lu yu

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LU YU, AUTHOR OF THE FIRST comprehensive book on tea culture (before there was such a concept), was intellectually rigorous, but at the same time, soulful and intuitive.  These are the qualities found in a lot of great tea people today, which is why those of us who love tea are drawn to other tea people as well. 

Lu Yu's understanding of tea was paralleled by his love of nature (the true source of any good cup of tea), from choosing the right plant, the right farming and processing methods, to, finally, using the right kind of water in which to brew the tea.  In his book, The Classic of Tea, Lu Yu distinguishes between several different sources of water to optimize the steeping of tea:

"I would suggest that tea made from mountain streams is best, river water is all right, but well water tea is quite inferior....Never take tea made from water that falls in cascades, gushes from springs, rushes in a torrent or that eddies and surges as if nature were rinsing its mouth."

Lu Yu understood the elements of nature and how they played into the final expression of a good cup of tea. He therefore responded to that understanding with cooperation and respect. What initially seems like a personal preference actually has several layers of universal awareness, expediency, and action behind it.

First, water has its own nature, depending on where it comes from and the particular characteristics of its origin.  Tea made from well water will be inferior to tea that springs from a mountain stream, says Lu Yu.  Why?  Perhaps because mountain water is WILD.  What could be more exotic, intoxicating, memorable, and love-inducing than wild tea made from wild water?  Then there is the tea plant and its leaves.  Are the tea leaves from an ancient tree or a young bush?  Was it grown high on the mountain, near lavendar or jasmine or onions?  What time of day was it harvested? Who processed it and with what tools?  How would a machine-processed tea differ from a tea that is lovingly processed with attention and care by the farmer who harvested it? 

These are the questions asked by true tea people, like Master Yu.  Inside these questions lies at least one basic premise: that all beings and objects possess their own nature, or spirit. The tea, the water, the hoe, the hand that plucks and processes the tea, the wok in which it is roasted, and the container in which it is finally packaged--all of these beings and objects influence the tea, not only because of their material composition, but because of the nature and energy they possess.  Otherwise, why would Lu Yu differentiate between river and mountain stream water, or water that gushes rather than sits quietly in a pool?  Although all water is H2O, not all water is the same in spirit or character. And I don't mean just hard or soft water, chlorinated or fluoridated water, but really the energy and nature of the water's source.

This harkens back to nature-based cosmologies in which believers recognize the inherent and particular spirit imbued in each place, object, and being.  We all know it is there, whether we openly acknowledge this eternal truth or not.  Who has not fallen in love with some very personal place--a forest, a quiet beach, a stretch of land that beckons?  Some mystery falls upon a such a place, and we appreciate it even if we can't put a name on it. 

Everything in this paradigm speaks of the intimate network of nature that is required for good tea--and the tea is very very good because it suggests a path to healthy sustainable living and survival.  Not only physical survival, but spiritual survival--the very inclination to love life itself. We are all made of the same stuff:  water, leaf, hand, sun, wok, Chinese paper with pretty designs.  We know goodness better than we know math. We smell and taste it, we see it, fringing the edges of the quietly smiling tea master, who chooses to process his tea with his bare hands rather than with a machine.  Everything in him speaks of the goodness of tea and life. 

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