It's important to know what is the best water for making tea, since it is a key ingredient. In an ancient book of legendary tales, there is a memorable story about a famous tea master who could recognize the various types of water people used in making tea. After tasting freshly made tea, he could say where the water came from and whether it was made with fresh living water or stale dying water, simply by tasting the tea!
His friends tried to trick him by fetching water from a mountain far away ~ transporting the water by overnight couriers, carrying the water carefully sealed in ceramic jars packed in soft materials to prevent jarring and shaking. The next morning when they made the Master tea with the mountain spring water from afar, they asked him where the water came from. The Master tasted the tea and smiled saying “Aahhh ~ the water comes from the southern slopes of this mountain in that county." His friends were astounded for the Master was correct, even down to the side of the mountain where the water was gathered!
What is the best water for making tea ?
Everyone may not agree however, Lu Erh ~ Tang Dynasty poet recorded for posterity the best locations for fetching water to make tea in his book;
Cha Jing ~ the Tea Book
“the mountain spring is the best, followed by river water and well spring water”.
Intriguingly, all of his best places to find water were aquifer discharged habitats where living water sings sweet songs! This awesome gem of Dao cultural intelligence can be found carved in a mid-stream glacial boulder in the Song Dynasty White Deer Academy in Lushan, Jiangxi Province.
Fresh mountain spring water comes from sub-soil aquifers seeping and surging to the surface ~ just like the ones mountain villagers use for their drinking water. Once you have located your mountain spring, the first step is to listen to the spring! Do you hear the song of the spring? If so, give blessings to the spring before taking what you need. When you have your water, express gratitude to the spring by giving thanks.
In traditional Dao cultures, expressing respect and gratitude for living water - water that sustains all life on our planet - is an ancient custom: one which reflects the state of mind hopefully engaged to participate in the tea ceremony. Given the parlous state of water resources in modern times, as a result of human activities, perhaps we should revive this ancient tea custom!
Boiling kills living water
So what is the point of using living water to make tea? Whether living or dead, water needs to be boiled to make delicious tea. Wait, let’s cease thinking for a moment so we can see clearly - to see dynamic patterns thinking nothing is necessary!
As paradoxical as it may seem, there is a simple way of reviving the memory and intelligence of living water. It is revealed in the code of conduct for the tea ceremony recorded by Lu Erh in his Tea Book published in the Tang dynasty. Chapter 5 begins with the art of boiling water.
Pay close attention to boiling patterns and sequences so you can easily recognise:
the first boil ~ fish eye bubbles swim to surface ~ prepare tea
the second boil ~ crystal beads rolling in a fountain~ add tea
the third boil ~ billowing waves surging wildly ~ add a cup of cool living water
The third step is calming and cooling the tea while refreshing the water’s memory and intelligence. This is done by adding enough fresh cool living water to cease the boiling without unduly cooling the tea. This method prevents over-extraction of the tea leaves which makes tea bitter from too much tannin.
The tea ceremony has grown and evolved since the Tang and Song Dynasty times. By the 19th century it had emerged into a global culture called Teaism by Boston literatti Okakura Kakuzo. In his widely published Book of Tea (circa 1900) Kakuzo refers to Teaism as Dao culture in disguise. His cultural insight is relevant in our present task, because traditional Dao culture shows us how to reinvigorate and refresh boiled water by topping up the freshly made tea with a cup of cool living water ~ after the tea has infused to the desired potency and strength.
Teaism is Dao culture in disguise
Dao is the way of living water
Living Water is huo (living) shui (water) !
Spring water retains the memory of terrains and habitats through which it seeps and surges in seasonal sequences. Some traditional Chinese mountain pine (rocky stream artworks) reveal these processes with great insight. Modern science has recently confirmed that fresh spring water retains memories of the place where it rises and where it flows from - streams into rivers and lakes, and onwards into the sea. But how did the tea master know? Was he especially skilled like a wine connoisseur? Could he tell from his long experience, the unique taste of local waters? Or was he (like an eel, fish or frog) able to recognise the aromatic signature of spring waters emerging from the breasts of Mother Earth in his geographic homeland... perhaps he was skilled in both?
Until recent times, these remarkable sensory skills for water survived among Rapuwai people (Living Water People) who settled in our Oceanic lands long ago. Rapuwai ancestors left Eastern China over 6000 years ago. They reached our country long before the Maori, settling an island they called the Land of the Long White Cloud Dragon ~ or Aotearoa. With traditional apperceptions of living water in their cultural kit, perhaps the answer to our question ~ how did the tea Master know where the water came from ~ can be found in outposts of Dao cultures in Asia-Oceania.
