Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Bottled Water for Brewing Tea - Responsible Choice or No?

Now and then I run across posts on various tea websites recommending that people use bottled water for brewing tea. The rationale is simple: water quality is one of the most important factors in brewing the best possible cup of tea. I agree with this statement, to a point (although honestly, I think other factors like steeping time and temperature are often more influential than subtle differences in water quality). More on these factors on the RateTea article on brewing tea.

Is bottled water higher quality?

A 2005 edie article about bottled water discusses a policy statement of the Chartered Institute of Water and Environmental Management (CIWEM), and also interviews their executive director, who offers a scathing critique of bottled water. CIWEM claims that public perception of bottled water has been driven by marketing and not facts, and that there are actually stricter standards for quality in place for tap water than for bottled water, both when it comes to chemical content and bacteria.

In 2008, the Environmental Working Group also conducted an analysis of bottled water. The results strongly validated the assertions made by CIWEM, finding 38 pollutants in 10 major brands of bottled water, including disinfectants and known carcinogens at levels that exceeded legal safety limits. Over one-third of the chemicals are not regulated in bottled water. Also, 4 out of the 10 brands were found to be contaminated with bacteria. The analysis concluded that the purity of bottled water could not be trusted.

Unsustainable: Bottled Water is a Resource Sink:

Quality issues aside, there are other reasons to avoid using bottled water. The Pacific Institute looked at 2006 water consumption and produced a fact sheet about bottled water and energy use. The production and bottling of the water was estimated to take 17 million barrels of oil in this year, and that does not include transportation costs. Also, 3 liters of water are used for every 1 liter that gets bottled. Transportation is a major issue.

Sustainability is of utmost importance to me. Even if the quality were somewhat higher, I cannot see myself drinking bottled water unless the water in my area were unsafe for human consumption. Given that the evidence points to bottled water being considerably less safe, there is simply no choice for me. Delaware water may not taste great but it's what I will continue drinking and brewing my tea with.


  1. Thanks for another great post! I agree with everything you're saying about bottle water.

    Another thought: oxygen's really important to the taste of tea, and dissolved oxygen in water leads to better tasting tea. Cold water straight from the tap has a lot of dissolved oxygen, generally more than bottle of water. Warm water, or water that has been sitting out, doesn't. I can't talk about super-oxygenated sports water because I've never tried it.

    Except in places where the water is polluted, bottle water for tea is a complete waste.

    Shaking or agitating water (or brewed tea) adds extra oxygen. It's one reason of many why tek tarik (pulled tea) is especially delicious.

  2. This is really interesting. I do notice a difference between the taste of cold and hot water (once it has cooled or warmed to the same temperature) in some localities.

  3. This is a great topic! My region has great water source and the tap water is better than most commercial bottled water. It bothers me to see many public offices only use commercial tank water all the time. Even in areas without very good tap water, there are many better ways to get good water, such as household water filter and community water processing system.

  4. Like Ginko, my local tap water is superior to most anything available in bottles.

    Still, you see people stumbling round with their Evian and Gerolsteiner bottles.

    This certainly belongs in a tea blog. I love how you tie this in.

  5. Great article, much appreciated and WELCOME to ATB!

  6. I have a lage capacity water boiler/keeper and i always whip it up for about 30 seconds with a plastic whisk when I bring it up to a boil again- it makes a huge difference in taste. I also use a water filer on the faucet, as we have a lot of Iodine in the water. Again, big difference in taste, but really not essential. Tea is a drink of the masses and most masses do not have access to bottled water. If you really need it, buy some reusable bottles - there are some very nice stainless steel ones available, with nice jackets and clips or handles - life time bottles and they're not an outrageous price - under $20 for 16 ounces.

  7. Thank you everyone! Maybe I should think about the whisking thing or experiment with that a bit, I've read about that from several different sources now but haven't tried it.

  8. There is a wide range in what "bottled water" is, and nobody should ever advise tea drinkers to "make tea with bottled water." A whole lot of the water sold in bottles is simply filtered or re-packaged tap water, which is worthless and environmentally irresponsible, and the same as what you can produce yourself. However, there are a lot of tea people (including me) who only use natural spring water or Artesian well water for tea. This has historical precedent, but for me it was confirmed through a whole lot of experimentation. I live in an area where the tap water is just fine - I'm willing to drink it - but any time I brew tea with it I do not like the taste. And although it would certainly be preferable to have an actual spring to draw water from on my property, but I don't have that luxury. I can only get spring water at the grocery store, in a bottle.

    My basic take on the issue is that if you can brew tea with tap water and be completely satisfied with the results then that's exactly what you should do. I've learned through experience that this is not an option for me.

  9. I personally just enjoy using a good water filter. Bottled water is just too expensive for my taste.


  10. I do notice that well water makes good tea. My grandma has well water in her house and it's outstanding for drinking and also makes very good tea. But I have found that the tap water in certain parts of Northeast Ohio (coming from Lake Erie) is also outstanding--but it depends on what plant it is processed at, some places it is better than others. Cleveland's suburbs (Cleveland heights and Lakewood) are the only places in my life I've had truly outstanding tap water, except for water that goes straight from a well to the tap.

    But a filter like Neil mentions is a really good option. In PA at my parent's house, we filter the water and it makes it so much better. Here in Delaware, filtering also helps a lot, although I think even after filtering, I like the water here less than in PA or NE Ohio.