Friday, December 10, 2010

Section 6. Classifying Boiling Water

"When the boiling water rises straight up and shows drumlike waves, and the bubbles have completely disappeared, it is said to be perfectly ready... When the boiling water has no sound, it is said to be conclusively ready... When the steam rises straight it is invariably ready."

from Cha Sin Jeon- A Chronicle of the Spirit of Tea, a copy of Zhang Poyuan Chalu recorded by Cho Ui, translated in Korea Tea Classics

Those who do not have a copy of Korean Tea Classics do please follow along and participate by referencing a different English translation available here from The Leaf.

This tea classic will be covered one section a week which will go on for 24 weeks. Feel free to jump in with your commentary at anytime.



Gingko said...

This chapter leads to very different interpretations between this book and Aaron Fisher's translation! I am with Aaron Fisher on the interpretation of this chapter. I think this part of the book can also be taken as very good explanation why there should be a difference between most Japanese green tea and most Chinese green tea in brewing temperature.
Except for this discrepancy, I've been enjoying reading both this book and Aaron Fisher's translation. Both have very beautiful language!

Matt said...


You have the advantage of being fluent in both languages, so your opinion is especially valuable. :)

For this section one prefers the Korean Tea Classics translation simply because it speaks more to the importance of boiling the water until it is energetically ready using words that emphasise this- "perfectly ready... conclusively ready... invariably ready" as opposed to the Leaf version that states "the water ready... the water finished... the water ready". Of course, this is said without being able to grasp the original Chinese characters.

No doubt, both translations are wonderful and its great to be able to compare and contrast them both.

"I think this part of the book can also be taken as very good explanation why there should be a difference between most Japanese green tea and most Chinese green tea in brewing temperature."

Would you wish to elaborate on this comment? One understands that Japanese (and Korean) greens are generally brewed with lower temperatures than Chinese greens, but how do you relate this topic to this chapter and/or differences between the two translations?

Thanks as always for the thought provoking commentary.


Gingko said...

Oops, I actually jumped to the next section (chapter 7 - young and old)! The two translations are quite consistent on chapter 6.
So maybe we save the discussion on chapter 7 next week? Sorry for the confusion :-p

Also I want to add that this book is so well designed and printed. It's something very nice to hold in hands while drinking tea :D

Matt said...


Oh, yeah. Now your comment makes sense!

One did that too, when posting the quote for section 1. accidently quoted section 3. So much for staying in the present moment. :) hahaha...


cajchai said...

I had read this classification of the different stages of boiling water before, but never did i try to actually follow it word for word. And the first difficulty i find is that it never says when to turn off the flame. It reads as if you were to boil the water straight through until it has no sound and until the steam rises straight... but that doesn't make sense to me, nor when i attempt to do it (since the water boils and continues boiling away.)

So, perhaps, the idea is that once we turn off the flame we must wait until the boiled water is silent and the steam rises straight up.

Or... am i missing something here?

Rebekah said...

Matt, Gingko, it would be great to hear more about any significant differences you see in the translations, including anything interesting you see in the original that's difficult to bring into the English!

Does the shape of a kettle greatly alter the shape of threads of steam, I wonder? -- I'll stop here in order to avoid the great and ever challenging world of water temperatures....

Matt said...


Good question. It seems confusing mainly because the way they heated water when this was written is so separated from the way we heat the water these days. The water was heated over hot coals that were fanned. There was no turning off the flame but instead removing of the water from the flame. So this section speaks to the timing of when to remove the water from the fire- when it contains adequate strength and is at harmony.

The description quoted above of "no bubbles... no sound... steam rising straight up" is reached in the boiling when three conditions are met:

1- The fire source has to be hot enough and burn long enough. Heating water under hot embers like they had done traditionally easily meets these conditions. Nowadays, not all electric kettles and heating devices can heat water to this extent and automatically click out when a certain temperature threshold is met. This impacts the qi of the heated water either weakening it (the water hasn't boiled through deep enough and is therefore weak) or making it more chaotic and over exuberant (the water has boiled to the point were it is in a state of chaos or exuberance and is too strong).

2- The distribution of heat has to be adequately distributed. The source of the fire (heat) must be considered here. Is it balanced or just coming from a small area? If the fire doesn't heat the kettle or tetsubin evenly, the water will not be in harmony.

3- The shape of the kettle must support the thurogh boiling of water. A long time ago the braziers where a certain shape to accommodate kettles and tetusbins that were also a certain shape. They fit together and were in harmony with each other. Therefore the fire adequately heated the kettle and the distribution of the fire was such that it heated the water evenly.

