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.

Peace

18 comments:

Anonymous said...

Why do you change from a mildly empiricist approach in the blog comments you have made on the linked blogs into a whole hog spiritual approach here?

Yang water? Yin water? What properties produce such water. You mentioned minerals on other blogs but no real address of it here.

Matt said...

Anonymous,

You must be referring to the comment left on Listening To Leaves?

When editing this post one was undecided whether to use the terms "yang type water" and "yin type water" or "light water" and "heavy water". One decided on the use of yang/ yin as a general descriptor for water because of its breadth and ambiguity, the fact that yang water is more than just light water but also includes other characteristics that can't be described by simply the term "light". In the posts to come one will describe the quality of water in much more detail at this time the terms "yin/ yang type water" might be ditched.

It is important to note that "yin and yang" don't necessarily infer anything spiritual. Traditionally, in Asia, the terms yin and yang are simply used as descriptors to describe things. But if anyone feels uncomfortable with these terms "light" and "heavy" can be substituted.

Don't know what blog you are referring to about the mention of minerals? In the body of the above post it mentions "the mineral content of the water (How heavy is the water?)" The mineral content of water is a very important aspect of choosing water for tea and will be discussed in detail next post.

Peace

learning to pull radishes said...

Bravo :) Very much looking forward to this discourse on water. I've been intrigued by your past mention of storage vessels, and have always been deeply appreciative of your willingness to speak to the more spiritual aspects of tea drinking. Words can be touchy triggers (as you know) and not all will appreciate that which you speak to, but there are those of us who do, and we are most happy to include that in the discussion.

An anonymous comment was left on my blog today regarding the matter of water testing, suggesting that one will get the most authentic results only by blind-tasting. I see the point, but it can be argued that bias is present always, even in the most 'scientific' of approaches. Still, it could have some application at certain points.

Please do continue as you have, using words like 'yin' and 'yang' and speaking to qualities such as those. There is wisdom there that Westerners generally lack, or discount completely, but which some of us long to understand better. :)

Matt said...

Bev,

One hopes to approach this series on water in a way that will appease both extremes (the Middle Way hahahha....). This is accomplished by using language that is both spiritual, natural, and/or presenting the traditional theoretical justification why one has made a certain claim as well as being mildly empirical or, at the very least, descriptive where ones knowledge permits.

Having both been a scientist as well as a practicing spiritualist both approaches are of value. As such you will often see links to scientific journal articles mixed into discussions about qi such as in this article about the qi of Darjeeling 2nd flush ( see here : http://mattchasblog.blogspot.com/2011/02/types-of-tea-and-their-cha-qi.html ).

One agrees that a double blind method of testing water for tea is the best. But you still need to narrow down what water to test. This series will look at these factors.

It is important to remember that these words are just that, words. :)

Glad you enjoy.

Peace

learning to pull radishes said...

Middle away! I look forward to it all :) (or as my kids will say, "word!") haha!

David said...

I also look forward to reading your results. And please, don't ditch the yin/yang approach. There are so few people actually knowing about these things, real info is very hard to come by.

As a matter of fact, I have quite some fun right now making blind tests. It is not easy, but very educational.

As France is a good spot for mineral water, I have decided to do little tests of my own. Following the advices of a tea vendor, I have bought some Evian, which I think may be categorized as a yin water - please correct me if I am wrong here - to try it out with wuyi yan cha. After discussing the matter, it seems kind of logical that "rock tea" should be prepared with a higher mineral mountain water than a light spring one, although it may be far more complex than that in the end, and just any mineralized water may not do.

I have bought the exact same two gaiwan to try to be fair. This sounds exciting !

Nicolas said...

Spiritual approach or scientific approach are differents. But the difference in not so important. Because this differents approach are based on experiments.

Words are simply words.

I hope good water and good tea for all.
Peace
Nicolas

Di said...

Great post! I was also reminded of this blogger http://everyonestea.blogspot.com/2010/03/water-for-green-tea.html who's done a lot of experimenting with water too.
Curious to learn more!

D-Wong said...

Haha I love the anonymous comment... Matt was totally talking about certain energies that make up the water( where it comes from, what time of year and the season) and these all make up the minerals that go into the water and make up these energies. But to go straight into it and say what minerals do you need to put into the tea to make it yin or yang is skipping so many steps and making it too scientific. Even if you did find how many Na molecules and Cl molecules you need to make a water yin, it would still lack that natural essence of being yin.

