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Blog 83: Understanding the Tea-Making Term “Waterway”

Waterway is the literal translation of 水路 (Chinese pronunciation: shuǐ lù). In both English and Chinese, it means a river, canal or other route for travel by water. But in tea-making, waterway is a term used for distinguishing the quality of teas. Today, let’s unveil the secret behind the term waterway.

Waterway is actually the professional term used by Wuyi tea makers for tea soup. More specifically, waterway refers to the color and the mouthfeel of tea soup. (We have blogs discussing the color and the mouthfeel separately, please see Blog 77, Blog 78 and Blog 79 for more.)

The quality of “waterway” often becomes a factor when judging how well a tea is made. If we want to know if a tea has rich nutrient content and good tea-making skills, “waterway” can be a reliable reference.

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Tea withering is important for a good "waterway"

To understand “waterway”, we can simply start with the color and the mouthfeel of tea soup.

Every tea category has different tea soup colors. For example, green tea is light green, and black tea is dark amber. Even teas in the same category can have different tea soup colors. For instance, Wuyi oolong has at least 3 common tea soup colors: bright orange, orange red and dark red.

From the depth and the brightness of the tea soup color, we can know quite a lot about the tea plant growing environment, tea-making skills and tea mountain field management.

In general, a deep, bright and clear tea soup color means a better quality tea. (for more detailed explanation, please visit our previous Blog 77)

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A rich tea soup is a sign of a good "waterway" (Photo Credit: Department of Tea, City of Wuyishan)

Despite color is what we’d first notice, discussions of the mouthfeel is where the term “waterway” is used the most often.

If you drink tea with our tea makers, you’d notice they often assess a tea by how “fine” or “rough” the “waterway” is.

Of course, tea makers’ language is always vague. What they’re really referring to is how delicate, smooth and rich a tea tastes.

To achieve a delicate, smooth and rich “waterway”, a tea must have:

· a full-year growing period in a good tea mountain field (which means valley&cliff environment and one harvest per year);

· a clean withering process;

· a full and thorough roasting process with an adequate amount of cool-down time (if applicable, for “cool-down time” please see Blog 42 for more).

Understanding what makes a great tea great can be difficult. Sometimes, it seems judging a tea is a pure subjective matter. By learning the tea maker’s way, we can have a more systematic and standardized measurement of a tea.

We hope you enjoyed today’s blog. As always, if you have questions or suggestions, please leave a comment, tweet us @valleybrooktea or email the author directly at Please also follow us on Instagram @valleybrooktea and join our mail list to get our daily tea updates and our latest promotions!


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