Evaluating Yixing Teapots — Part One

This is Part One in a two part series about eval­u­at­ing Yix­ing pots.
It is inspired in part by Michael Wong of
The Tea Gallery.


The world of Yix­ing teapots can some­times seem a daunt­ing mys­tery. Among tea lovers, few sub­jects gar­ner so many strong opin­ions. Pref­er­ences among col­lec­tors can be based on size or shape of the pot, the type or qual­ity of clay, age, or craftsmanship.

In this short series, we make no claims about the desir­abil­ity of any of the above prop­er­ties. Instead, we offer a series of exper­i­ments to aid you in eval­u­at­ing any type of teapot. We hope they will be use­ful in both eval­u­at­ing new teapots, and per­form­ing a “check up” on a well-loved pot.

  

As all tea begins with water, so does our explo­ration of Yix­ing. You should stick to the water you use most often and are best acquainted, avoid­ing things that might change the tex­ture of the water. Since I have been using the Maifan stones for most teas recently and have become accus­tomed to their influ­ence, I decided to keep them for this test.

Begin by fill­ing the teapot with water (bonus points for test­ing both cool and boiled water), leav­ing it some time to min­gle with the clay. Decant. Serve iden­ti­cal cups of water directly from the source, and from the pot. Note the differences.

Does the water have a thicker feel­ing, a last­ing feel­ing in the mouth, or any fla­vors picked up from the pot? From this par­tic­u­lar pot, we noticed both a live­li­ness in the mouth and a slight flo­ral taste. The pot is heav­ily sea­soned with Wuyi tea.

Also note any feel­ing to occur in your throat, pos­i­tive or negative.

When pour­ing water from the pot, also take spe­cial notice of two things.

First, how long does it take to empty the pot. Is it dif­fi­cult to empty all water from the pot? (I most often have this prob­lem with ball shaped filters.)

A long pour (> 10-15s) can be detri­men­tal to your brew­ing of sen­si­tive teas. Remem­ber to fac­tor pour times into your brew­ing. Also watch for drips, usu­ally from the front of the lid. It is not uncom­mon for even a well crafted pot like this one to lose a few drops when you first start pour­ing. Exces­sive drib­bles or drips after the very start of the pour could give a pot neg­a­tive marks — but some old pots are beau­ti­ful enough to use in spite of their flaws.

Take your obser­va­tions on changes in water and try to imag­ine how these qual­i­ties might be a ben­e­fit or dis­ad­van­tage to your favorite teas.

Read on to Part Two, where we exam­ine the effect of the clay pot on tea.

Cred­its: Pho­tog­ra­phy by Dae. Hand­some mod­el­ing by David.

Best Friends

Today we had a chance to exam­ine a beau­ti­ful pair of pewter teapots from the Qing Dyanasty. They are owned respec­tively by a pair of real life tea pals.

The han­dle of the smaller pot was expertly repaired with sil­ver “nails.” The repair is indica­tive of work­man­ship from long past.

The tall pot had its orig­i­nal spout carved from stone.

So it goes in the case of these two col­lec­tors, and many oth­ers among us, that your favorite tea buds are also friendly rivals.

The mod­ern inher­i­tor of Chi­nese tea cul­ture is striv­ing to demon­strate the finest tea, teaware, and hos­pi­tal­ity to his friends, and often will come into com­pe­ti­tion for the same rare items. When admir­ing a piece that we lost out on to a good friend, our say­ing goes like this — “I loved it first!”

The ear­li­est story I have heard of such friendship/rivalries dates back to the Han Dynasty, where the Impe­r­ial Court and the Emperor him­self trav­eled to hold for­mal tea com­pe­ti­tions in Wuyi, demon­strat­ing their taste and skill. Gath­er­ings of tea pals are pop­u­lar in the area to this day, and it was only a mat­ter of time for this tra­di­tion to find its way to the New Continent.

Backyard Chanoyu

The Philly Tea Club (and guests!) assem­bled in the back yard for an intro­duc­tion to Chanoyu.

Being far from a proper tea room, Pamela L — a third year stu­dent of the Urasenke school — per­formed one of the more casual forms, o-bon temae.

This cer­e­mony is per­formed with the uten­sils arranged on a round tray, and draws hot water from a tet­subin rather than ladled from the kama.

She selected a fan­tas­tic sweet to pair with the tea — can­died Yuzu, a slightly sour cit­rus fruit. This was much more to my lik­ing than many other Chanoyu treats I have tasted.

