I think it’s important to remember that, from a purely practical point of view, the end result of any tea ritual has to be as good a cup of tea as possible.
Let’s consider water. As tea-sage James Norwood Pratt says, the quality of the water one uses for tea making is “critical”.
Our tap water here is of a high quality, but rather “hard”. This makes it great for brewing beer with, tea less so. To remove the chalk / limestone in the water, as well as any other unwanted dissolved solids, I simply run it through a Brita filter jug. To ensure the quality of the filtered water is maintained, I follow the manufacturer’s recommendations and change the filter cartridge every month.
I keep the Brita jug on the counter top. Keeping it in the fridge seems a bit pointless – the water in it is going to be heated, so why cool it beforehand?
Every time I walk past the counter I top up the water level in the jug, if needed. It’s just part of the rhythm of my day.
Heating the Water
The kettle I use for heating tea water, as well as the occasional cup of coffee, is used exclusively for that purpose alone. The only water that ever goes into it comes out of the Brita filter jug.
Each type of tea requires water to be heated to a specific temperature range in order to extract as much flavour as possible from the prepared leaf without damaging it. Generally speaking, white, green, and yellow teas require a lower water temperature, while black and Pu-erh teas usually require water that has reached a full-on boil. Oolongs can vary, depending on their level of oxidation and roasting.
To take the guesswork out of the process of heating the water to the correct temperature for each tea type, I have a Philips variable temperature kettle. This allows you to dial in the correct temperature via a small dial on the front face, anywhere from 80° – 100° C.
Previously, I used the “boil and then cool” method, where you firstly bring water up to a boil, and then let it cool down for a set period of time, assuming that after “X” number of minutes your water will have cooled down to “Y” °C. I found this approach to be a bit hit and miss, which noticeably affected the taste of the tea, hence the purchase of the Philips kettle.
If you are steeping tea Western style, you are probably going to be heating just one pot full of water at a time, with the volume of the water depending on the size of the pot in use.
If you are steeping Asian style, say, using a gaiwan, then you are going to be using somewhere around 200ml of hot water per gaiwan full. This in turn means that you would either have to heat a small amount of water for every steeping, which might be considered a bit fiddly, or alternatively you might think about keeping water heated at the correct temperature, or re-heating a larger amount of pre-heated water as needed.
Both these techniques might have a tendency to de-oxygenate the water, which in turn may have an adverse affect on the taste of the tea.
My solution to this is a simple vacuum flask. This will keep your heated volume of water at the correct temperature until needed.
I chose this particular flask because it’s possible to open the lid and pour one handed, thanks to the release valve lever built into the lid.
If it all sounds a bit convoluted, fiddly, time consuming, and expensive, don’t worry – it isn’t!
None of the equipment was hard to find or expensive, in fact I bought all of it at my local supermarket. Having said that though, if you really want to go expensive and complex regarding water filtration and heating, there are many, many possibilities to do so out there. Consider my approach a viable, convenient, and cost effective starting point.
When all is said and done, if you’re going to spend precious time, effort, and money in tracking down good tea, why even consider not doing it justice with sub-standard water?