An interesting discussion, which inspired me to become a member here (hello, folks
The original question regarding water - tap water is death for good tea, and filtered water is often not much better. Spring water is supposed to be best, especially when from a source close to the the tea plantation. But not all spring water is good for tea. Spring water from the alps, for example, is excellent water to drink, but far too hard for tea.
Friends from Malaysia found very good spring water from Ipoh, but where i live - in Bangkok - there is no spring anywhere close. I use bottled water - the already mentioned Volvic, and the even slightly better and more expensive "Fiji" water, an artesian water from Fiji (which i discovered when during the recent floods here Volvic and most other bottles waters disappeared from the shelves).
Why would i spend much money on great teas, and then save at the second most important ingredient for a good cup of tea? Beats me...
Spirituality and tea...very interesting views here.
For most tea drinkers, including and especially Chinese as well, tea is nothing but "pouring hot water on a plant", and always has been so. While i agree that evocations of hermits and sages is mostly hyperbole, it is though not so just done for westerners with romantic sentiments towards an Asia that never really existed, but also very much for Chinese themselves (though somewhat more garish, and mostly mixed with quite unbearable nationalism). Commercialism is not just a "western" prerogative. Regarding tea, one should look at Ten Ren (3 days courses after which one becomes a certified "tea expert"...), new inventions of utensils that a tea drinker must have, cluttering the table with lots of useless but for the shops profitable stuff, etc...
Hording of good teas and older Yixing pots increased prices way beyond the average tea lovers purse. Also going to the tea plantations can be a rather sobering experience - not much tea wisdom there - but business, fake teas and much stress - a mostly very annoying experience.
But - fortunately this is not all there is. I remember, when in '94 or '95 i went on my second trip to the Wu Yi mountains, i was quite appalled about the ever-present harassment of the business. But walking a while away from the hordes, i came across a tea farmer tending his garden, and he invited me to drink some of his teas. This became a memorable tea experience, and even though having no common language we still had a great conversation.
I am somewhat lucky, i have since '97 as a teacher a great tea master. He is a somewhat modern day Taoist hermit, just that his cave is a small flat in a suburban residential tower of a large Asian city, and his daily pilgrimages to the tea scene of the town. He lives tea spirituality, though mostly in jeans and T-shirt.
Tea is what one makes out of it, if it is "pouring hot water on a plant" - fine. If it is a vehicle for contemplation, or even meditation for one who is inclined so, fine.
I don't really fall for 19th century romanticism anymore (half a life in Asia can do that to you
), meditation and all that is not for me, but drinking tea is for me an almost spiritual experience - it calms me, helps me to cope with stuff, and is a short holiday from the grind. I dearly love the few older Yixing pots and Qing cups i have collected over the years, my growing Pu Erh collection i have been aging over the past decade and more, and my wonderful Wu Yi teas.