Dmitry Krasheninnikov. The Art of Tea Water
Interviewer: Olga Erukhova
Water is a unique substance. It surrounds us everywhere: in its liquid form it flows in rivers and oceans, rises to the heavens as vapor and turns to ice when frozen. There is water in every object on Earth, even in rocks. It is in every plant and animal, not to mention humans, who are 75% water. Water can bring life or death, depending on its qualities. Our ancestors considered water divine, and nowadays many scientists study the effects it has on the human body. We’re happy to present you our dialog on one of the most amazing and mysterious elements in the world with the water anthropology expert, tea master and researcher of world cultures Dmitry Krasheninnikov, who is known in the tea world as Master Saykon.
Dmitry Krasheninnikov is a master of martial arts, traveler and explorer of the ethnic and cultural traditions of China. For more than 20 years he has been studying in practice the various aspects of Chinese culture and art of the tea ceremony in particular. He is the founder of the «Tea Master» tea company and a representative of the Tao School of the art of the tea ceremony. He also works in the department of Extreme Psychology in the Institute of Practical Psychology. He’s been studying martial arts since 1982, and is the head of the Ufa department of the INBI World International Center of Ethnic Culture. He is an instructor of Wing Chun martial arts.
— Dmitry, in the past several centuries, European science has deciphered the structure of water down to the tiniest particles, but the interconnection between water and the human body remain largely a mystery for many people.
— Water is indeed one of the most miraculous phenomena on Earth, without which life itself would be impossible. The structure of water seems to have been defined and determined long time ago, but even now many of its secrets remain unrevealed. Thanks to the discoveries made by naturalists Alexander von Humboldt and Joseph Gay-Lussac, we know that water molecules consist of two atoms of hydrogen and one atom of oxygen. However, hydrogen also has three isotopes (variations of an atom with different numbers of neutrons, which are elementary particles): light, heavy and super-heavy. There are also three isotopes of oxygen as well. Thus, water molecules can be represented by numerous combinations of isotopes and, as a consequence, can have various structures. But the most difficult thing to comprehend is that water is a mineral. Just like other minerals, it was created by our planet at the dawn of its life, when it was still just a burning globe.
— Many nations of the world have myths that everything, including the Earth itself, originated from water. An inscription on the wall of one Ancient Egyptian temple reads: «Water gave birth to all living things, which give birth to everything else.» The idea that «at first there was water» also finds a reflection in the Bible (Genesis, 1: 2-10), where it states that water is the initial element of the Universe…
— Our ancestors worshiped water, and it helped them understand it better and pay more attention to it. Almost every nation has had their own water deity. The Ancient Greeks had Poseidon, the Romans had Neptune, and the Slavs, Celts, Germanic people worshiped the gods and spirits of lakes, rivers and springs. They brought them gifts and treated them as if they were real beings. But the most widespread remained rites of purification involving water, which formed an integral part of many celebrations. The ritual of purification with water used to be performed before entering temples all around the world, from Jerusalem to Athens, and from Mohenjo-daro to Rome. Pagans and Jews, Christians and Sikhs – all had similar rites…
Back during pagan times, the Slavs worshiped the patroness of water known by the names of Mara, Morana, Marzhana, Mokosh and others. Ceremonies in her honor were held on special days of the week. Once Christianity was adopted, the patroness of water was called Paraskeva Pyatnitsa, and her symbol of a carved tree was placed above springs and wells near chapels. The famous Pyatnitsa churches in older cities (Kyiv, Bryansk and others) were built not on hills as normal, but on lowlands near water. This is an ancient tradition, traces of which can be found, apart from Veliky Novgorod and Torzhok, also near Moscow in the Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius. Until the revolution of 1917, people worshiped Paraskeva Pyatnitsa almost nation-wide. The remnants of that cult are now preserved today in the form of traditional bathing days held on Fridays (Pyatnitsa in Russian) in Russian villages.
— Can you comment any on Non-European cultures? What role has tea played for the Chinese?
— Well, answering this question would take hours, because water has always been a sacred notion in the East. Tell me, what first comes to your mind when we speak of Ancient Chinese culture?
— That has to be rice, red Chinese lanterns, dragons, pagodas and the tea ceremony…
— You see, dragons in China have always been treated as deities and patrons of water. Can we imagine Chinese or Japanese culture without the tea ceremony? The first study ever dedicated to tea was composed in China during the time of the Tang dynasty. It was called the «Report on Water for Brewing Tea,» and was written in 814 by Zhang Youxin.
It was also in the 9th century when Lu Yu wrote his study «The Art of Tea,» which later became canonical. In those times, Lu Yu was the most well-known expert on water for tea brewing. The Chinese did not just want to gain sensual and aesthetic pleasure from tea, they strove to create an entire science around it. They developed a list of instructions on how to grow tea and process it, the criteria for choosing water, and described the specifics of the synergy between tealeaves and water, utensils, etc. This is a large system based on analysis and observation… Plus let’s not forget that on average, our ancestors perceived more sensory information than we do now.
— Nevertheless, it must have been hard to determine the chemical or microbiological properties of water without scientific equipment.
— I wouldn’t agree with this. The Chinese had a list of seven springs containing the best water for tea. By the way, back then water from a mountain spring was considered to have special healing qualities. For instance, healers rinsed their patients’ chest near the heart with such water, and pronounced incantations to cure people.
