May 26, 2011

It's the water -- and a lot more

My apologies to Olympia Beer, that was their slogan for many years.   I just returned from a trip to the Southwest, Arizona, Utah and Nevada.  It made me appreciate the good fortune that I live in a place with really good tasting water right out of the tap.  I tried to make tea with the water from the tap and my tea really tasted yucky.   Sometimes it tasted soapy, sometimes salty, depending if it had gone through water softeners.    

This reminds me that good tasting tea starts with the water.   Even though I live in a place with good tasting water, I use purified water because the pipes that the water runs in also make a difference in the taste. I am reminded again that my sensei told me not to use distilled water for tea, because it was too flat.   The best water comes from spring or well water.  We are fortunate here in the Pacific Northwest to have an abundance of springs, wells and very good tasting water, even out of the tap.

There are some famous wells in Kyoto for good tasting water. The well at Urasenke is called Ume no I, the plum well. Other places famous for good tasting water are the Ocha no I (tea well)  located in the garden of the Ginkakuji, the Silver Pavilion once was a source for water for the Ashikaga Youshimasa;  the Kikusui no I (chrysanthemum well) located at the Kongo family of Noh masters and used by Takeno Joo.  Also Nashinoka shrine is supposed to have very good tasting water.  And there is a spot on the Uji bridge called the Uji Bashi San no Ma where there is a special platform that extends out from the third piling from the Western end.  The water that flows from beneath this platform is said to  to originate from an underwater palace beneath the Karahashi bridge which spans the river in nearby Otsu City, or from an spring at Benziten Shrine in Chikubu Island in Lake Biwa.  Hideyoshi used this water for tea when he resided in his castle in Fushimi.

When I did my chaji in Kyoto, we used the water from the well at Kitano Temangu shrine. The best time to get water is between 4 and 6 am.  So we got up early and went to the shrine to fill our plastic containers for the chaji and hauled them up to Toinseki for the chaji.  This makes you very careful with water as there was no running water in the mizuya so what you brought from the well was all you had to use.

There is even a procedure called Meisuidate for the preparation of tea with famous water that uses an unfinished well bucket made of hinoki cypress with special paper decorations.  Before koicha is made, the guests get to taste the water from the well bucket.

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