Saturday, August 20, 2011

Harmonizing Water and Tea: Part 11- Pouring Technique

This is a continuation of a discussion on pouring. See part 10- Pouring Method (here) before continuing...

Once the person making the tea decides on a boiling vessel (and type of ladle if applicable) then the next element of the pour that should be considered is the human element of the pour. There are four variables of the pouring technique that can dramatically influence the final cup of tea- the height of the pour, the forcefulness or vigor of the pour, the direction of the pour, and the intent or mindset of the person pouring the water.

The higher the pour, the more time water is in contact with air. In ancient times it was thought that the relatively heavier water would be infused with the light essence of the air thereby infusing lighter characteristics into the water. Today there is some talk of oxidizing the water, where more exposure to air imparts more oxygen into the water. Any scientists out there who want to explain this? One thing that is for sure is that as more surface area of hot water is exposed to air for a longer time, the more the water will cool in temperature. Due to these reasons a higher pour which gives the water a lighter and cooler quality naturally harmonizes better with lighter teas such as whites, greens, and greener oolong, a medium pour which moderately lightens and cools is best with Korean yellow tea and some well oxidized oolong, a low pour which retains the heat and heavier nature harmonizes best with darker, heavier teas such as red tea, and aged puerh tea.

The force and vigor of the pour will also impact the end product. This factor is often overlooked because it is not as obvious to the observer.

Extremely vigerous pour which violently jostles the leaves in the pot is thought to impart overly harsh characteristics. The resulting tea is often described as oversteeped, bitter/sour taste, and/ or harsh and choking mouthfeel. It also exhausts the leaves much faster over many infusions. On the other hand, a very gentle, trickling pour which barely stirs the leaves at all is thought to impart overly gentle/ passive characteristics. The resulting tea is often described as understeeped, watery taste, and absent mouthfeel. The person pouring water should always strive for the middle way pouring with just enough vigor to gently stirr and tumble the leaves in the teapot with the incoming stream of water. It should still be noted that deeper, heavier, darker teas harmonize best with somewhat more vigerous pouring and lighter, cooler, more subtle teas harmonize best with a relatively gentle pour. However, a very gentle pour does harmonize very nicely with the lightest most subtle teas- softly coaxing out the soft compexities and subtleties of pre qing ming dragonwell and ujeon grade green teas.

The direction of the pour should also be considered. For most cases the stream of water should be directed to the wall of the teapot (or other steeping vessel), when possible. This is to create a nice tumbling action of the leaves in the pot. When pouring directly over the leaves it can often be too harsh and bring out somewhat undesirable qualities. Pouring water directly over mellowed, aged teas such as aged puerh and black teas will not impact the final cup as much as fresher lighter teas. Still most of the time teamasters are in the habit of not pouring water directly over the leaves if the steeping vessel allows. A cooling bowl is also used from ladle to teapot to help control elements of the pour such as direction- you can see how this could be important when preparing, say a very light ujeon grade green tea.

The last, and most overlooked, element of the pour that should always be considered is the mindset of the person pouring the water, preparing the tea. Those with malicious intent, such as a tea shop owner who wishes to make one tea look better than another, will impart negative qualities into the tea whereas someone who has loving intent will make a much better tea. There are three mindsets that we will examine here- the malicious mindset, the unfocused/ or unaware mindset, and the mindful/ meditative mindset.

The malicious mindset is was mentioned above, people in this mindset also alter other elements of the method and pouring technique to bring out a bad cup of tea. This is different than someone who is maybe in a bad mood and is just not aware of it- this would fall into the second group, the unaware mindset. Whether in a good or bad mood, this is probably where most people are and so the internal environment of the person pouring the water (and preparing the tea) impacts the final product.

Truly amazing tea comes from those who have been honing their mindset for years. Often you hear stories about how a student following a teamaster for several years still cannot make the amazing pot of tea that his master can. The best teamasters go beyond just mindfulness and recite prayers, meditate, do some sort of energy manipulation, or dwell in a 'no-mind' state. These are often closely guarded secrets of teamasters that are rarely discussed but no doubt have a subtle effect on the cup of tea. Just starting with a mindful approach you will start noticing improvements in the tea you drink.

Happy pouring...



Anonymous said...

Excellent post love this series!

Matt said...


Hope you are considering some changes to the way you approach water! :)


David said...

Hi Matt,

I have a question concerning water that has been puzzling me for some time. So I figured I'd ask.

I am using a lot my plain stainless kettle these days, looking for the best neutrality. And I am wondering, when playing gong fu, isn't it bad for water to be boiled over and over again ? Should I put fresh new water in the kettle each time before boiling (I've read that somewhere I while back but I cannot find where) ?

Same idea, using a traditional kettle + stove, isn't it bad for water to keep boiling all the time ? Isn't its quality, its Qi, diminished after some time ?

I'd be very grateful if you could enlighten me on this subject.


Matt said...


"isn't it bad for water to be boiled over and over again ? Should I put fresh new water in the kettle each time before boiling ?"

Yes and yes- you ask things you already know. :)

It will exhaust the essence of the water if it is boiled for too long or too many times. You can remedy this problem by adding more water to the kettle after every pour and/or by removing the kettle from the heat source.

This means that you should also be cognizant of how much water you put in your kettle to begin with. Enough water for a pot or two of tea is all you really need. If you fill the kettle to the top with water at the start of a gong fu session you will have less room for fresh water (besides the fact that you are just wasting power/ charcoal).

In the Book Of Sixteen Beverages written by Su Yi he states:

"In the time a hundred breaths are taken, the water exceeds ten boilings, as though speech was blocked or a thing ruined; it is like wondering if an old man with white hair and beard and pale face, could ever draw a bow, shoot an arrow, and hit the target or climb and walk a long distance with resolute steps."

This translation is found in Stanza 11 of DongChaSon. See here:


David said...

Thanks Matt for the answer. I suspected as much but it is really nice to have a confirmation. Maybe I read about this on your blog a while back, I really can't remember.