Friday, February 25, 2011

Section 17. Well Water Is Not Appropriate For Tea

"The Classic of Tea says: "Mountain water is superior, river water is less good, and well water is the worst"

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.



Anonymous said...


An alternative translation of the section on water in the Chajing 茶經 is:

其水, 用山水上, 江水中, 井水下.
“For water, mountain water is superior; river water is moderate in quality; well water is inferior.”

In the practical context of the art of tea and connoisseurship, a skill and understanding that encompassed water, all three sources of water – mountain, river, and well – were used for making tea. Not all spring water was good; not all well water was bad. What the Tang tea master Lu Yü 陸羽 intended to express was a preference and a hierarchy of water based on conditions influence by natural phenomena and human contact. All water, whether mountain, river, or well, were fine for tea provided certain criteria and methods were strictly observed. When sweet water bubbled evanescent from a mountain spring or dripped pure from stalactites in deep, cool caverns, this was good mountain water. When sweet water was obtained from the smooth flowing current in the middle of the river and well away from the shore and human habitation, this was good river water. When sweet water was drawn from a sand bottom well in constant use, this was good well water.

There was, furthermore, many things left unsaid by Lu Yü about water after it was obtained from mountain spring or stream, river, and well. Water was stored in stone or thick ceramic jars; earthenwares permitted the water to slowly evaporate, keeping the water cool. Storage also allowed the water to stand and particulate matter to settle. Before use, water was always strained and then brought to a rapid boil, with an added pinch of salt to improve flavor. All these methods and precautions ensured good water.


Matt said...


You speak of the practical aspect of water for tea whereas this text focuses on theoretically the best water for loose green tea. With the abundance of spring mountain water in Korea and the continuing focus on loose leaf green teas, this advice is perhaps, rather deliberately, delivered in a more direct, more concretely way than Lu Yu's initial declaration.

Lu Yu's focus on practicality when finding water is no doubt due to the diverse geographical landscape of China, some of which is thousands of kilometers from spring water. This emphasis on practicality is perhaps even more important in todays world where sources and types of water are often easily accessible and abundant in one place and completely restricted in another.

Thanks for giving us further insight into how Lu Yu managed his water for tea.


Anonymous said...

Well water flows less, so maybe is less desirable for that reason according to the previous Section (amongst other reasons).

Matt said...

Julien ELIE,

The stagnancy of water or how vigorous and lively it flows is thought to be an indication of the waters qi, vitality, or yang.

Mountain springs have more potential energy, and yang, as they are located high above. Streams have less potential energy, but still flow pretty strongly, and have a current. Well water contains the least qi, vitality, or yang as it contains no potential energy, is still, and lies low. Well water contains the most yin energy.


Matt said...


Notes on Section 17:

This section lays out how astrology and feng shui effect the water energetically. Both suggest that the origin or source of water is an indication of its qi.

Where the water comes from (feng shui) effects is vitality, yang, and qi. This is laid out in the comments above regarding mountain, river, and well water.

When the water is collected (astrology) effects its nature, its qi. This was touched upon in the commentary on Mineral Content in a response to D-Wong:

"Basically if you are going to use rain water, the rainwater that harmonizes the closest to the energetics of tea is spring rainfall that occurs just as the first blossoms of spring are emerging(or the first tea buds). This water is thought to have abundant qi because it nourishes the abundant spring growth. From a astrological perspective, it shares the same energy of the tea that is also fed by these same rains as they sprout from the tree in early spring."

Alternately, this section states that the qi of water from pure melted snow (collected in the winter) is "heavy and dark". This is due to this water harmonizing with the energy of winter which is the most yin time of year. It has the least daylight hours, so is dark. The water is considered heavy because it comes from the snow which is dense and heavy and cold in nature.

The reference to the spleen and stomach has to do with the traditional Chinese concepts of these organs and their energy systems- not the way we understand them today in contemporary bio medicine. In traditional Chinese thought they are the organs of digestion that are located in the abdomen. The spleen and stomach must always be warm else they will not properly function and will lead to digestive disturbances as well as a plethora of other health heath problems.