May 17, 2009

Si Ting Zhuni Yixing (Hey tea guy!)

As I was going for a run earlier today and crossed the main street of the neighborhood's "downtown" area, some guy inside a shop yelled out the open door "Hey tea guy!" I flashed him the "rock on" sign and kept running. It doesn't get much better than that.

The results are in, and the people want yixing (thankfully, since the longjing hasn't arrived yet). Since Tuo Cha Tea mentioned the titular pot for this blog, I'll start there. Fill your teapot up with tea/come and take a ride with me!

This pot has got to be my #1 favorite, if I had to pick one, aesthetically as well as functionally. I acquired it from Hou De last August, started using it for Yen Cha and other roasted oolongs ever since. Here are some quick stats--Age: "60's or early." Clay: Zhuni. Capacity: 85 ml. I'm not planning to talk about prices with these pot profiles; I don't think it's really necessary, as you can compare prices of other pots on the websites where the pot came from; plus it's about finding the perfect pot, not how much the perfect pot costs. I have no idea how to guess or verify the age of a pot, but since this APPEARS to be genuine zhuni, it would have to be several decades old. I've also got no way of verifying the clay type either, but compared to modern zhuni pots I've had, the surface texture is definitely naturally glossier, more complex-looking, and there's evidence of shrinkage both on the surface of the clay and around the hand working lines (visible in many of these pics). In the end, whether or not it's some sort of "true" zhuni isn't really that important to me; the piece satisfies me on so many levels that it's a joy to be able to use it every day. Comparing the below pic to the others you can see how different the clay looks in different types of light; this seems accentuated with zhuni pots, but it's definitely true of most yixing I've seen (thankfully the day I took all of these pics provided good light and my camera actually held up its end of the bargain).

Why do I like this pot so much? Let me count the ways... The size is perfect for solo drinking; the entire pot fits into the celadon tea cup I usually use, and the small size means I can pack it with Yen Cha without using too much leaf or getting too buzzed. Despite the single hole, the pot rarely ever seems to clog, which is more than I can say for many pots I've had. The clay is extremely dense, retaining heat for a ridiculous amount of time and giving a very high-pitch ring if tapped. The pour is perfectly dripless, really fast and creates a graceful arc. The handle is tiny but fits my hand very well. The above picture shows that the shui pin line appears pretty solid and also that the inside of the pot is becoming well-seasoned from all the dark oolong it's been fed. Most of my non-zhuni pots are more recent additions, so I'm interested to see how the seasoning process works on more porous pots, but so far that visibly stained part of the lid has seasoned the fastest. I'm not sure why, but that's the part that always seems to build up the fastest. You can't really see in any of the other pictures, but the inside of the lid is starting to get a nice patina, and on the pictures where the inside of the pot is visible you can see the inside of the pot is beginning to darken as well. If you click on the large picture you can see that the inner burnishing has an interesting "combed" looking texture.

Another reason that this pot functions extremely well is because the hole in the knob is pretty large. With many pots that I have with smaller holes, the hole tends to become blocked with steam water. This, of course, prevents the hole from allowing the tea water to displace the air up inside the lid's dome when the lid is placed on the full pot, so if you put the lid on when the hole is blocked, it shoves a lid-sized amount of tea out of the pot. This pot almost never does that, so I don't have to spend much time blowing the water out of the hole. You can also see in the above pic that some patina is developing on the crook of the spout. Anywhere that tea water can come to rest on a pot seems to build patina faster.

