Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Like Water for Tea

I think for as long as Michael has been studying tea, he's also been learning about water. Whether it's a new understanding or rediscovering an old tradition, he wants to know the how and why of water. He's played with many types water from springs, wells, melted glaciers and so on. At the Gallery we boil our water with mineral rocks from Mongolia in our kettles to add fullness and and a soft, silky texture. In China, it is traditional to soak these types of stones in water for drinking and cooking purposes. Although the why was not clear, the result was a better tasting water and tea that kept people healthy. Our clients also enjoy using the stones but we could never explain why these rocks worked the way they do. To help shed some light on this, Scott, a close friend and patron of the Gallery, had our rocks examined by a mineral expert and discovered some interesting results.
There was a surprising amount of water soluble potassium. And though the expert couldn't test for exact amounts of silica, he was certain the rocks contained a large amount. To explain what the effect these minerals might have when dissolved in water, Scott also sent a link to an article on the nuances of drinking water. Most enlightening was this description: "Potassium, for example, may give water a sweet taste. Silica may impart silkiness. Calcium can give the water a lactic taste some people find refreshing. Others enjoy the cleansing quality of water with a high sodium content."
There's something else the rocks impart: A pleasant clinking sound from the kettle as they get jostled by the boiling water. The gentle ring of stone bumping up against the glass is incredibly soothing.

What else can affect the taste of water? Here at the Gallery, Michael is still experimenting with water. Sometimes he starts with spring water or filters his own and stores it in this late Ming to early Ching Dynasty water jar for a few days before using it to brew tea.

The result of many blind taste tests with the unwitting participation of shop visitors had everyone preferring the flavor of the water from the antique water jar. "Sweeter and softer" was the most common response. We still don't know why a 200 year old, glazed porcelain pot would have such an effect on water. The same water did not have that sweet fullness when we used other contemporary porcelain vessels.
Of course not everyone can haul out a Ching Dynasty water jar to store water for tea but I hope others will experiment on their own local or imported waters with different materials and share their results.

As for Michael and friends, the experiments continue...

11 comments:

Janine said...

I am honored to be a part of the experiment! Beautiful photos, yumcha.

toki said...

Is he still testing those water! When can we have our tea? : )
Thanks for this lovely post and the knowledge behind those beautiful pictures.

Cheers, Toki

Matt said...

I enjoy using the rocks in my kettle for my darker teas, but I have found that I taste more minerals than tea when I use the rocks for my lighter teas. I was curious if other people have experienced this as well or perhaps have suggestions.

yumcha said...

Hi everyone,
There are times we don't use the rock infused water. Certain dancongs can take on an unusual flavor. And teas that already have a high mineral content (WuYiSan YanChas) don't necessarily improve with the mineral infused water. It's good to play around ans see where a tea can be enhanced with this type of water or suffer from a high mineral content.

toki said...

so far, which kind of tea do you find best suitable using the rocks? Thanks. T

yumcha said...

Puers, hongchas, tikwanyin - both light and heavy roasts to name a few. I'm sure you can name some too, Tok!

eileen said...

How does one obtain these rocks? Eileen

yumcha said...

Hello Eileen,
We import the rocks from China. But they are in such demand, we've already sold out. We should be expecting more soon and I can let you know when more rocks arrive.

eileen said...

Please place me on the waiting list. Thanks, Eileen

Wes Crosswhite said...

I'd love to get my hands on some too. Also, how can I get my hands on a kettle setup like that one (http://tinyurl.com/5q3vcm)?

yumcha said...

Hi Wes,
We carry the setup at The Gallery. If you're in NYC you can come by the store and examine it for yourself. I also have one at home; it uses denatured alcohol for fuel.