The history of steam is long and fascinating. It is a natural force that has made things happen for millennia. One Chinese word for steam is shuiqi (water gas) (水氣). Qi (氣), besides meaning "gas," also refers to the energy that flows through ourselves and the universe. When we humans eventually tamed steam's awesome energy, we found many new uses for it, such as making electricity, cooking food, powering trains and sterilizing instruments. One of steam's sometimes overlooked powers is its ability to soothe and comfort us. To a tea drinker, steam is a beautiful companion that flows and sways like a graceful dancer.
The appreciation of steam (and bubbles) will enhance your overall tea drinking experience. Here are a few tips to get the most out of your steam:
1. Spend a minute with your fresh-brewed cup held right below your face. Breathe deeply and evenly to feel the hot steam's gentle caress on your cheeks, mouth and nose.
2. While drinking tea many years ago, an elderly Chinese gentleman instructed me to "tea-steam" my eyes by looking directly into an aroma cup (聞香杯), while rolling my eyeball. Make sure it's not too hot of course! The man told me it was very good for the eyes and although I've never seen anyone else do this, I still enjoy doing it from time to time and think it feels great.
3. When brewing Chinese tea in a small clay pot, my mentors will often pour a small amount of boiling water onto the teapot during the infusion. Besides keeping the teapot extra hot this step will also produce a glorious burst of sweet organic steam that will rise like a triumphant phoenix.
During every tea tasting, while we are appreciating tea's many heavenly qualities, let us not forget to honor our friend, steam.