The tea used was quite deli­cious, being a fine Koicha grade. It is pre­pared here Usucha (thin) style, for which it is cer­tainly suited. Lower grades of matcha are some­times not smooth and mel­low enough for some drinkers to enjoy when pre­pared in the thick style, but the refined and mel­low taste of Koicha grade tea can be equally enjoyed as thin tea.

More on Usucha and Koicha at Wikipedia.

A bowl of tea was served to each guest in turn, and they learned both to thank the host for the tea, and to excuse them­selves to the next guest for drink­ing before them.

After all the guests were served, the host­ess served her­self a bowl.

All that was left was for the equip­ment to be cleaned again, and car­ried out of the tea space in sequence.

Being a tea gath­er­ing in my home, it was quite impos­si­ble to resist prepar­ing a few pots of aged puerh. This favorite — 1985 8582 — was the per­fect intro­duc­tion to our guests, drink­ing well aged puerh for the first time.

The menu — also includ­ing Golden Bud­dha, a new cul­ti­var rock tea, and 2008 1000 year tree puerh — ended with the last of my Shin­cha for the year. We are both sad to see it go, and very excited to move on to the vari­ety of sen­cha selected this year by the ladies of The Tea Gallery.

Pho­tos by Bran­don and Pamela D — More in my Flickr set.

Classical Revolution at Random Tea Room

This Thurs­day at the Ran­dom Tea Room Philadel­phia, the crowd was hang­ing from the rafters for the cham­ber music flash mob “Clas­si­cal Rev­o­lu­tion,” and, of course, tea.

In their own words: “The mis­sion of Clas­si­cal Rev­o­lu­tion is to present con­certs involv­ing both tra­di­tional and mod­ern approaches while engag­ing the com­mu­nity by offer­ing cham­ber music per­for­mances in highly acces­si­ble venues, such as bars and cafes, and col­lab­o­rat­ing with local musi­cians and artists from var­i­ous styles and backgrounds”

As the 8 o’clock start time drew nearer, the Tea Room began to fill up with musi­cians car­ry­ing instru­ments of all sorts, as well as spec­ta­tors. The Philadel­phia group was rounded out by many tal­ented grad­u­ates of Temple’s music pro­gram — some past col­lab­o­ra­tors, and some meet­ing for the first time.

Music by Mozart and Bar­tok blended with clas­si­cal gui­tar and solo flute.

Nat­u­rally, tea was enjoyed through­out the evening. To the hard­core fans at the bar, Becky served 2003 raw puerh from Jing Mai, and I served a favorite Rock Tea. Pro­pri­et­ess Becky was also quite busy serv­ing iced tea bev­er­ages like Moroc­can Mint, as well as her new Vir­gin Tea Cock­tails to those look­ing to cool off.

At the start of the evening, most of us had no idea what to expect. By the end, music, friends, and tea left every­one feel­ing quite euphoric and look­ing for­ward to the next event at Ran­dom Tea Room.

A few addi­tional pho­tos from the set will appear here.

Brewing Rock Tea


Step One: Enlist some tea lov­ing friends.


Step Two: Add 7g of leaf to a 100 ml gai­wan (pre­heated). Replace lid. Allow your guests to appre­ci­ate the fra­grance of the dry leaves in the hot gai­wan by smelling the edge of the lid, then replac­ing the lid and pass­ing to the next guest.


Step Three: Pour boil­ing water to the top of the gai­wan. Use the lid to remove the bub­bles that form on the sur­face of the tea in a sin­gle, hor­i­zon­tal scrap­ing motion.


Step Four: Quickly, but with­out break­ing any­thing valu­able, use your ket­tle to pour a stream of water onto the lid wash­ing away the bub­bles into your waste water bowl or tea tray.


Step Five: Replace the lid and decant the tea into your fair­cup. If you have two pitch­ers or a large cup, use one to save this rinse for later. Oth­er­wise, dis­card it and move on to the first infusion.


Step Six: Refill the gai­wan with water just off a boil, decant after 10 to 20 sec­onds accord­ing to taste. Serve your guests this first brew, and also allow them to smell the wet leaf aroma in the gai­wan. This is quite dis­tinct from the dry leaf smell in Step Two.


Step Seven: Con­tinue infus­ing, adding 5 to 10 sec­onds to the steep­ing time each round for as long as you are enjoy­ing the tea. Good Wuyi tea will give five or more infu­sions with a rich body, and taper off — still, pro­vid­ing a chance at many more flo­ral steepings.


If you saved the rinse, it can be enjoyed along­side the last infu­sion. Your tea pals may be sur­prised when con­trast­ing the two points along your Wuyi journey.

