Brewing Up With Bottled Water

This post is about another on-going experiment I’m running.

It was inspired by a post on Facebook by a member of the Pu-erh Tea Club group, who was asking other members about the source of the water they use when brewing their Pu-erh. More specifically, they were wondering what people were using if not their local tap water.

Several people stated that they used bottled water. That reminded me of my attempts at brewing up with bottled water during the summer of 2017. The results were less than impressive, but reading about other people’s experiences convinced me that I should maybe have another pop at this.

The timing was good – a change of filter in my Brita jug is long overdue, and I’m not sure if I can easily find replacement filters any more. There’s also the question of just exactly how much calcium and what have you they are extracting from our tap water to begin with, as well as just how soon they begin to tail off in efficiency, and when they do so how is that reflected in the quality of water going into my kettle.

From that starting point of beginning to see the Brita jug as a less than ideal solution as well as a bit of a hassle, the potential effort involved in tracking down a good bottled water seemed worth it. Above all else, tea friendly bottled water seemed to promise one thing – consistent quality.

As I currently understand it, the suitability of a bottled water for tea making rests on its Total Dissolved Solids (TDS) content, expressed in either Parts Per Million (PPM), or milligrams per litre (mg/L), which if I’ve got my sums right is the same actual number. A good water should also be neutral on the pH Acid-Alkaline scale, i.e. about 7.

There seems to be a variety of opinions regarding the best figure for TDS as far as tea making goes – I’ve seen both 30 PPM or less and 50–150 PPM quoted as being ideal here, but there seems to be more of a consensus regarding the amount of calcium (Ca) that should make up part of TDS – anything below 10 PPM seems to be too low, and about 68 PPM seems to be too high.

Suddenly the penny finally dropped regarding my earlier disappointing results with bottled water – it was down to my failure to get my head around the difference between “mineral” and “spring“.

Mineral” water is, as the name suggests, rich in mineral content, i.e. high in TDS, which means that anything called “mineral water” is unlikely to result in a decent brew. My best bet was obviously going to be to look for a water labelled as “spring water“, and take it from there, as long as the declared TDS and amount of calcium looked about right.

The sensible option seemed to be give any bottled water which piqued my interest a test drive, and simply see if I liked the taste of the resulting tea.

I found a list of bottled waters that were said to be recommended by “tea experts“, namely…

  • Volvic (France)
  • S.Bernardo (Italy)
  • Spa (Belgium)
  • Luso (Portugal)
  • Norwater (Norway)
  • Viking Springwater (Norway)
  • Alaskan Glacier Gold Water (United States)
  • Crystal Geyser (United States)
  • Rocky Mountain (United States)
  • Aquator (Canada)
  • Bourassa Canadian (Canada)
  • Valvert (Belgium)
  • Highland Spring (United Kingdom)
  • Naya(Canada)
  • Fiji (Fiji).

Interestingly enough I also ran across a forum post where a fellow resident of Sweden talked about the unavailability of well know spring water in our part of the world, and where they went on to enquire about the merits of one water I knew for a fact was currently on sale at the supermarket round the corner from us, namely “Imsdal” from Norway. In reply someone opined that Imsdal was indeed a “perfect low-mineral water“, so I thought I’d give it a whirl and see how it held up when boiled and used in tea making.

Initial results were good. I tested several teas (Mystery Shou 199, Kocha Yabukita, and GABA Oolong) and found that, generally speaking, this water gave an improved, thicker, smoother mouthfeel, while also giving a reduced level of astringency.

There was a problem, however – as good as this water was, it was also a bit on the pricey side.

A bit more research showed that Swedish supermarket chain Willy’s sell a Swedish spring water with a slightly different TDS profile (most relevant here is slightly more calcium) that was significantly cheaper, so off we pootled and got some in.

Again, early results with this water are encouraging. It feels as though it has roughly the same benefits as the Imsdal water, but it also highlights any sweet notes in the tea liquor.

In order to get a better understanding of how a water’s TDS profile might be affecting the tea I’m drinking I’ve started a spreadsheet so that I can log tasting notes compared to mineral content. It might even be a good idea if I start including which water I’m using when I review a tea.

It’s going to be interesting to see where this leads. Watch this space, etc…

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