(tasting water at a Sake factory in Kurogi, Japan)
More important than tea: water.
We spend a lot of time talking about selecting the very best tea, but great tea means nothing without the correct water. Tea tastes different (better) in Japan because the water there is slightly softer than NYC water and in tea production areas, it is usually water from mountain streams.
Great tea tastes awful with bad water. Mediocre tea tastes fantastic with great water. As it goes, water seems to be the more important of the two ingredients used in making tea. We like to experiment with different water and see how the same leaf can produce drastically different results. A few sure fire tips regarding your H2O:
If your water has an after taste (chlorine, metallic, off) do not use.
Softer water with less minerals is best for Japanese tea
Slightly acidic water brings out the aroma of Japanese tea
If you have access to fresh spring water or mountain stream water: Jackpot.
Use a filter. Adding charcoal to your water for a few hours before using can also really help.
Here are a few waters we like for Japanese tea:
Poland Spring. Crystal Geyser. Fiji. Rocky mountain.
Have fun and explore.
Last tip: if you buy expensive tea, splurge for a bottle of Fiji and brew your first cup with that. You can then use it as benchmark to test your own water.