Sunday, January 6, 2013

About Teaware

I spend an awful lot of time at my tea table and just observe.  I listen to the sounds of the kettle, the feel of various teaware, the way each sip of tea feels to my body, and how different approaches to brewing can change those things in very subtle ways.  This is life, and has been life for the past few months: sitting on the floor after work, understanding that no great epiphany will occur; that this might be it for a while.

Life at the moment, minus a few people and things. The cat
Chopin is a semi-permanent fixture here.

I'm sure many of us at one point have sat around and wondered what that pretty gaiwan or new celadon cups would do for our brewing setup.  For some of us, only vintage will do, or maybe a matching porcelain gongfu set, or that uproariously expensive late qing dynasty era yixing pot.

What I'm here to tell you about is the importance of trying teaware out before you buy it, if possible.  This is especially true for teapots or anything glazed on the inside without a clear glaze over it.

The object in question.

I went on a quick trip to Seagrove, North Carolina in November to find some potential new teaware.  I've found great things in past trips, especially from Old Gap Pottery as well as from Jeff Brown.  My newest acquisition that day was a 'make do' cha hai without the handle from Dirtworks pottery.  It had visual interest and was inexpensive, so I parted with my money and went home.

After breaking in this new item by boiling it, I couldn't help but notice how different my tea sessions were.  The liquor was different in almost every way.  D'oh!  I had forgotten the water test!

The water test is a simple procedure where water is tasted with a constant (out of a kettle and into a gongfu cup) and a variable (putting the water in the new cha hai and then into an identical cup) and tasting the similarities and differences between the two.  What I found was surprising.

This little mutant cha hai that I had picked up removed most of the unique characteristics of the water's flavor and mouthfeel.  With tea, it did the same.  I would let stronger tea that I didn't intend on drinking sit in the cha hai for a few hours each day, hoping that the pottery would stop robbing the liquor of practically everything.  The flavor was gone, the mouthfeel was considerably worse, and the aroma was also largely absent.  Even with different water and different tea, the results were identical.

I'm an amateur potter, so I can only tell you a little about what I think is going on.  First, the clay is stoneware.  Second, the glaze is the standard white Amaco glaze, so it's fired around cone 5 or cone 6.  I doubt that it would be considered underfired in that instance.  I am open to the idea that the glaze is changing some aspect of the tea somehow, but beyond that, I'm unsure.  Regardless, I'm done using the newly acquired cha hai.

Okay, that last paragraph was rambling.
This isn't: Enjoy whatever new tea or teaware you acquire, and do your best to learn as much as you can from it.  See you next time.