Four Ancient Rules for Water Selection in Tea Brewing

Even though this stream at Mao Kong in Northern Taiwan is beautiful, it isn’t the best one to get tea water from. You would be better off getting water from its origin, a spring perhaps located higher up on the mountain.

Brewing tasty tea is not a trivial task, and this is something that the tea lovers of ancient China understood very well. Throughout the history of the cultural development of tea, there have been several important works of tea literature left behind for future generations to ponder. The most famous of these is the Classic of Tea by Lu Yu, but other books such as Speaking on Tea (Cha Shuo), Discussion of Tea (Cha Lun) and others left behind much of what we need to know about the most essential elements of tea appreciation.
Something featuring prominently in every tract is the importance of water selection.
In this short essay I will touch on the four major components of water selection and what they mean.
Lets Start, shall we?

yuan means origin and it points to the origin of the water we use for brewing tea. Water can commonly be found in four major places:
a) mountain springs,
b) wells,
c) creeks, rivulets, rivers and so on,
d) ponds and other sitting bodies of water.
I have intentionally left rain out here because there is only a very small amount of information in the various classics of tea which refer to collecting rain water or snow, and these are mainly contained within the novel A Dream of Red Mansions, and are meant to be read in a satirical manner.
Of all of these sources, springs are considered to be the best, wells are considered acceptable, creeks and rivers are to be avoided, and sitting water is right out.
Before we explain more about why this is, lets look at the oher three major rules for selecting water. Hopefully this rules will help illustrate why the above categories of water origin are thus organized.

Huo means life and refers to the water having an “alive” feeling. The alive feeling essentially means that the water has a certain degree of oxygenation that comes from being from a moving source. This aliveness of water goes away when it is let to sit still for too long and can result in the water becoming stale and even accumulating nasty bacteria which can be unhealthy. in any event, fresh water makes better tea.

Gan Means sweet and tea water should be slightly sweet in taste. This is usually a biproduct of source and is one of the reasons why it is preferable to choose water from mountain springs and then wells. Mountain spring water generally tends to be very sweet and soft in taste and well water is at least passable. Water from rivers is usually polluted with the detritus of the river and as a result, is generally not as good as the other two sources. Again, water from pools is usually right out, since it has often been sitting and collecting garbage for a long time.

Qing means clear, but it also means clean. Tea water must be clean because any filth in the water will ultimately go on to negatively affect the taste of the tea.

So we can see by these four points that selecting water for tea starts with the source and should conform to the simple rules that it has a living quality, is sweet, and is clear of contamination. This makes it much easier for us to figure out what kind of water we ought to use to brew our favourite teas and hopefully adds an extra dimension of interest to the hobby of tea, since it gives us something to consider, experiment with, and eventually come to master.

If you liked this article, please consider visiting the tea section of my website to have a look at my catalogue of wonderful (mostly Oolong) teas. :)

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