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The Mother of Tea

In the world of tea, there is a saying that water is the mother of tea. The metaphor may be a bit odd, but it conveyed a crystal clear message about the importance of water quality to tea. Zhang Dafu of the Ming dynasty wrote in his Essays form My Straw Hut with Plum Blossom, "It is up to the water to fully unleash the quality of the tea, Superior water is able to bring out die best of tea, making a less-than-superior tea superior. If the water is less than superior, the best tea leaves won't make excellent tea."

A true story is often told to illustrate the importance of water, During the Song dynasty people were immensely fond of the so-called tea-fights, which were competitions among groups of friends to see who could make the best tea. Cai Xiang, a prominent calligrapher and tea expert of the day, once attended such a gathering. He had brought with him the best tea and excellent water. Spring water from Mt.Hui, to be exact. His friend Dongpo, a famous poet. did not have such superior tea, but his special water proved to be his tramp card: he used the bamboo-filtered water, which had been collected diligently and strenuously from bamboo trunks.

Bamboo-filtered water is extremely difficult to collect so much so that few people would really go for it. But to real lovers of tea, there is a whole world of difference between water of different sources, in term of its quality and property. That’s why the Chinese had every reason to be fastidious about what water to infuse tea with. Superior water has to be clear,original, live, sweet, and light. First and foremost, the water has to be clear and clean, free of any impurities. Original means that the water must be collected from the origin of the stream. This is usually very difficult. Normally it is only possible to find the source of mountain spring water close by. Live water means flowing water. But the Chinese ruled out water from waterfalls, because it was considered to be violent, incompatible with the nature of tea. So the best live water is normally naturally flowing spring water. Water with a natural subtle sweetness is deemed most desirable by tea drinkers. Light means that the water should be relatively light in weight. This is quite sensible from the perspective of modem science. Light water has low mineral content, and it closer approximates soft water.

Accordingly, natural water from mountain springs is tea drinkers' favourite. Snow and rain water that are yet to be mineralized by metal ions and other ground contaminants are also good choices. Unfortunately, because of air pollution, it is now hard to obtain pure, unpolluted snow or rain water. Both river water and well water are usually somewhat polluted and mineralized; neither of them has what it takes to make excellent tea- Water from rivers, lakes and wells, which usually contains alkalis and iron, is usually considered unacceptable by avid tea enthusiasts.

Tap water varies in property from town to town and therefore it would be wrong to pass a judgment on it as a whole. But almost all tap water is disinfected with sodium hypochlorite, commonly known as bleach, and, for that reason, has a high content of hypochlorite ions. If you are going to use tap water for your tea, it is advisable to put the water in a container and let it settle for a whole night before boiling it for infusing tea.

As fastidious consumers, Chinese tea enthusiasts have long tried to evaluate the water from different locations. Over the centuries, Chinese emperors have been particularly fond of ranking different water sources all over the country. Emperor Qianlong of the Qing dynasty, for example, once had a set of silverware specially made for measuring and calculating the weight of spring water from various locations in the country, He then issued an imperial proclamation announcing his findings, in which the Running-tiger Spring,located in Hangzhou,the home of the Longjing tea, was given the title "The World's Number Three Spring." As a result, the Running-tiger Spring became famous overnight.

Reverent tea drinkers are not only particular about the quality and property of water, they also have a very sophisticated understanding about how a difference in temperature and amount of water might make significant differences in the tea.

The Tea Sage Lu Yu differentiated three phases of water boiling. In the first phase, when the water just starts boiling, small bubbles resembling tiny fish eyes hiss as they float to the surface- In the second phase, strings of bubbles rush to the surface like a fountain. When the water seethes and spurts like rolling waves, it is in the third phase. If the water is boiled further, it would be considered old or overdone, and inappropriate for making tea.

For all varieties of tea, the water should be boiled up fast over a quick fire, and water that has just been boiled up is best for making tea. Generally speaking, the greener and more delicate the tea leaves are,the lower the water temperature should be. This is to make sure that the tea brew will look lively and bright, and tastes refreshing, because more vitamin C will remain intact. For example, the most famous green tea. Longjing should be infused with water in its first phase of boiling, when its temperature is around 85 degrees Celsius. For black tea and other types of green tea, the water temperature between 90 and 95 degrees Celsius is ideal.

As for the amount of water to be used in infusing tea, there is not one single correct answer It very much depends on the drinker's personal taste. If you prefer it to be strongs put in less water and more tea leaves; and vice versa, Nevertheless, different types of tea call for different amounts of water, For instance, if your cup is 200ml big, you will want to put in about 3 grams of green or black tea, and then pour in water up to 70 percent full. If you are drinking Oolong or Pu'erh, you may want to use more water. As for teabags containing broken bits of tea leaves,since most of their "juice" can be brought out by hot water immediately, you need to put in even more water for the very up to 70 percent full. If you are drinking Oolong or Pu'erh, you may want to use Yixing teapot and more water. As for teabags containing broken bits of tea leaves, since most of their "juice" can be brought out by hot water immediately, you need to put in even more water for the very first brew.