Matt you totally got me thinking about water and tea. I live in North Vancouver so our water comes straight from the mountains and people are shocked to taste our tap water because it's so fresh and lacks a lot of chemicals for treatment. But still it has those chemicals in it and it made me start to think that maybe I should try to get my water from somewhere else. I have a flowing creek a block away from my house that is fueled by Grouse Mountain and you're starting to make me want to go and fetch a pail of water from there and boil it to see what difference it makes in my tea. Of course I'm also thinking of how I might die from all the crap that could be in the creek. Just so you can be held accountable if I die from water poisoning, what do you think? I know from your post you don't mean to goto the grocery story and buy bottled spring water and say, "hey this has a lot of yin in it because it says spring on the label!" but you must mean that the water should come from somewhere more natural than the tap. I'm looking forward to part 2 of your post.

D

Matt said...

David,

The posts here on MattCha's Blog strive to offer original thought about tea that is not found anywhere in English print that comes from a classical approach to learning about tea which involves study (of classics, scientific journals, current literature, and of course other blogs), reflection (thinking about tea), experience (practice), meditation, and transmission of knowledge through teachers and masters. This is as true now as it was in the beginning of this blog. And so it will continue, at least until someone puts this stuff into print before one gets to it. ;)

You are fortunate to be living around such good natural sources of water in France. Think that you are wise and that you (and your friend) have already found a nice water for Wuyi yan cha. It seems you have achieved harmony between the type of tea you are steeping (in this case wuyi yan cha) and water ( which is yin water- with a higher mineral content). It also seems that you have used water to pull out a desired characteristic in the water- the characteristic mineral taste of Wuyi yan cha?

Thanks for your support and good luck with that blind testing.

Nicolas,

You are right, it comes down to experience. In the end it matters not if the water is yin or yang or hard or soft or from a mountain or from a well - these are just adjectives. In the end you choose a water from experience which both the experimental approach and the traditional approach are based on.

Di,

Thanks for the water link. If anyone has anymore we can make a list of them here in the comment section? One remembers a great post on an old, now inactive blog a few years ago..

A look at Marshal'N posts about water and tea are recommended. His blog has always put emphasis on this important topic. See here:

http://www.marshaln.com/tag/water/

D-Wong,

Welcome to MattCha's Blog! One also liked the anonymous comment. ;)

If you don't comment in the future, we will assume you died from the creek water! Hahahaha

Peace

Matt said...

All,

Just went through all of Marshal'N's water posts and think it will be a bit difficult to come up with original material! Hahahaha...

Peace

first flush darjeeling said...

I am not really understand what you mean Yang and Yin water for darjeeling teas. I think you mention about the source of water like from streams in the mountains, isn,t it? Thanks for sharing

Matt said...

First Flush Darjeeling,

The above comment about Darjeeling tea is just an example of how scientific journals are often integrated into posts about discussions about qi here on MattCha's Blog.

The source of water will be discussed in the coming days. At this time more light will be shed on that topic. Besides the source of the water, the mineral content also characterizes it as yang or yin water. The mineral content of water is no doubt related to its source.

Mineral content is the topic of the next part in this series.

Peace

Matt said...

All,

Found this basic but true guide to choosing water for tea:

http://teamaster.wordpress.com/2007/10/25/choosing-water-for-tea-a-simple-guide/

Peace

David said...

Thanks Matt.

As for Volvic, I've been trying this water with different teas these days. For japanese greens, it gives really good results. But for other teas, I did not find that results were that good. For example, with greener oolongs, I found that I was loosing a lot of flavours. I will try again with some chinese greens when the season will be upon us, but so far, I am not that impressed with this water. I will keep using it with japanese teas for now though.

If some people have tried this very water (though it is french, it may be easy to find some in other countries) I would be most eager to hear their opinion.

Matt said...

David,

Kohei of Tales of Japanese Tea did a blind tasting with Volvic and other waters. See here: http://everyonestea.blogspot.com/2010/03/water-for-green-tea-3.html

Peace

David said...

Thank you Matt.

Maiko on its website was recommending Volvic for japanese teas too, for information.

Great weekend to you.

Matt said...

David,

What was interesting is that Kohei preferred the lighter water (Japanese natural source) and Hiro preferred the heavier water (Volvic). This is because Kohei valued the lighter flavours, sweetness (yang qualities) of the tea. Hiro on the other hand valued the rich green tea flavour (yin qualities) of the tea.

It really comes down to what the individual values or hopes to get out of their tea (the topic of the very last part of this series).

It would have been nice to know exactly what Japanese green tea they brewed and the technique they used to brew it.

One usually leans toward relatively heavier waters for Japanese teas but this is only out of convenience and for practical reasons. This water is usually better for the types of teas that are more frequently consumed so one adjusts other parameters to make it work.

One really should pick up some Volvic and see what all the fuss is about. :)

Peace