Thursday, June 23, 2011
Harmonizing Water and Tea: Part 9- Water Additives- Silver Beads, Mineral Salts, Rocks, & Bamboo Charcoal
You rarely hear talk of people these days using water additives to help harmonize water and tea. However hundreds of years ago it was recommended by the Saint of Tea, Lu Yu, in his famous Book of Tea. Although a bit artificial, it works quite good. The major downside is that it disconnects us a bit from nature and the natural energies of the source. On the other hand, it is probably the most economical and environmentally friendly way to impact the water used for tea. Besides this, it also much greener than having water shipped, either from the edge of town, or worse, across the ocean. In that way the effective use of additives gives back to nature.
The most important benefit of using additives is that it gives the person preparing tea added control over the water. A good teamaster will tweak or change the quantity or type of water additive depending on the type of tea they are preparing and the source of the water they use- often having more than one additive at their disposal at one time. Now, this is truly harmonizing! This added control inevitably leads to a closer relationship with the water used for tea.
Below is a discussion of four different additives that one has come across- silver beads, rocks, salts, and bamboo charcoal.
One encountered a teamaster in Korea that was quite fond of using sliver beads to augment the properties of water. He placed them in his glass kettle and used tap water which was stored in traditional water containers. Although he used the silver beads to improve tap water, likely the use of silver beads could improve any water as the essence of silver is absorbed into the water. In this way these beads act like a less powerful silver tetsubin because the glass kettle is basically just a neutral container. As mentioned in Part 6 of this series, silver is strengthening, sweetening, and purifying and is especially effective at harmonizing with light teas such as green oolong, white, and green teas. This teamaster used these silver beads in preparing water primarily for Korean green tea and matcha and the result was quite noticeable.
Perhaps the most talked about additive is the use of mineral salts. This is the additive that was championed by Lu Yu insisting that a pinch of salt should be added to the tea water at boil. It is also the topic of a recent discussion and experimentation by modern day tea guru, Lew Perin, on NYC notorious tap water. There are primarily four types of mineral salts that are usually added to tea- sodium, potassium, magnesium, and calcium. These minerals all impact the tea in different ways but the ways in which they are combined and the ratios of each create room for seemingly unlimited experimentation. In a traditional sense, salty taste is considered the most yin of all taste (which itself is a yin quality). Salt is said to be the most yin because salts induce salivation- following the concentration gradient a space that is highly salty will attract water (water is yin). It will also improve taste (taste is yin) as well as add softness and depth. Therefore salts directly strengthen the energetic quality of water.
It goes without saying that too much salt has a negative effect and will suppress the energy of water- experimenting to find the right amount with the right type of tea is needed. Water with extremely low proportions of these salts will benefit the tea no mater what type of tea will be used. Most tap water falls into this category of too little salts and minerals. However, if the water that you are adding already has lots of minerals in it, adding more may lead to an overwhelming of the water's essence and will result in bad tasting tea.
One has encountered rocks that rest in a glass kettle a number of times. They are most frequently seen throughout mainland China although Yumcha and Michel from the Tea Gallery in NYC also prefer this additive. Of course you can't just throw in any type of rock you find on the street- usually rocks containing a high mineral concentration are used from locations that are deemed as auspicious such as certain mountains. These rocks impart the qualities of nature, similar qualities that say a ceramic kettle or even mineral salts would. Traditionally, rocks are of the Earth element and therefore act to control the properties of water. They can be used to improve most tap water which usually lacks essence and depth. Water that has been boiled with rocks is best for darker heavier teas and can overwhelm lighter teas if the rocks are too potent.
One has also seen the use of bamboo charcoal to improve the quality of water. Stephane of Tea Masters finds this additive quite effective. Bamboo charcoal encompasses various elements. First, bamboo is of the Wood Element. It passes through the Fire Element as it is charred. Fire returns to earth as ash connecting it with the Earth Element. It shares qualities of all these elements. Charred substances are by nature ultra absorbent, bamboo is thought to be even more absorbent because it has an affinity for water (wood absorbs water), it is extremely dry and absorbs water like a sponge. In this way it is very effective at filtering the tastes and smells of water. Charred substances are truly substances of the element Earth so they are quite naturally harmonizing/ regulating in nature. So bamboo charcoal has some regulating effect- adding good, somewhat softening & sweetening, and removing bad, off tastes and smells. Primarily it removes bad because of its absorptive nature. Charred substances are black and therefore harmonize best with the most yin elements such as water. This additive can be added to the water storage container or directly to the kettle. Its use is more pronounced with tap water and its effect is noticed less with spring water, even taking away some of its essence.
Here are the links to the first 8 Parts of this series on harmonizing water and tea, just in case you missed them. There will be two more sections to come in the near future: