Friday, December 12, 2014

Same Tea Different on a Different Coast

This morning with much anticipation I brewed up various puerh for my parents as my mother innocently asked me about puerh the week previous.  I had happy fantasies of being able to procure better aged sheng for my parents (and me) all under the guise of filial piety. I brought my porcelain travel kit that I use at work but everyone was amused as Koreans use such tiny cups only for hard liquor.  My cups have done double duty as the occasion demands.

As the wintry day was blustery, I thought I would start off with a shu.  My umma and appa were quite polite but I could not get anyone to go for more than a few sips.  To my absolute dismay, the first tea- a reliable 06 Dayi San Ji Pu tasted like some one had snuck a dried anchovy in my gaiwan.  The municipal water here comes from the mighty Potomac that has slaked the thirst of many a president. But theirs is a hard hard water not suited for puerh- all four puerhs I brewed  tasted muted, vaguely muddy and flat with the '98 Yiwu suffering the most. 

My own Berkeley tap comes from the western slope of the Sierra Nevada with water hardness running at 18-42ppm.  My parent's water clocks in at 70-120ppm- you can only imagine the calcium scale buildup inside their electric kettle. Actually taking a bath in such water is exceedingly hard on your skin and slathering oneself with body lotion is essential if you live in Virginia. 

I tried switching to bottled water on hand(Nestle Deer Park) which was not much better and with their hardness rating published at a wide range of 15-120ppm, it's most likely it was just as hard. Also using a carbon filtered Brita water was a bust since such drip filters do not remove much calcium.  I have no choice but to go to the grocery tomorrow and look for the softer Poland Spring sourced from Maine at 10-23ppm if I am to have any decent brews this week.

But the fishy notes were lost on my parents. Their reaction to puerh was exactly the same as mine sixteen years ago. They said it tasted of hanyak- traditional Korean medicine- a dark bitter brew of various herbs and deer antler.  I had to go straight away to chocolate tasting after the first shu to restore the holiday cheer. 

I used to be paranoid about the home water supply especially when I don't enjoy the teas many are praising. However I  do have wonderful sessions with a small minority of teas so I deem the Berkeley water fed from the Mokolumne River blameless.  But the water here makes it tough to be a puerh lover. I wonder how many drinkers have the misfortune of hard water and don't even know if they are missing out because they're used to it.  You also have to use higher amounts of leaf with hard water. I'm  regretful I didn't bring harsher leaf like a Dayi or XG sheng which might respond better to such water.  


  1. Shu is quite an acquired taste I found. I like it but not every one does. I love your photo... books, antique cars and tea all in the same shot. It's a paradise!

    1. +1. sheng was love on first taste, but shou took me a few times.

    2. As a counterexample, my wife, my mom, and I all started on shu; while I've gone pretty far into sheng territory, my wife still is a bit iffy on unaged sheng, and my mom still strongly prefers shu. Of course, we also all started as black tea drinkers, so that may have something to do with initial preferences.

  2. Dear Kamyria,

    Shu is a tough sell I agree. If you look closely at the photo, you will see gripping page turners such as Persistent Inequalities and Fogel's The Fourth Great Awakening and the Future of Egalitarianism. Fogel could turn out such cruft after he safely tucked his Nobel under his pillow. That shelf is the unfortunate sociology section of my dad's library but his history shelves are more entertaining.


  3. Yes, a very interesting study in water! I feel fortunate for the water I have at home, too.