Wednesday, June 25, 2008

A Pair of Old Japanese Teacups

Lawrence and his fiancee visited me two weeks ago, that was shortly before his moving out of Ohio. We first had a dinner together in a local Chinese restaurant called Panda Inn, which is one of my favorite. We then had several teas at my place, including that 17 year aged Dong ding oolong. I proudly showed out the two zisha teapots I newly bought. One is a Shuiping pot (水平壺, an imitation of the so called 文革壺 or Wen ge style); and the other the cute Wendan pot (文旦) presented in last post. Lawrence held them in hands and studies them for a while. His comments were possitive. We sat down and talked about the material, style, and about the saler of these pots.

The most exciting thing for a visit of teapal is of course his or her presents! Sometimes their mere precence is already the best reward, but this time I was truelly honored with two old Japanese teacups Lawrence brought me as gift!

The inside of the cups has a thin layer of clear and light greenish glaze with a fine crack appearance. The color is enhanced when tea poured into it. The outside is rough, slightly ribbed, but feels gentle and comfortable. At the base, you find a small seal (sort of blurred and unreadable to me).

Drinking tea out of these cups is an enjoyment. I quickly fall in love with them, and these days I have been sipping up a lot of Taiwanese High Mountain Oolongs with these two cups! Thanks, Lawrence.

Monday, June 23, 2008

A Cutie to Admire

Okay, I accept, I can't resist beautiful things. It's too difficult for me to not being absorbed to these objects. So, yes, basically I was just attracted by its beauty when I saw it.

The pot takes the shape of one of the prototypes of traditional kongfu teapots, 文旦 Wendan. 文旦柚 Wendan you is the Chinese name for Pomelo, a citrus fruit native to Southeast Asia and widely cultivated in south China and Taiwan. A Wendan pot with a slightly narrowed top and a large bellyed base, is said, according to one view, to resemble this gracefully shaped fruit. The curved outline moving from the lid to the base particularly pleases my eyes.

(A wendan harvest festival in Bali, Taipei, Taiwan)

The characteristic decoration on the pot, imitating some Qing syle partial-glazed Yixing Zishawares, depics lotus growing out of mud under water without being contaminated -- a perfect analogy to the virtue of detachment from worldly affairs. Now-a-days, it is quite rare to find a glazed zisha teapot, especially a partial-glazed one like this. It is said that the glaze techniques applied to zishaware was developed to meet the sumptuous demand in the mid-Qing court, and thus a dead end fashion. It is criticized for its excessiveness at the price of diminishing the unique feature of zishaware, the permeability, which makes zisha the best media in communication with tea. However, the partial-glaze technique is forgivable, I think, for it makes the pot more appealing without suffocating it.

My first impression on this pot when it physically arrived in my hands (I bought it online) is delicacy. Rather thin walled and sized so tiny compared with most of my mid to large sized zisha pots, it finalized my knowledge of the so called 水平壺 Shui-ping hu fashion. This type of teapot, nearly fanatically favored in kongfu tea ceremony, usually comes with a standard volume of 120cc, more or less. No craftsman's seal can be found anywhere on the pot but it is inscribed with words "不與俗人仝 文旦" (lit. "Not mixed with vulgarians. Wendan") on the base. (仝=同)

A looking to the inside of the pot reveals a seam on the back wall. This can be, according to some convention, a sign for the pot being genuinely handmade (and thus more valuable). But again, it can't be taken as granted!

The pot is made of 朱泥 Zhu-ni or red clay for sure, because the color is vermeil and I can see fine wrinkles on the surface. A noticeable change of color can be observed after pouring hot water in and on it; and more remarkably, its color would turn into dark purple when the water vaporized on the surface of the pot.

So far, I've only tried two Taiwanese high mountain oolongs, namely, 金萱 jin-xuan and 梨山 Li-shan, in this pot, and it performed quite well to these lightly roasted teas.

(The pot, the last infusion, and the spent leaves of Lishan_

Friday, June 20, 2008

Irreversible Taste

Recently I've been indulging myself in some HIGH quality Oolong teas, especially Taiwanese Oolongs, which are all gifts from friends. To name a few, they are 大禹嶺 Da-yu-ling, 梨山 Li-shan, and 金萱 Jin-xuan made by an organic tea farm called 沙里仙 Shalishan in the 玉山 Yu-shan Mountain range, a famous tea production area in Taiwan. These are all typical Taiwanese high mountain oolongs which are lightly roasted. To be qualified as High Mountain Teas, the tea has to be grown at least 1,200 meters above sea level on a mountain. Da-yu-ling is grown at 2,600 meters above sea level! A high fragrance with a vitality, called 山頭氣 shan tou qi, are appreciated for these teas. These teas are usually enjoyed freshly produced.

In contrast, I've also received two old or aged oolongs, processed more or less similiar to the Mainland oolong tradition. The most famous brand is 凍頂烏龍 Dong-ding oolong. I got a can of 17 year-old Dong-ding from Louisa, and a sample of 20 year-old Taiwanese oolong from Lawrence MarshalN.

The three lightly roasted high mountain oolongs were best steeped with my 掇球 Dou-qiu and 小文旦 mini Wen-dan teapots -- these pots are made of 珠泥 Zhu ni, fired on a rather high tempreture and thus acquired a high density and hardness. Especially the mini Wen-dan pot, if you carefully rub the lid on the rim of the pot, you will hear a rather sharp and clear sound similiar to that of chinaware! These features are believed to be suitable to lightly roasted oolongs, because they can lift up the fragrance of the tea during infusion!

-- Steeping Da-yu-ling with the Dou-qiu pot (notice the tightness of the lid which prevents it falling out even when the pot is turned into vertical position!)

-- Steeping Li-shan in the small Wen-dan pot. Spent leaves.

For the traditionally fuller roasted, and especially aged oolongs, it is believed that a slightly lower fired and less density clay teapot will do a better job. With some experiments, I found my new small 水平 shui-pin pot is quite good in handling the two agaed oolongs!

Okay, I guess then what happens to my taste buds is that they are over experienced with too good teas, for a prolonged time, and they have all got used to the good taste in good teas. What this really mean is that, unfortunately, they can no longer bear any low quality teas! How I discover this? Yesterday, I checked my storage of teas, and decided to try something left over there for a few months. It was also a lightly roasted oolong, a market available brand from China. The tea is whole-leaved but conveniently parked in small sized, vacuumized aluminum bags, each bag with the amount good for one pot. I tried it with my new loveable mini Wen-dan pot, and applied the same mehtod as I've been making teas recently -- but the result was a little terrifying! I found in myself an aversion to the tea -- because it tasted really bad, I mean it.

I could even notice a smell of pollution out of the leaves, the kind of smell of tea production involved with using synthetic fertilizer I believe, even though it was subtle. The leaves also looked thin, smaller, and fragile. Compared with the strong and thick veined high mountain stuff I've drinking these days, it's clear to me that this is not a good tea. But, I still remember a few months ago, when I first received this tea and tried it, it tasted good enough to me!

Now, my taste to good quality oolongs becomes irreversible! Just like once you started using a broad band internet service, you can't go back to the phone jack anymore!