To make a great cup of tea you need quality tea leaves first and foremost. But a consideration not to be overlooked is the quality of the water used – steeped tea is at least 98% water, after all, and poor water will compromise the flavour, clarity and colour of the tea liquor.
The ideal water for tea is fresh, well oxygenated and low in minerals, and that doesn’t have to mean investing in an expensive water purification system.
By fresh and well oxygenated, we mean straight from the tap. Sitting water absorbs flavours from the air and its container and loses oxygen content. So, if you’ve been away for a few days let the water run to clear the pipes and refresh the kettle. Likewise, water that’s been boiled over and over will have lost its potency and may well taste metallic.
The next important consideration is mineral content. Hard water is mineral rich, which is great to bathe in, and can make your tea taste fuller and darker in colour, as polyphenols in the tea bind with the minerals. On the other hand, it can also make your tea taste tinny and metallic and will overpower more subtle teas such as spring green or first flush Darjeelings.
A related and more unsightly problem is temporary hardness. This is when calcium and magnesium carbonates in the water bind with tea extracts to form an iridescent and oily film on the surface of your tea. It’s not bad for you, but it’s a visual killer and flavour and nutrients are lost to the scum.
Water hardness is common across the British Isles, but easily fixed with a simple water filter jug such as those from Brita, ZeroWater or BWT. Some people do invest in more elaborate home water filtration systems, but a balance of minerals does add flavour to your tea so beware of stripping your water of everything and winding up with a flat and lifeless tea.
One final note – we don’t advocate bottled water, partly because it’s environmentally so unfriendly, but also because the content varies wildly. If you must, look out for spring water, and take care to avoid just buying bottled tap water.