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White Mountain Tea

Water Red with Tannins

When Chris and I were hiking in Zealand Notch a few weeks ago, we crossed a stream that had red water in it, and since then I've seen a lot of others like it in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. I figured that the red tint was probably linked to some type of tree in the area, but figured the best way to get an answer would be to ask Alex MacPhail, an naturalist who writes a wonderful blog called White Mountain Sojourn. He attributed the cause to tannins leached from the trees and plants in the area and wrote a great post about the topic. I think you'll enjoy his blog.


  1. Okay, I'll go ahead and wonder aloud. I had always thought the red came from Tannins or Tannin (depending on who you ask) which is the same stuff in acorns which makes them poisonous in quantity… Some trees and root systems have them too. I could be completely wrong…which would only make the one-billionth time.

  2. That what Alex said pretty much – the tannins are in all plants and concentrate in the water. Not sure if they are in a high enough concentration in the water to hurt you though. I don't think so.

  3. Yes, tannins (complex phenolic organic compounds) are in acorns (and plants) to act as a poison.

    I would not drink from heavily tannin stained water for long periods but a bottle or two should be ok.

    See my more bloviated ;>) comment at your link.

  4. Sandy – thanks for all the detail on WMS. Very useful.

  5. Tannins are found in virtually all plants. The verb "tan" in reference to animal skins and leather originates from the original method of leather-making in which a tea is made from ground up tree bark (oak, specifically) which has very high concentrations of tannin that would preserve the organic fibers of the skin.

    It is also in tea that we drink, and tea gets bitter when brewed too long because too much of the tannins within the leaves leech into the hot water.

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