Long Jing — “Double Brew” Method

Using room tem­per­a­ture water in the inner tea bowl, boiled water in the outer bowl, slowly brings up the tem­per­a­ture of the leaves.
Adjust the time from 30–60 sec­onds depend­ing on the thick­ness of your gai­wan (thicker walls, more time.) This will give your greens a much dif­fer­ent character.

Long Jing from Bran­don on Vimeo.

Steps:

  1. Pre­heat gaiwan
  2. Add room tem­per­a­ture water to faircup
  3. Add leaves to gaiwan
  4. Fill gai­wan with water from faircup
  5. Steep for 30 sec­onds to 1 minute, depend­ing on thickness.
  6. Decant into (empty!) faircup
  7. Serve

Look out for the bloop­ers reel, in which I step in front of the cam­era and an exas­per­ated Yum­cha cuts off my arm and hand­ily turns it into a deli­cious home cooked meal.

Yixing Travel Pouches

Our friend Evan has been pro­to­typ­ing travel pouches for Yix­ing, made from fine silk (with some addi­tional padding.)

The qual­ity and con­struc­tion have advanced rapidly, and he is ready to show off.

Check them out and drop him a line — I col­lab­o­rated to fit some com­mon sizes, but they can be cus­tom made to your own spec­i­fi­ca­tions. Larger sizes are also good for your favorite chawan.

The Mandarin Decoded — Long Jing

Our good friend at The Mandarin’s Tea has spent the bet­ter part of a month research­ing, exper­i­ment­ing, and prac­tic­ing to share his find­ings on Long Jing with us. As you might expect, try­ing to pack the level of detail the Man­darin is known for into a short blog post makes for some very dense ver­biage, and you might not catch every­thing that was intended.

Hop­ing for for­give­ness, I am break­ing down what I learned from this post into prac­ti­cal application.

You will need the fol­low­ing items.

Good spring water — in the North East region of USA, we favor Poland Spring from Maine. Our friends in the LA Tea Affair select Crys­tal Geyser. Keep some at room tem­per­a­ture in a pitcher, and some freshly boiled.

A large pitcher and ther­mome­ter. Early infu­sions will be at 120F. With the right water, this makes a sweet fin­ish and an incred­i­bly last­ing mouth feel. So, using your ther­mome­ter, mix boiled and cool water in your pitcher to main­tain water around 120.

Optional — a sec­ond small fair­cup. At this tem­per­a­ture, you prob­a­bly want to prac­tice pour­ing directly into pre­heated cups, oth­er­wise you will lose a lot of heat in the trans­fer and be drink­ing cold tea.

I used the boiled water to pre­heat all of my uten­sils — a small gai­wan and some cups before begining.

Know­ing the low den­sity of big fluffy Long Jing leaves, I filled my gai­wan half way. Start­ing at 10 sec­onds, exper­i­ment with slowly increas­ing the time or tem­per­a­ture. Not much, though! Focus on the sweet­ness and lin­ger­ing taste more than try­ing to force out some­thing upfront from the tea.

Pre­pared in this fash­ion the liquor and taste are both very light, but you will be enjoy­ing the calm feel­ing and return­ing sweet­ness long after you leave the tea table.

Sharing

Shar­ing tea is one of the great­est joys I have found. Quite often, peo­ple are gen­er­ous enough to share with me as well.

After enjoy­ing the con­trast of two grades of Shan Lin Shi, fresh from Tai­wan, our friend Ben­ito offered another spe­cial treat.

This mini-beeng is made of very high qual­ity leaves. It isn’t punchy in its youth, but rather sweet and buttery.

If you are only drink­ing alone, you are miss­ing half of the expe­ri­ence. But don’t take my word for it… share some tea.

Royal Orchid Tea Museum

We made our sec­ond trip to the Royal Orchid Tea Museum, cur­rently under a seri­ous pro­gram of improvements.

The event car­ried a water theme — an exhi­bi­tion of Shui Pin Yix­ing teapots from Ming to mod­ern, and, a sam­pling of sev­eral Shui Xian teas.

I offered two pots of my own — 1970s hong ni and 1930s zi ni. Kai sug­gested my elder pot was orig­i­nally made for export to Japan.

To break up sev­eral rounds of Shui Xian, we also enjoyed a spe­cial puerh from old trees. The bun­dle of leaves was so large that we had to cut it in half to fit in the widest gai­wan we could find.

I was allowed to exper­i­ment with a Japan­ese sil­ver ket­tle — one of the most stun­ning pieces of teaware in the col­lec­tion. The freshly boiled water really punched up some 90s puerh I was brew­ing, but did lit­tle for my pot of Shui Xian, already gone flat after many brews.