According to the traditional cultural intelligence of East Asia~Oceania, water has many states and names depending on its song and dance patterns, life-force and freshness, clarity, taste and after taste.
In Oceania, water from mountain springs is respected as sacred living water. It is called waiora. Waiora is a Polyniesian term with ancient links to ancient Dao cultures ~ notably the Hemudu, Longshan and Liangzhu cultures from eastern China. Research into traditional Dao natural farming systems such as padi-pond and tiered terrace farming systems (known scientifically as terraquacultures) has revealed these ancient cultures knew far more than we do about living water.
Longfeng modelling of living water
The prototype Polynesian culture (Hemudu) was uncovered near Ningbo in Zhejiang Province. Over 7000 years ago, Hemudu culture created the migratory sunbird symbol (feng bird) reflecting annual rebirthing in seasonal sequences related to solar cycles. The feng phoenix soon became absorbed into Dao culture; along with the ancient water dragon symbol from north west China. Water dragons (Long Chinese, Tanifa Oceania) are traditional symbols of living water in AsiaOceania). The merger of long dragon and feng phoenix symbols in traditional Dao cultures evolved into longfeng analogue models of living watersheds. In many parts of China, from the times of Longshan cultures onwards, longfeng jades were carved for use as teaching stones. Longfeng jade teaching stones were carved models revealing the unique heat/water relationships of “dragons nests” ~ enclosed basin watersheds located high in the mountains which give birth to fresh water springs.. Two Long feng jade teaching stones from Wutai Shan (Shanxi) were carved in Tang-Song dynasty styles showing huo shui springs emerging from the breasts of Mother Earth. Old style longfeng jades found in Aotearoa NZ are called manaia by Maori people.
Dragon nest springs high in the mountains, provide the most precious living waters particularly treasured by tea Masters for making tea. Unsurprisingly, this sacred living spring water has also gained a reliable reputation over millenia in both hemispheres for their “spiritual” healing powers. Often used in traditional remedies for many common ailments as well as maintaining healthy mind and body energies, living spring water can also help calm troubled 'monkey minds'!
For those who would know, living water refreshes the body and mind, clearing away the detritus of busy stressful minds while keeping you healthy ~ a reputation that attached to tea over time. Of course you can make tea with any water at all although with variable results. Making tea with dead water delivers dull flat lifeless tea, accurately reflecting the state of the water.
Dead water is xi shui
In China dead water is called xi shui. In Oceania, dead water is waimate ~ meaning sick and dying water that is unable to maintain human health or sustain Earth’s life support ecosystems.
Ironically, reticulated water supplies dosed with chlorine and fluorides and piped under pressure throughout cities is completely dead water suitable only for cleaning and washing. As far as I can tell, the first western scientists to reveal that dead water has no living energy or healthy memory was renowned Austrian inventor Viktor Shauberger ~ forest ecologist and author of Living Water. Among English scientific circles however; he was ignored or vilified for his discovery. In Eastern cultures, however, distinguishing living and dead water is crucial cultural intelligence ensuring people’s health and society’s wellbeing. Its been that way for millenia, at least until modern times.
English cultures lack concepts or words distinguishing living and dead water. In English cultures, water is an inert mineral H2O. Inert H2O however is dead water ~ xi shui. Perhaps this helps explain why English people prefer strong black, bitter fermented teas which they steep for so long in the teapot it becomes a murky tannin mixture high in caffeine. English colonials called this Gumboot tea ~ because it looks like tea made in dirty gumboots: and tastes like it!
To reduce the bitterness and make it look more appealing, Gumboot tea is usually diluted with milk and sweetened with sugar. Among the tcha litteratii, Gumboot tea is considered an accurate and reliable indicator of English culture.
Typically, I like to end my essays with a polite warning not to believe anything important recorded here: for I am a wandering, wayward old Daozhou who also drinks coffee without apology! I am happy to say I enjoy both tea and coffee made with fresh living water most every day.
I like to remember the enduring axiom of Dao sages ~ believing in the written word is superstition. The tea ceremony is not superstitious, it is a practical model for living in harmony with Nature. It is your personal responsibility to confirm or deny my findings for yourself ~ making tea with all sorts of water and comparing the results. Maybe if you use living water for making tea, you will find your enjoyment and health slowly and surely improving with each delicious cup of cha!
Dao Laoma 道老麻
Ruatanifa ~ The Double Dragons Nest
Land of the Long White Cloud Dragon