very buttery, it was bitter and vegetal and worst of all it was super bland. It took a tea that is usually intense and flavorful and made it into almost undrinkable bitter boredom. I gave the remaining water from this bottle to my cats, because it was going nowhere near my tea.
Next is the SmartWater which pains me a bit, since it was always a favorite water. It has a pH of 4.0 and is vapor distilled, inspired by clouds and with added electrolytes. Again, the first thing you notice is the tea is paler in color, and wow that mouthfeel is flat and watery. It did not affect the taste as negatively, no bitterness and still a bit of the familiar sweetness, but like the Dasani it was immensely bland. I don't like it when one of my favorite teas bore me, even if it doesn't taste bad. Safe to say this water is just going to be drank and not brewed into tea in the future. (I am also glad about this because this water is not very cheap!)
For the lucky middle place we have the Evian, and this one I have really mixed feelings on. With a pH of 7.2 and a load of minerals, this water is spring water that has been filtered for 15 years through glacial sand, or so the bottle tells me, and I will say this has become my new favorite bottled water just as water, those minerals are delicious. The first thing I noticed was the dark color and incredible smell, it took the normal very aromatic Oolong and cranked the aroma past 11, I could sniff this tea for hours. But here is where it gets weird, you can taste the water more acutely than you can the tea, those minerals (especially saltiness) drown out the tea, which is immensely odd. At least the aroma is wonderful and the mouthfeel is super thick...and you know, healthy minerals and all that.
For the coveted second place we have my old standby, the Pur water filter! A Carbon based filter system that I mostly use to get rid of the dreaded chlorine (because, fun fact, chlorinated water gives me wicked heartburn) and like the fairly neutral taste. I could not find the exact pH but the interwebs tells me it is between 4-4.5. The color of this session compared to the others is right in the middle, not as dark as the darkest but certainly darker than the two at the bottom of the list. Granted I am very used to this water, I have been using it now for a couple years and all of my reviews reflect how this water affects my tea, so I am not going to go really in-depth.
The winner is, Fiji, natural artesian spring water with a pH of 7.3-7.7 and lots of friendly minerals (without the stupidly strong mineral taste) this water is tasty in tea and in the bottle. It gave the tea a nice dark color, a great viscosity and thick mouthfeel, and most importantly, it tasted AMAZING. The flavor notes usually present in the tea were intensified, the aftertaste lingered longer, most likely due to the thicker than average mouthfeel, and it never showed any signs of bitterness or negatively affecting the taste.
This was immensely fascinating, I cannot wait to get my hands on some more waters to test! I am especially hoping for more spring waters and some glacier waters! (Order of photos starting top and moving left to right: Pur, Fiji, Evian, Smart, Dasani)