Tag Archives: spring

Spring water for great tea

Recently my colleague Grega from Njamisushi drove me to Ruše, a small town near Slovenia’s Pohorje mountain range. The road is narrow but manageable. We parked right by the spring, which was great, since we had a trunk full of glass flasks for hundreds of liters of spring water. And by spring water I mean the real fresh stuff that flows naturally from an underground source.

Natural spring

I took this picture during summer time.

Choosing the right water

Why is it important? Because over 99% of the content of your cup of tea is dihydrogen monoxide (H2O, aka water). That’s why choosing good water is actually more important than buying top-grade tealeaves, using wonderful ware, or honing tea gongfu skills to perfection.

Here in Slovenia tap water is not so bad, especially where i live, because it isn’t chlorinated at all. However, local water is very hard. Of course I hate the fact that scale builds up so fast on tea accessories, but I also realize that most cities around the world would be very happy to have our kind of water running through their pipework. In fact, in most big cities the water is simply not suitable for daily intake, let alone making good tea.

Bottled water and Chinese tradition

More and more tea traders recommend using bottled water for tea. I don’t think that this is a good idea. Why? Because bottled water is not fresh. Storage conditions vary drastically: water may be exposed to sunlight or cold, or it may be trapped in tanks or bottles for long periods of time. Either way, a traditionalist would probably argue that water that is not allowed to ‘breathe’ lacks ‘qi’ – a big factor in traditional tea culture.

Lu Yu, the author of the first comprehensive book on tea, says that ‘the best water comes from mountain springs, while the worst is found in wells’. This rationale is still relevant. Due to prolonged contact with the rocky inlay of wells, water becomes acidic and sometimes even tastes salty. Well water is also stagnant, and where there’s no movement, there’s no life or energy. I guess it’s fine to use well water if nothing else is available, but if I have better options, I’ll do what I can to make my tea taste great and feel vibrant.

Zhang Xin You, a scholar of ancient tea culture, believes that it is best to use water from a spring near the place where the tea is grown.

Another teaist, Zhang Yuan takes a poetically philosophical stance, suggesting that ‘the essence of tea is water, while water is a substance of tea’. Good tea and spring water are in a synergistic relationship: vibrancy of good tea can only be uncovered through the living substance of natural water.

Water that is too pure is poor water

Water quality if one of today’s most discussed environmental concerns. Even sophisticated home filtering systems have been found problematic, since they tend to acidify water. For instance, my friend Grega tells me that his Brita filter produces water with a pH value of 5.5. The other issue with filters is that they remove mineral substances and other “good” elements that are crucial for perfect brewing.

Water is a natural solvent, which means that the spring water dissolves small values ​​of polar and ionic substances contained in the underground medium through which it flows. That is good. In fact, that’s what makes water natural. No drinking water should be 100% pure.

Preparation

I always free my kettle of scale before boiling a new batch of spring water. By scale I mean the sediment and lime that form both inside and outside the kettle after I use hard tap water. I watch the heating process closely and press the power-off button shortly after small bubbles start forming. Then I pour the water into a cast iron pot, let it cool down to suit the needs of whatever tea I’m making, and pour the hot water over the tealeaves that are sitting tight in a closely placed gaiwan.

There is no one best way to measure the readiness of hot water. Obviously, today one can accomplish such task with built-in or portable thermometers. However, I find pleasure in traditional ways and base my judgment on the size and shape of water bubbles. So far, I’ve heard about two classification systems: the method dating back to the Tang Dynasty that categorizes water bubbles as ‘fisheyes, joined pearls, and surging waves’, and a more complex Ming Era classification that describes bubbles as ‘shrimp eye, crab eye, fisheye, joined pearls, and surging waves’.

During and before the Ming Dynasty, Chinese only drank green tea, so it was quite important to keep the temperature low. It was later, during the Qing era, that black, wulong, and other teas requiring higher brewing temperatures started to gain popularity.

Experiment

Everything I’ve written so far describes my own experience and preferences. I strongly recommend that you experiment with various ways of choosing and preparing water before and after marking down any particular approach as your favorite. Namely, with the same amount of tea, type of ware, and other conditions try to use the following types of water:

  • Tap water
  • Bottled water (cheap and pricey, from several manufacturers)
  • Spring water
  • Distilled water

Use all four and compare the resulting brews as you go through the water types one by one.

Having done a bit of experimenting myself, I have arrived at the following conclusions:

  • Distilled water yields by far the worst results. The tea is notably qi-less and deflavored beyond recognition.
  • Good spring water works best.
  • Some bottled water is not bad at all, although it isn’t significantly better than my regular tap water. But again, aquasystems differ immensely, so in your city tap water might give you the worst results.

Here is the bottom line: if you have already purchased some decent tea and want to make the most of it, you need to have good water to make it happen. Find a local source, preferably a natural spring, and try it out!

This article was written by Miha Jesenšek and translated into English by Roman Kaplunov.

