WATER, THE MOTHER OF TEA (según Lu Yu +733 al 772, autor del «Cha Jing»)
There are three things that are all important to get the best flavour out of your tea, namely the teapot, the water you use, and how you heat it. In the tea world there is a saying that the pot is the father of tea, water is the mother of tea, and charcoal is the friend of tea.
In the past, the people of China took their water from wells they dug and from nearby streams. Lu Yu, the patron of tea, tells us that the highest quality of water you can use is mountain water, followed by river water, and then well water. The lowest-quality water is from lakes and very deep underground wells. Of all the different kinds of mountain water, the best for tea are said to come from waters that move slowly through stalagmites.
The following story, while exaggerated and probably unfounded, emphasizes the importance of water quality. When they were traveling through the country, Lu Yu and a friend of his, a courtier, reached the famous Yangtse River. His friend said to him, ¨Since you´re such a tea expert, and the Yangtse River is one of the waters you have greatly praised, we must drink tea.¨ Lu Yu looked at the time and replied, ¨It is now afternoon so the tide and the waves are very strong. It would be too difficult to get water from the middle of the river.¨ However, his friend was very determined to taste the tea they had brought with them, so he sent an officer to fetch the water from the middle of the river. The officer duly returned and presented them with a bucket of water. Lu Yu took a scoop of water from the bucket and examined it and declared, ¨This is from the Yangtse River but it is not from the middle. It is from the banks and so the quality is lower.¨The officer said that this was not true as he had taken a boat to the middle of the river.
Silently, Lu Yu picked up the bucked and poured away half the water and then took another scoop of water to examine. Finally, he declared, ¨This is from the middle of the river and this is the good quality water.¨The officer, afraid of punishment, turned pale and told them that when he was returning the strong tide had made the boat sway, causing him to spill half the bucket. Thinking it would not matter, he had filled it up again with water from the bank.
USING THE RIGHT WATER FOR THE BEST FLAVOUR
Qian Long, a famous emperor in the Qing Dynasty, is well known for loving tea as much as life itself. He traveled throughout China tasting every kind of tea and investigating the water that made the best teas. He ordered a silver scoop to be made of a measured unit and requested his subjects to bring to his palace water from all parts of the country. He measured the weight of every sample brought to him and graded them from heavy to light. He observed that the lighter, or less dense, the water the better the cup of tea. His discovery demonstrates the importance of water: the best tea can only reach its full potential if it is brewed with the right water.
Research from the Ming Dynasty further emphasizes this: one tea expert noted that if you brewed tea graded with eight points in water graded with ten, the resulting beverage would have a rating of ten, whereas if you brewed tea with ten points in water with eight points, the beverage would only be rated with eight points. Nonetheless, the best water and best tea do not necessarily make the best possible drink, as the water and tea need to match each other. A sample guide to a good match is to use local tea leaves with local water, as they will naturally complement each other. This is because they share the same soil and mineral composition.
About half of the organic constituents of tea leaves are soluble. Since these are responsible for the flavor, aroma, taste, and coloring of the tea, it makes sense that using the right water will get the best out of the tea leaves. Some constituents are slow to dissolve while others are much quicker. This is why the brewing time is also crucial.
In modern society the cheapest and most convenient choice of water is tap water, which can be hard or soft. Hard water is inferior to soft water as it contains more chemical substances. These affect the constituents of tea and therefore impair the taste and coloring of the tea itself. Most tap water is hard, but there are steps you can take to reduce the problem. For example, try using sand or charcoal filter, which are better than chemical ones. Alternatively, let the water stand overnight so that the chemicals fall to the bottom and use only the top half of the water. When the water is heated, use only the top half of the water for your tea. This process temporarily softens the water.You can use mineral water for making tea but make sure it is one with the least amount of minerals and chemicals. Avoid using distilled water to make tea, for although it is very light, it has lost all of its natural elements and is actually very bad for making tea – for worse than tap water.
HEATING THE WATER
Controlling the temperature of the water is very important when making good tea. The first step is to control the heat produced by the fire. In today´s society, unless you live in a rural area, the only option is gas or electricity. If posible, use electricity as the smell of gas will linger in the water.In the past, to heat their water people used fires that they could fuel with one of three resources available, namely coal, firewood, or charcole. Coal and firewood both produce smoke that would be absorbed into the water and make the tea taste unpleasant. This is why everyone used charcoal to fuel their fires and also why charcoal is said to be the friend of tea. Professional tea experts prepared their own special fuel. They collected pine seeds or olive seeds, which they dried and burned as fuel. The seeds produced a pleasant fragrance that did not impair the taste of the water. The heat they generated was slow to bring the water to a boil, but because tea drinking was a social event for meeting and chatting, no one minded waiting: they enjoyed the wait and then they enjoed the tea.
