Thursday, 9 February 2012

fish eyes

Don't have one of those fancy kettles where you can adjust the temperature of the water. Keep hearing/reading people talk about machines that brew a perfect pot of tea, and I find myself going the other direction.

I'm no luddite. I like technology in many instances, but I'm often considering the simplest way of brewing tea. Over time, I've tried brewing a tea with boiling water for which I'd normally have used much cooler water. Talked with a Taiwanese tea shop owner a while back, and she insisted that she used very hot water for her best High Mountain Oolong. Tea that I'd been very cautious with until that point.

Not anymore.

Then a few people in the Google+ Hangout mentioned that they brewed many sorts of tea with water much hotter than I was accustomed. Rather than talk about specific temperatures, one or two of them mentioned different sorts of boiling water as it's described in the Chinese cooking culture.

The thing I remembered from the discussion was 'fish eyes'. The water starts to boil and the size of the bubbles can be described as 'shrimp eyes, crab eyes, fish eyes, rope of pearls, and raging torrent'. Tea Trade Peter found that when I asked about this in a Tea Trade forum (fish eyes).

I especially like the quote that Bram included in the discussion, so I'll leave you with that:

When the water is boiling, it must look like fishes’ eyes and give off but the hint of a sound. When at the edges it chatters like a bubbling spring and looks like pearls innumerable strung together, it reaches the second stage. When it leaps like breakers majestic and resounds like a swelling wave, it is at its peak. Any more and the water will be boiled out and should not be used.
The Classic of Tea (Cha Ching) by Lu Yu  (~ 800) (translation FR Carpenter)

(photo source:


  1. Man, wish I'd read this before we bought the electric kettle. Well, not really. My hubs mostly uses it to make exact temps for coffee rather than tea. But we do pay attention to the recommended temps for teas as well most of the time. What an amazing and beautiful quote!

    1. Isn't it nice?

      I'm not opposed to electric kettles. I use one all the time.

      As a matter of fact, my kettle is probably one of the most appreciated of all my appliances.

  2. water can be BOILED OUT????

    how can this be? i like to think i am fairly sensitive to STUFF - tastes and things, but this has me beat. i did have a water kettle thingy that was instant, so the water wasn't boiling, and it was fine for everything except builder's tea, which does need boiled water.

    the idea that water might actually get too boiled sounds downright unscientific, sooooo where's a scientist when you need one?

    1. I believe that's more to do with the optimal water temperature - when it's just starting to boil it's not yet 100°C.

      My guess is that 100°C water is too hot for making good tea, and in the days before thermostats they relied on the size of the bubbles to judge the water temperature.

      (I've also heard that the bubbles shouldn't be bigger than goldfish eyes when making tea.)

    2. aha!

      well, i am obviously not *that* sensitive, then, because any boiled kettle is good enough for me.

    3. The way it's been described to me is that the properties of the water change when the water has boiled. It's why boiling water and then letting it sit even a moment and then using it for black tea has a negative impact on the taste of the tea.

      For black tea, I've learned to use the water as soon as it's reached that 'raging torrent' stage.