— How did they learn all this without any equipment for diagnostics and labs?
— They came to an understanding of many things thanks to their persistence in observations, analysis and classification, typical of Chinese culture. For instance, they believed you make the best tea using spring ice water collected after snow thaws where the tea plants grow. They believed that such water had the strongest interaction with tealeaves. The Chinese tea masters could determine the quality of water with great accuracy through tasting, and claimed that spring water should be neither too hard nor too soft. For centuries, tea ceremony masters gathered up knowledge of water. They naturally came to the conclusion that water with a less than ideal balance or incorrect concentration of minerals comes into conflict with the complex, fine flavors of good tea.
— Does this mean that even back then the Chinese understood that not any water, even if it’s from a spring, was acceptable for brewing tea? In fact, it has since been proven that distilled water is not suitable, as the absence of minerals fails to develop the taste, leaving it flat and dull.
— This forms a parallel with a certain notion from Slavic culture. Do you remember the tale of the «water of life» and «water of death?» Water can dissolve in itself various kinds of matter, including metals, minerals, gas, etc. While its flows underground, it is enriched with these natural materials and, when it breaks the surface, it can be imbibed with unusual qualities, both healing and destructive.
— I know that at the moment, more than 60 chemical elements have been discovered in water from underground springs.
— But far from all springs have been analyzed, so this number might be even higher. It is curious that tales of the water of life and death can be found anywhere in the world, from the Americas, France, Belgium and China to Ancient Rus. The stories about the water of life and water of death differ from one another: water of death can heal wounds and stitch back together dismembered parts of a dead body, but cannot resurrect it, leaving it whole, but breathless. Only rinsing it with the water of life can bring it back into this world. That is why fallen heroes in legends are first sprinkled with the water of death, and then the water of life.
— Have these tales ever received any scientific corroboration?
— Yes, in 1932 it was discovered that in addition to normal water, there is another that can kill animals and plants. This water is called heavy water, where the light atoms of hydrogen in it are replaced with heavy isotopes. There is always some quantity of heavy water in normal water, even if it is small, about 0.02%. But even such small amounts of water of death can have negative effects on our bodies. On the other hand, melt water turned out to indeed be the water of life. Despite the fact that it contains only 25% less «water of death,» its harmful impact on living organisms is significantly lower. So it turns out that the Chinese were right again.
— Then what’s the secret of ice water, if the Chinese loved it so much?
— The reason behind its effects on living beings is its structure. After it melts, this water preserves the structure of ice, and even after being absorbed by the body its structure (connections between molecules) continues to resemble that of ice. That’s why when ice water gets inside a body it forms connections with different matter easier and takes a more active role in various biochemical processes. According to scientists, birds have a good reason not to stay their entire lives in warmer countries, but instead make the heroic flight every year back north. The ice water they drink in spring helps them grow strong and multiply.
— So in conclusion, to what extent does our health depend on what we drink?
— It is scientifically proven that 99% of any beverage is made up of water. Good water improves the drink, while bad-quality water can ruin even the most expensive of products, such as tea, coffee, mate tea, herbs, etc. The quality of water is therefore the key factor, which determines the quality of your drink. In fact, we are just drinking water that has been infused with something. And this beverage can either nurture or be harmful to us.
— But we can’t always keep the quality of our everyday water under constant control.
— Here I would again like to draw your attention to the Chinese who, before all these scientific discoveries, knew the simplest ways of how to purify water and prepare it for consumption. The best-suited water for making beverages must have a low mineral content, no contamination or additives, and a high level of oxygen. Therefore, if water is naturally pleasant to the taste and smell, any drink made from it will be of very high quality, very tasty and very light.
— How can we determine the quality of water by its mineral content?
— Water’s natural pollutants are natural minerals such as calcium, magnesium and others. They often create a residue after boiling and can affect the taste of tea or coffee, giving it hints of chalk, etc. In ancient times, the Chinese purified such water using bamboo coal. This coal absorbed all the strange smells from the water, softened it and gave it a slightly sweet flavor. Sure enough, this had an effect on the taste of the final drink.
— What should we do about water treated with chlorine? Water is treated with this chemical in all cities and towns with centralized water facilities.
— Chlorine is the scourge of water in our times. It is true that chlorine kills bad microbes and bacteria, but in combination with the other mineral and chemical content of water can potentially ruin the taste of any drink and may even be harmful to our health. That’s why you shouldn’t just filter your water, but allow it to settle to let the chlorine evaporate. Also, never drink water from the hot water tap.
— Let’s talk about boiling. We understand that without this step, it would be impossible to make many drinks. How can we avoid ruining water when we do this?
— The old Chinese adage works well here: «Don’t boil water for too long, and never boil it twice.» Boiling for a long time evaporates a huge amount of oxygen from the water, making it «thinner,» which is something definitely worth keeping in mind. There is also a well-known Chinese proverb about the rustling of wind in the pine trees — this sound indicates when boiling should be stopped. This noise literally overcomes the usual hiss of oxygen, which escapes when water is heated. It’s important not to overboil water in an electric kettle, because they typically turn off automatically long after the boiling point is reached.
As I’ve already mentioned, Chinese culture dedicates a lot of attention to this issue; they treated it as an important, almost key element in tea culture. If we decide to adhere to Chinese tea drinking traditions, it is therefore only natural to follow their recommendations.