Saturday, July 28, 2012
Preparing Water • 准备水
"Mountain water is superior, river water is less good, and well water is the worst."
- Lu Yu, The Classic of Tea, 780 CE
Though I find the ancient's advice on the topic of water interesting, honestly, it's not something I've gone to great lengths exploring. Perhaps on a day when I'm not lugging my daughter down the mountain, I ought to carry home a jug of spring water instead! But for now, my contemporary household advice would be, "Filtered water is superior, bottled water is less good, and chlorinated water is the worst."
Since the taste of chlorinated water destroys the delicate fragrance of tea, it should never be used. I would also rather not endorse the bottled water industry. Filtered water is the only water I use. I have, at times in the past, used bottled water but I noticed, with certain types, crystal flakes forming when the water was boiled. It would leave a residue on the floor of the kettle, as well as create a gritty, unpleasant texture, not suitable for tea.
Though I'm not in the habit of collecting mountain spring water, I do observe the energy or the liveliness of the water. The reason mountain water is superior is because it has the highest energy level, especially if it comes from the top of the mountain, where it is light. Water from the bottom of the mountain is still good, but has a heavier quality. As for river water, the fast flow of the water can give it a harder energy. Well water is stagnant and therefor has the least amount of energy.
When boiling water, basically, one should begin with fresh, cold water and be vigilant not to let it boil too hard or too long, depleting its essence. Water that has been boiled for too long, or has been boiled three times is considered 'dead' and is best discarded. There are three different stages of boiling water, characterized by the sound of the water and the size and frequency of the bubbles. Water that has reached the first boil, yi fei, 一沸, 70-80°C, has bubbles the size of 'small fish-eyes' or 'crab-eyes' and is used for green or white tea. The second boil, er fei, 二沸, 95-97ºC, has larger 'fish-eye' bubbles. This is considered boiling and is ready for use with fully fermented puerh teas or Chinese oolong, such as Tie Guan Yin. After letting this water stand to cool for a few moments, to about 90ºC, it is ready for Taiwanese high-mountain oolong tea. At the third boil, san fei, 三沸, 100ºC, the water is tumbling in the kettle. Lu Yu tells us that continuing to heat the water beyond san fei, the water will become “old” and cannot be drunk.
It is common practice to pour some fresh water back into the boiled water. Not only is this a quick way to cool the water down to a desired temperature, most importantly, the combination of cold and hot waters elevates the energy levels of the water.
The Korean Seon Master Cho-ui, who kept a small tea crop in front of his hermitage, noted, "Tea is the spirit of water and water the body of tea. If the water is not true, it is not possible to reveal tea's spirit. If the tea is not carefully made, how will it be possible to discern it's body?"