A couple more things before I put this one to bed. Interestingly, there isn't a bottom seal on this pot, just the one right below the handle. A Taiwanese friend expressed surprise that I use this pot for Yen Cha (instead of...High Mt. Oolong, I guess). I'm a little suspicious of any claims that zhuni only works with certain teas. Before I bought a few more pots, I used to use this one for a lot of different teas (Dancong, aged and un-aged sheng pu-erh), and it always performed well, giving a clear representation of the tea without any foreign flavors. The shape might be a little confining for pellet oolong, and now that it's more seasoned the roasting element might not be great for green oolong, but I think the clay type has potential to be used with any tea type. I also compared the same tea in this pot and a few other pots (including a Duan ni pot, which is supposed to be ideal for roasted tea) and I actually liked it better out of this pot. You can laugh at me all you want; I'll be enjoying some delicious Yen Cha. Don't let anyone convince you of something without confirming it with your own senses! This pot has been so good to me; at the time I hadn't owned many high-quality or collectible yixing pots, so I didn't know how great of a find it was, aesthetically and functionally. Since, I've had plenty of pots educate me on the possible deficiencies in yixing potmaking to the point where I'd probably pay much more for this pot if I had to buy it again; it's that worth it. I recently did a very bad thing (after taking these pics; no leaves on the trees in these) and dropped the lid. The bottom rim suffered an extremely minute chip. It bothered me more than I wanted it to and I cursed myself for damaging such a vibrant piece of irreplaceable functional art for over a week, but I eventually got over it. I hope to be able to use this pot in good condition for years to come, so I'd better be more careful.
Post-script! I've heard a lot of bloggers badmouth "internet pots" and claim that "you just can't get a good pot on the internet," and I just have to vehemently disagree. I've bought pots in person and online, and the online pots have been much much better. Thing is, you have to have a trustworthy vendor. Of course, the 4000Friends $7 eBay pots are going to be terrible, but you could guess that easily. There are a few really great vendors online who sell authentic and high-quality pots and do a great job representing them. Yes, Guang and Irene at Hou De do sometimes have to charge a bit to make margin on their pots, but they really know their stuff and if they say a pot has a perfect pour with no drips, they're not lying. Of all the vendors I've bought pots from, Hou De offers the most consistently brilliant pots, sacrificing very little in the way of ideal characteristics. That's one reason I wanted to write about some of my yixing; to identify which vendors are great sources and why. I also want to share my experiences and especially my mistakes so hopefully others can avoid them or have a better idea of what to look for when buying a pot online or in person. If anyone out there has pictures or blog posts about their yixing, please do share! I always love seeing other pots, especially well-loved ones.


LaoChaGui said...

Thanks for sharing this beautiful pot. I also want to buy a zhuni lixing shape pot in the near future (probably for Yancha as well.)

I have also been reading a lot about "Internet pots" lately. The message which I took away was not that these pots were inherently bad per say, but that one is asking for trouble if one neglects due dilligence.

Another thing I understand from my reading about "internet pots" is that Houde pots are the one fairly certain exception. You can buy any pot from them and you are guarenteed to get a nice product.

Bret said...

Good Post! That looks to me to be a damned fine pot. I like you also beleive that there are plenty of online sources for genuine Yixing out there, buy from reputable sources and remember that you get what you pay for. For me a the qualifications for being "genuine" doesnt have anything to do with the pots history or how old it is, although those factors definately affect the price. For me as long as it,s made from traditional clays and to some degree hand made then I,m good to go with it and consider it "genuine" But above all else the pots functionality is the most important factor. Your Zhuni is a beauty and obviously is getting some serious attention from you, the seasoning appears to be coming along nicely. Hope your Long Jing gets there soon, cant wait to read your opinions.

Tuo Cha Tea said...

I remember that pot!
Guang at Hou De posted two small {under 100 ml| teapots at the same time and I got the flat one! That one is great, too, I use it for green oolongs.

Zero the Hero said...

Thanks for the comments fellas.

LaoChaGui--I added your excellent blog to my reading list; I should have been checking it out more before!

Bret--I agree. I've also had some pots that are similar to yours from Yunnan Sourcing and they're extremely functional, especially for the price. It's nice to know you can get a completely usable pot for $35 if need be. Unfortunately I've fallen into the decadent habit of wanting fancy old pots, which is certainly much more expensive without much of a measurable increase in how well my tea turns out.

Tuo Cha--Wow, I never saw the other pot Guang posted. You should post that up on your blog sometime; I'm always up for ogling beautiful yixing.

Jason Witt said...

Reality is China is running out of the clay to make Yi Xing teaware. And all the best clay was used in the past. So the farther back you go in history finding a pot for yourself the better you're going to do if you're so interested in the subtle differences between the kinds of clay.