It has been known as late as the Ming Dynasty that tea was most suitably brewed in a yixing teapot. The special yixing clay helps to refine and round out flavor profile of fine Chinese tea, and can help you achieve the ultimate goal of GongFu – brewing good tea.
Yet finding, sourcing, and understanding yixing can quickly become an expensive and sisyphean undertaking. The vast majority of “yixing” wares available on the market are frauds, made out of industrial clay using slurry molds. Learning to identify real yixing requires experience with known samples of known provenance and known age – that’s particularly difficult given that Qing and ROC yixing artists were faking Ming Dynasty pots with real high quality clay for generations. Determining the age or provenance of a teapot is difficult or impossible even for experts.
Should you find a yixing you trust as real, the task continues to grow exponentially in complexity; not all yixing pots are created equal, and there is in fact a wide range of sub-types of yixing clay commonly used to make yixing teapots – some of which should only be used for specific teas or under specific conditions.
At the Tea Institute (of which I am only an advisor) we have set out to analyze the chemical composition of the clay, the clay’s effect on the sensory attributes on various classes of teas, and the chemistry that causes these sensory changes. Eventually, this research will yield a better scientific understanding of the magic and allure of yixing clay.
Namaste friends, romans, 茶人, & countrymen! It has been far too long, with far too little tea and tea related adventures since I last posted.
But the wait is over.
After this most successful event, the 2015 Yixing Teapot Exhibition, hosted by the Tea Institute at Penn State, I feel alive to the allure of tea once again.
Ryan Ahn (狮子) has done an unbelievable job of taking over the institute I founded and I am so happy to remain involved in an advisory role. Ryan and his executive team are 100x better at recruiting than I (and my executive team, sorry guys) ever was/were.
Under Ryan and the new executive board, the Institute has grown to 44 active members! (all of whom are directly descendent from my tea linage, making me far more proud than the parents of an honor roll student)
The Tea Institute at Penn State is honored to be hosting Tea Master Teaparker, Pallina Chan, and Stephane Erler (Tea Masters Blog) for the ChouZhou Tea Exhibition from April 24th – 27th.
All our events are free and open to the public, and we would love to share some of our rarest teas with you.
The event schedule:
This is a guest tea poem written by Jonathon Ready;
I was sitting in her tea house. My breaths came harder every time. The air was thick with the steam from the boiling kettles. Drip Drip Drip the water runs off my nose falling on the Tatami mats. FFFF exhale, FFFF exhale, humidity coating my nose and the scent of brewing Oolong mixed with a floral scent. I yearn to keep feeling. I open my eyes and the type of light that you get from hardwood and candlelight allows me to sense the center. My whole body aches when she picks me and lays me down on a bamboo mat. She carefully waits as I dry she is carefully doing this to me, but I know she is doing it for her own enjoyment. She withers me and rolls me. Just the way I like it. She likes to bruise me. I like the pain too. She lightly roasts me and tosses me with her bare hands. The heat and the fruit-wood smoke. Perfect. Then she leaves me there balled up in the fetal position. She picks me up like a baby and drops me into my bath. I unfurl, weightless. And she enjoys me.
That was… sexy….
I don’t think it was referring to any of the other institute members…
This is a draft section of my upcoming book “An introduction to the art and Science of Chinese Tea Ceremony”. Please help improve it with your comments, suggestions, and hate mail!
What is the goal of teaware? To what end does it exist for? Was that decided by the maker or the user?
In the simplest utilitarian approach, it may be said that any ware used is for the purpose of moving tea from its dry, leafy form to the mouth as a drinkable liquor; this is appealing as it is both simple and true. Yet, it ignores both the intent of the artist who made the wares, and the experience of the brewer and guests in the ceremony.
From the Functionalist approach, we know that a ware must be the most suitable choice for a tea as a reason for its use; beauty is a consideration but secondary to its function. With this approach could it be said that the purpose, the telos, of a thick yixing is to brew strong tea? Was that the intent of the artist, and thus the most suitable use of the ware?
The Functionalist approach gives us a few answers; I’m sure we have all seen unusable ‘tea pots’, pots that were made as art instead of ware. The functionalist approach has us, practitioners of GongFu, ignore those. Their Telos is not tea.
From the Functionalist approach, what can be understood from the intent of the artist? Nothing. A single ware is a momentary glimpse of the artists vision, an exhibition of his pieces not but a brief window into his thoughts. The goal of the artist is to make wares, while the goal of the practitioner (if the pieces are usable) is to use the wares. The telos has changed from one person to the next, from one use to the next.