There’s more to green tea than just matcha powder. Green tea as a category has at least a handful of popular types, including: tencha leaf, sencha leaves, gyokuro, and roasted green teas like hojicha (also spelled houjicha).
Each form of tea is host to unique expressions of general flavor, and key tasting notes like sweet, astringent, savory, and bitter. Even further, each of the different types of green tea confer their own aromatics.
Flavors of Japanese Green Teas
These come to you as the tea drinker in varying proportion and form. For example, matcha tea has more natural, savory amino-acids (especially L-theanine) than does sencha leaf, which instead may have more bitter merits.
Yet, there’s an added layer of complexity to tea drinking you may have not considered that goes beyond the complexity of Japanese Tea Ceremony:
What type of water to use for green tea?
The quality, temperature, and type of water you use to prepare your green tea actually changes the expression of prized aromatics, and even how certain flavors pull through the palate.
- See a review of flavors in matcha teas here
Much of this comes down to water pH, temperature, and the presence of certain minerals – which depending on the specific tea – may enhance or worsen preferred flavors (and aromas).
Considering that matcha and other green teas are almost entirely water, mixed with the fact that sources of water across the world are unique in themselves, makes to highlight why water matters.
We can also pull from some interesting examples to lead the way through a few general recommendations.
How Type of Water Changes Tea Taste
One example is from Tokyo tap water, which is reported for a chlorine smell and taste generally held as poor quality. However, due to the composition of some types of sencha tea leaves, it’s a preferable water source as the tasting notes from the tea leaves are accented by the harder profile of the water.
And in more broad illustration, water type can close the gap between high quality and low quality tea leaves.
While the example above wouldn’t hold true for the preparation of matcha (best a spring water, more below), it does show how water can affect the sensory experience and enjoyment of tea.
How to make the best tasting tea: Choosing Tea Leaves and Water
Equally important to water quality (and brewing technique) is the simple preference for high quality green tea.
This is especially relevant for matcha tea, which in essence is a concentrated form of green tea leaves, and an example where starting flavor/aroma of tea really matters most.
Nevertheless – to focus on water quality and temperature:
Best temperature of water for green tea | What Type of Water for Matcha
There are three factors to account for in choosing a quality water for the preparation of matcha (green tea powder). They are:
- Water pH
- Water Temperature
- Water TDS (total-dissolved-solids, e.g. magnesium, calcium)
First on the topic of water pH and TDS, fresh spring water tends to generally fit the best composition for matcha tea. That’s because softer water tends to bring out the favorable flavors and aroma of matcha.
Brewing Tea with Distilled Water?
You should check your spring water to ensure there’s no significant aftertaste. If it’s a distilled spring water, the total lack of minerals can have a negative effect on the flavor of matcha as well.
Remineralize water for tea
In this case, possible amendments include a small dash of himalayan salt or charcoal.
Can you use Tap-water for Tea? Tap-water for Matcha Green Tea
The gist of it is for matcha tea, you want some minerals for just enough natural taste, without the pH being too low or the water too hard (pH of 7 is ideal).
- If your tap water is part of a spring-water source, you might be lucky enough to rely on a single-stage filter to have access to perfect water for matcha!
- If your tap water is on the harder side but you wish to use it, seek a filter which can reduce the mineral contents to about 80 PPM or less.
The best pH Water for Tea Drinking, Water pH and Matcha Tea
On a more simplistic note, considering the water of Japan tends to be slightly acidic, most Japanese teas have been cultivated and adapted to work well with that type of water. It’s recommended to follow in-suite for any fine Japanese Matcha or loose leaf tea
- Fun Fact: Slightly acidic water may bring out more of the antioxidants in matcha
Well water for Tea? Spring Water for Matcha?
Also – if your source of water otherwise fits the criteria of spring water, yet is slightly chlorinated – consider boiling the water before use in matcha tea to reduce chlorine content.
In doing so, you’ll protect the more favorable aromatics for your enjoyment.
Best Bottled Water for Tea
As you experiment with water type and tea preparation, you’ll start to notice just what role it can play. If your tap-water doesn’t take well to filtering or boiling, you might consider a few bottled spring-water options.
After testing a few varieties available to you, you’re likely to notice one which bodes especially well with the flavor of your shade-grown matcha. You can also research bottled spring-waters and test first those with lower mineral contents.
Hard or Soft Water for Tea
Here’s a quick summary of each type of water for the brewing of tea:
Hard water will dull the favorable astringents found in matcha tea, and decrease aroma.
Generally recommended for best flavor.
Water with acidic PH
Water with a lower pH than about 7 will cause most Japanese teas to have a more sour flavor, masking the natural savoriness of fine teas (matcha, gyokuro, tencha, etc)
Water with alkaline pH
Generally thought to increase total bitterness.
Water Temperature for Matcha Tea and Japanese Loose-leaf Teas
The last detail to fully consider is how temperature plays into the way water reacts with your favorite Japanese tea. Just like the water-types above, there is chemistry behind how temperature causes water to interact with the natural compounds in green tea.
Traditionally, green tea is prepared in Japan with hot water, but not boiling (learn more).
Since the majority of natural (and health-boosting!) compounds in matcha tea are stable in hot water, the choice of higher temperature will simply bring out, in-balance, the flavors of the tea: amino-acids, catechins, aromas, caffeine and other stimulating compounds, and more.
Still, one of the most noticeable flavors in matcha tea are the polyphenol catechins (with an astringent taste), and hot water brings them out. So – if you prefer a more savory and naturally sweet matcha tea, rather than any notes of bitter or astringent – a colder water temperature can be worthwhile.
- If you still want to use hot water, but prefer a colder drink – simply refrigerate after brewing in a temperature safe glass, this method will still contribute to enjoying more the natural savory, earthy flavors when crossing your palate.
The Bottom Line – Knowing which Water to use for Which Japanese Tea
Each type of Japanese green tea comes from a traditional practice of preparation and drinking. There are ideal recommendations which vary between each form of tea, and quality – but these do not necessarily need to override your personal preference.
Conventional recommendations cover both temperature, and water type, stemming from centuries of testing and optimizing in Japan.
However, even one type of water you prefer, may not be what’s generally held as optimal, so it’s encouraged to experiment to the fullest. Whether that's in your choice of water, brewing temperature, or in serving size.
And while the role of temperature may be the most intuitive of this guide, most everyone will be surprised how the quality of water plays into the final taste. Try different things and find what you enjoy best – and most of all, enjoy the process!