 

Spring is the right time for green tea

For a few weeks already, various kinds of freshly harvested green teas have been flowing into Kunming tea markets from tea farms in Yunnan and other Chinese provinces.

Maofeng green tea

Here’s what the leaves of freshly brewed Huangshan Maofeng look like

Late March was marked by the arrival of zhuyeqing from Sichuan, tieguanyin from Fujian, and a wide variety of Yunnan-grown green teas. Some of the more sophisticated greens, such as longjing and huangshan maofeng, took a couple more weeks to get here. As usual, their supply was limited and price – well above the average pain threshold. April saw the arrival of the bulk of greens that one generally expects from a spring harvest. Now we are just waiting for a few more green teas from some remote provinces to complete the spring 2013 collection. Local tea industry has been affected by climate change too. In many parts of China, winter season has shifted by about a month, which pushed the first plucking sorties accordingly.

Green Spring

Spring is the prime season for green tea. As winter loses its grasp, tea trees come to life and start growing their young and tender buds. Depending on location, tea varietal, and weather conditions, farmers let the buds grow for two to six weeks. The buds are then plucked and processed carefully to make the first and the most treasured batch of the year’s green tea selection. Tea aficionados around the globe rub their hands in anticipation of this highly sought after produce.

For most green teas, freshness is particularly important. It’s best to drink them as soon as they hit the market. Harvest season is also a key factor. I personally prefer green teas harvested in spring, although summer and autumn seasons can often yield very nice teas too. Spring-plucked tea leaves are particularly gentle and full of life. Think about all that life force that’s trapped in the plant for several winter months and is suddenly released with the rays of the spring sun. I also believe that the best tea is hand-picked, sun-dried, and manually processed with minimal or zero reliance on electrically powered contraptions.

Purchasing and storage

Now is a good time to stock up on green teas. By early May the market stabilizes significantly and prices settle at a generally accepted level. Unless you are buying small quantities of tea for immediate consumption, you should make sure that you know how to store your greens properly. If you are planning to finish your tea within a month or two, you can simply keep it on a shelf. Just keep it from direct sunlight, moisture, and odorous substances (such as spices). If you have green tea that you know will last you awhile, you should package and store it properly as soon as possible. If it’s a neatly curled wulong or biluochun, feel free to put it in a vacuum-sealed bag and store it the fridge. If it’s some fragile tea that gets easily crumpled, just put it in a couple of ziplock bags, a tupperware container, or a heat-sealed plastic bag. Storing tea in a freezer compartment is acceptable for some wulongs, but most greens will do just fine in near-zero temperatures.

Why vacuuming and cooling? In this way, you can limit the fluctuations in the temperature as well as exposure to moisture and oxygen, and thus extend the life of the green tea. If all this storing and packaging sounds like a hassle – don’t worry about it. Just keep your tea on the shelf and try to finish it sooner. Green tea is not meant to be stockpiled.

Freshness of tea is of course a relative concept. It is impossible to preserve tea leaves in their pristine state and shape. After the tea is harvested, it undergoes a number of processing steps: sun-drying, stirring, mixing, wilting, oxidation, killing the green (shaqing), etc. The order in which these steps are performed as well as their length and intensity determine the final flavor, aroma, and outlook of the tea. Needless to say, the art of making good tea is no easy undertaking and sometimes borders on outright magic. After the tea obtains the desired characteristic it is dried in special ovens. By tea industry standards dried tea leaves should contain no more than 5% of water. A higher moisture content will undermine its shelf life.

Preparation of green tea

There is no single best way to brew green tea. Most instructions on green tea packaging say that lower water temperature is recommended, but that’s about it. So, it’s important to try to ‘get to know’ different types of green tea personally. I almost never look at brewing instructions. Instead, I’m prepared to sacrifice up to 50 gr just to experiment with it. Only when I feel confident that I know how harness all of its goodness, will I serve the new tea to others.

I don’t drink green for health reasons. I couldn’t care less about all these polyphenols and antioxidants that are mentioned in so many tea descriptions (click here to read an article about Research into green tea and preventing cancer). And although I appreciate the invigorating effects of the beverage though, I mostly drink green tea because I like the taste. I also enjoy preparing it. Especially when I have enough to use my gear: the tray, gaiwan, pitchers, filters, small cups, etc. Most importantly, I like sharing it with a good company that often gathers around my table.

Which greens do I drink? When I get tired of wulong, black, or puer, I now reach out for one of these:

  • Xuelong (Yunnan) – green with gentle wulong touch. Otherwise typically Yunnanish fruity.
  • Liu’an guapian (Anhui) – Interesting tea because the inner part of tea leave is taken out during processing
  • Longjing (Sichuan) – very pleasant autumn and chestnutty flavors.
  • Huangshan maofeng (Anhui) – tender and gently sweet. What a treat.

This post was written by Miha. Translated into English and supplemented by Roman.