Most heating devices that we use these days don't meet these conditions so we are a bit detached from the 15 distinctions of boiling water and this definitely affects the qi of the water, and conversely the quality of the tea.

"no bubbles... no sound... steam rising straight up" is a relative statement. It refers to a state in the boiling when the loud, violent, and active characters of boiling (yang) become more quite, peaceful, and stable (yin). This is the point at which the yang of the water harmonizes with the yin, it is the point at which we should remove the water and make tea because the qi of the water has strength but is in harmony.

You can experience these things when water is boiled over the stove in a pot under high heat.


Matt said...


"Does the shape of a kettle greatly alter the shape of threads of steam, I wonder?"

It also affects other aspects of the boiling and impacts the water's ability to reach harmony during the boil. See condition #3 above.


Anonymous said...


The following is my alternative to the two aforementioned translations.

湯有三大辨十五小辨。一日形辨,二日聲辨,三日氣辨。形爲內辨,聲爲外辨,氣爲捷辨。如蝦眼、蟹眼、魚眼連珠,皆爲萌湯,直至湧沸如騰波鼓浪,水氣全消, 方是純熟;如初聲、轉聲、振聲、驟聲,皆爲萌湯,直至無聲,方是結熟;如氣浮一縷、二縷、三四縷,及縷亂不分、氤氳亂繞,皆爲萌湯,直至氣直沖貴,方是經熟。

Part Six: Distinctions of Boiled Water
“Boiled water has three major distinctions and fifteen minor distinctions. The first is known as distinctions by appearance. The second is known as distinctions by sound. The third is known as distinctions by steam. Appearance is an inner distinction; sound is an outer distinction; and vapor is a rapid distinction. Bubbles like shrimp eyes, crab eyes, fish eyes, and strung pearls all indicate immature water. When bubbles rush to boil like galloping waves and drum-like breakers, when the vapor becomes evanescent, then the water is perfectly ready. Initial sounds, rolling sounds, shaking sounds, and galloping sounds all indicate immature water. When there is no sound, then the water is completely ready. When steam rises in one strand, two strands, three strands and four, up to the point when strands are confused and indistinct, when the vaporous atmosphere is chaotically intertwined, all these indicate immature water. When steam soars elegantly straight up, then the water is truly ready.”

Commentary: The ChaSinJeon dealt with only the three major distinctions of boiled water. Inner, outer, and rapid distinctions referred to the way in which the distinctions are made. Inner referred to bubbles observed within the kettle; outer referred to sounds heard outside the kettle; and rapid referred to vapor observed immediately above the kettle.


Ho Go said...

I would imagine the shape effects all of the distinctions, appearance, sound, and, steam.
I wonder if there was a standardized kettle at that time which most tea makers used. Sort of like a Kamjove precursor. :)

Matt said...

Notes on Sect 6:

Firstly, Steve thanks for your personal translation, it is wonderful!

It must be noted that the classifying of boiling water is taken directly from Lu Yu's Classic of Tea.

Judging boiling water from viewing is considered an "inner distinction" because vision is considered a yin activity, an inner reflection of the world. Conversely, judging the sound of boiling water is considered an "outer distinction" because sound is considered a yang activity, a more external reflection of the world. Judging vapour is a rapid distinction, you can judge the nature of steam from across the room just by a quick glance, that is why it is called rapid distinction.

When the water is ready it assumes forms that reflect its harmony as noted in the comments above. When the water is ready it also takes on qualities that reflect strong moral and spiritual qualities such as "uprightness", "harmony", and "peacefulness". These qualities were sought after especially by Confucius scholars and Buddhists. In this way, when water is ready to use for tea it should reflect moral truths that can help those preparing the tea and consuming its qi nurture these qualities in themselves.


Julien ÉLIE said...

So basically, if I understand well, the water is perfectly ready just before the boiling point. There is a phase during which the water is calm.
It is perfectly ready at the beginning of this phase (about 93-95 °C) and conclusively ready during this phase (95-97 °C) . Temperatures are taken at altitude 0 (where the boiling point is 100 °C).

What for invariably ready? Is it 100 °C when the steam is homogeneous?

Do not hesitate to tell me in case I did not understand these moments.

Another question not dealt with by the text: if one wants to brew a tea at a lower temperature (maybe it was never the case at the time of Cho-ui?), does he need to boil it and let it cool before the brew? Perhaps its qi will be better than if one stops the boiling at 60 °C for instance.