Water is a critical element in making a good cup of tea. No matter how fine or rare a tea might be, if it’s brewed with bad water, then it cannot be good. Variations on this idea are originally attributed to Xu Ciyu (1549-1604) in his commentary, “Chashu (Tea Matters)“
As I write this article, I’m snowed in, without power, running water, Internet, and have only minimal phone service. But it’s the perfect opportunity to enjoy what may be the finest cup of tea I’ve had all year. Melted Snow Tea.
I’ll be using this luxurious water source to make at least three different teas. A favorite Chinese oolong, a delicate Japanese gyrokuro, and a home-grown white sage tisane.
Depending on how many days it takes to restore power, (probably 7-10), I may be enjoying many, many more teas from my hoarded collection.
Snow on White Sage; I’ll collect and melt this snow and then add a freshly plucked leaf of sage to the cup.
There are a few wonderful things about being snowed in with the power off, roads blocked and the normal day-to-day routine interrupted. One of those is the opportunity to savor tea made with one of the finest possible water sources. Pure, melted snow. Snow Water Tea is a remarkable experience. There are just a few guidelines.
- Use fresh snow while it’s still powder and deep enough so that you can collect it without scooping up dirt.
- Collect it from an area that birds and other animals haven’t contaminated.
- Use clean utensils.
- Only collect what you will use immediately. Don’t plan to store it.
- Consider it a luxury. A gift of nature. And sip your brewed tea with due appreciation.
Admittedly, my delight with Melted Snow Tea is also flavored with life experiences that are some of my most precious memories.
As a newlywed in the early 70’s, my husband introduced me to the magical beauty of snow – including Melted Snow Tea. We hiked into the mountains, above the elevation where there might have been animals grazing. We collected snow, melted it with our small propane stove, and sipped Constant Comment from blue enameled mugs. He was the first person who explained that the water we were drinking had come from some un-knowable place far away. It had crossed oceans and had likely originated in a different country completely. If I had heard this fact in science classes, it didn’t stick in the mind of a southern girl who had only seen snow in the movies. I was mesmerized. And the memories of this experience certainly “flavor” my tea today.
Not just the warmth of our relationship, but also the way that snow quiets the world, muffles the sounds that are so ubiquitous that we barely notice. Nature gives us the opportunity for meditation in contrast. The delicate beauty of the snow – light as a feather – is powerful enough to topple trees and destroy the power grid.
But my romanticizing snow and power outages and making tea with melted snow isn’t an idea that my husband created. In fact, ancient tea literature is filled with commentary on the importance of the water we use for making tea. One common quote is that “Water is the mother of tea but the vessel we used to make it is the father.”
Zhang Dafu (1554-1630)“Records of the Plum Cottage”, writes that “Tea needs water to express its qualities. Good water can enhance the quality of the tea. Poor water will diminish it.)
But classic Chinese fiction also records the importance placed on the water selected for tea. In the classic, Dream of the Red Chamber, one famous tea quote illustrating the extent to which Chinese value water for tea is, ” “This is the melted snow I collected from the branches of a winter-flowering plum tree . . .”
To show respect for a guest, a host will sometimes go to extremes with choice of water as well as the choice of tea. In the same vein, tea can be served as a non-verbal insult. Poor quality tea, water, or the way it is served may be an intended insult.
My Personal Conclusion
My intention in writing this article is to suggest another option for enjoying your tea and using it to create wonderful memories. It is my feeling that the greater awareness, intention and care we take with preparing and serving a cup of tea adds to the entire experience. I may be enjoying today’s cups of Melted Snow Tea by myself in an enforced private retreat. But it brings back many memories of rare and wonderful tea experiences. It’s an amazing way to begin this new year.