CIVIL FIRE AND MARTIAL FIRE
In all branches of Chinese cuisine, not just in tea, the role of fire has been recognized and greatly valued. Extensive research has shown that the speed at which the water is boiled and the temperature the water reaches is all important. Chinese cuisine divides fire into two different types, Men For and Wu For, which can be literally translated as civil fire and martial fire. Civil fire refers to the slow, continuous, and lengthy burning of the fuel, while martial fire refers to short periods of high-heat, high-flame cooking.
Martial fire is usually used to control the temperature of the water for tea because civil fire takes too long and overcooks the water. Normally, in China, only fish-eye, or mature water is used to make tea.
JUDGING THE HEAT OF THE WATER
In China, there is a popular folk saying, which can be translated as ¨The water is boiled, the tea is good.¨However, this is not true for many teas, as different teas need to be brewed with water of different temperature. So how can you tell when the water is the right temperature? Chinese reserarch undertaken hundreds of years ago identifies three ways of distinguishing how well the water is heated.
The first way is called Sheng Pien, meaning¨sound distinguishing.¨Using your ear you can distinguishy three clear levels of heat. As the first level the water makes a low humming sound and is called medium-done, yin-yang, or baby water. Such water is never used for making tea and in fact is never used for anything in cooking, as yin-yang water is said to be “unhealthy”.
As the second level the water starts to pop noisily in your kettle or container. This is called mature water and is generally the right level for making tea. At the third level, the water bubbles like mad. This is called old man water or white hair water and is not used for making tea.
The second way to judge the heat of the water is known as Chi Pien, meaning ¨air distinguishing.¨This involves watching the steam as the water heats up. At the first level the steam rises in small streams, very slowly, gradually, and gently. This baby water is not used. At the second level the steam rises vertically at a moderate volume. This is about the right level for most teas. At the third level the steam ascends at a high volume, like chunks of cloud. This indicates old man water and is no longer suitable to make tea.
The third way is called Hsing Pien, meaning¨from distinguishing.¨ This involves looking at the bubbles in the water as it is being heated. At the first level a number of small bubbles come up through the water from the bottom of the kettle or container. Because the bubbles are roughly the size of a crab´s eye, this is called crab-eye water. At the second level the small bubbles begin to disappear, to be replaced by continuous streams of larger bubbles. This water is called fish-eye water and is approximately the right temperature for most teas. At the third level the water is bubbling viciously and indicates old man water.
Some teas cannot be brewed with water that is too hot while others can. For example, Polee, Oolong, Tie Guan Yin and red tea are brewed with fish-eye water, which is about 100ºC.
Delicate teas, such as light green tea, green teas, and flower teas, use slightly cooler water at around 80-85ªC. To get this temperature, you can either pour the boiled water into a thermos for an hour or you can take fish-eye water, take the lid off the kettle, and leave it to cool down for two minutes. It is important not to use crab-eye water or baby water.
Modern kettles stop automatically when the water starts to boil very rapidly, just as it begins to become old man water. This is acceptable, but not ideal, for making tea.
In Chinese cuisine the term ¨metallic chi¨refers to the contact of the ingredients with metal. In some cases, including tea making, this is a bad thing. Today, this is more or less unavoidable because people use metal kettles or saucepans to boil water – even plastic kettles have a metal conductor to heat up the water.
Texto sacado del libro;The Way of TEA, the sublime arto f Oriental Tea Drinking.
MASTER LAM Kam Chuen with LAM Kai Sin and LAM Tin Yu.
Un método chino para saber la temperatura del agua, es mirando las burbujas de esta:
ojo de gamba (las primeras burbujas, muy pequeños) 70ºC – 80ºC
ojo de cangrejo (las burbujas son un poco más grandes) 80ºC – 85ºC
ojo de pez 85ºC – 90ºC
una hilera de perlas (las primeras burbujas en movimiento) 90ºC – 95ºC
torrente furioso 95ºC-100ºC
agua de hombre viejo / old man water 100ºC (sobre ebullición, agua plana)
Sobre el agua…