Sunday, February 27, 2011
Harmonizing Water and Tea: Choosing The Right Water For Tea- Part 1- Introduction
The importance of choosing water for tea is not stressed as it should be. It truly is the most important element other than the tea itself in preparing tea. The writer of this article is as guilty as everyone else as there is only one lonely article written a long time ago about water here on MattCha's Blog (here). It seems as of late there has been a recent focus on water on two great new tea blogs Listening To Leaves, and Le The et le Chemin. With this recent focus as well as the discussion and reflection on water discussed this week and last week in the book club, it seems timely to publish some posts which focus on choosing the right water for tea. Over the following weeks the topic of choosing water will be extensively covered in several posts that will delve deeply into this very important and often overlooked issue.
When selecting the right water for tea these factors should be considered: the type of tea you are preparing (Does the water harmonize with the tea?), the mineral content of the water (How heavy is the water?), the source of the water (Where does the water come from?), the season you are preparing the tea (Does the water harmonize with the season?), and the type of qualities you wish to extract (Do you want to pull out deeper, heavier notes, more taste or lighter, ethereal notes, more smell). The type of vessel you are using to store your water and the kettle you are using to boil the water also has an effect on the water as well as boiling and pouring technique and even additives such as mineral salts, bamboo charcoal, stones, and silver beads. Lets tackle these topics one by one before putting them all together.
Firstly and most importantly, there is not one type of water that is best for all teas. This magical water doesn't exist! Therefore different types of tea will have an optimal type of water. Unfortunately, having a variety of different optimal waters for each type of tea you drink is a bit unrealistic, expensive, space consuming, and not that practical. In this case, a variety of storage vessels and kettles, tweaking technique, and perhaps the use of additives are important in influencing the properties of water to match a broad spectrum of different teas. In a practical sense, you should be trying to find a type of water that suits the majority of the tea you are drinking.
It is important to use the principle of harmony when selecting water for tea. You should select water that has similar energetics to the tea. If water is the yin aspect (the container, the body) of tea it should at least be on the same page as the tea, the yang aspect (the spirit) of tea. If the type of tea doesn't harmonize with the water (or water with the tea) the full potential of the resulting infusion will not be realized.
A very general classification system of tea should be discussed first. We must determine whether a tea is a lighter (more yang), a balanced/ neutral, or a deeper (more yin) type of tea. Lighter teas are usually picked in the spring, are greener, have less/ no oxidization or fermentation, are cooler, and have more smell than taste. Balanced / neutral teas are harmonizing, balancing, and comforting, are yellow or brownish in colour, are frequently aged, have neither strong tastes or smells. Deeper (more yin) types of tea are darker, are oxidized/ fermented, are warmer, and have more taste than smell.
Generally speaking, lighter teas harmonize better with yang type water, balanced/ neutral teas with balanced/ neutral/ medium bodied water, and deeper teas with yin type water.
Determining what type of tea you are brewing is the first step in selecting the right water for that tea.