I am fortunate enough to be able to brew and drink tea at work just about all day. For the past few years, I have only brewed black tea western style to sip on throughout the day. I was saving all my gongfu brewing for home, which meant I was only really enjoying some of my favorite teas two or three times a week. I decided to buy a cheap gaiwan and a cup so that I could brew gongfu at work. The setup was simple: I had a kettle already, and I would brew with the gaiwan and use a cup larger than the gaiwan so that I wouldn’t need a pitcher.
The gaiwan and cup arrived–time to enjoy better tea at work! Well, that didn’t work as planned. The tea tasted completely different. At first I was using teas that I was familiar with, and I just couldn’t get them to taste like they do at home. The next thing that I bought was another gram scale. Now, not only did I look crazy for having a tea setup like this at work, but now I also looked like a drug dealer. I had thought that maybe I was underleafing, but it turned out that I was eyeballing the amount of tea pretty close to what I was intending.
Maybe there was a weird taste to the gaiwan? This theory made absolutely no sense to me, as it is made from porcelain. Sure, some of my pots at home are well seasoned to certain teas, but my tea was just tasting completely off. I brought the gaiwan at home and did a side by side comparison with an oolong in a glazed ruyao gaiwan. Both vessels were 100ml, I used 7 grams of tea in both, and brewed both for the exact same times. The difference was hardly noticeable, definitely not as drastic as it was at work.
It is hard to describe what exactly was wrong with the tea, but it definitely tasted bitterer and almost burnt. Every tea was coming out almost chemical tasting. Brewing black tea in a big mug was fine, but it seems like such a strong tea covers up any imperfection anyways. One day I was in a coworker’s office and noticed he had a 24 pack of bottled water on his chair. I asked him why he has that considering we have a water filtration system in our breakroom. “Gross, that water might as well be hooked up directly to a swimming pool” he said. That’s it, the water! I asked him if I could have a bottle of water to make tea. He looked at me really strangely, but said OK.
I filled my kettle with his bottled water and made tea. Perfect, this is how tea is supposed to taste! Now, I can’t stand to use bottled water as I see it as a huge waste, but at least I figured out that the water is what was wrong with my tea setup at work. Now, we do have a water filtration system, so I asked maintenance if they could replace the water filter. He said he can’t remember the last time that it was replaced. No wonder it tasted like a swimming pool, the water was full of chlorine.
Two days later, we had a new filter, time to make good tasting tea right? No, my tea in newly filtered water was horribly watery and weak. I did a bit of research and learned that our filtration system is a reverse osmosis system. Reverse osmosis removes all impurities from water, and this includes any mineral content from the water. Tea needs minerals in the water in order for it to bind and give a full infusion. The tea just tasted flat and uninteresting, and all aroma was completely gone.
My water at home tastes just fine and I use water straight from the tap filtered through a Brita. I bought another Brita filter online and brought it to work. The next day at work I filled the Brita with tap water and made tea. PERFECT, the tea tasted as it should! Even my western-style black tea tasted better. My tea was so strong that I wasn’t detecting the chlorine at first, but once I used quality water, the tea actually tasted a bit more complex. All of this headache was due to the water not being right. It really showed me the importance of good quality water in making tea. Water is the main ingredient in tea after all.