Yes, I admit it. I have an addiction to teawares. Not to conventional tea ‘bling’, but to handmade ‘treasure': traditional, Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Taiwanese teawares. Treasure does not necessarily mean something that is expensive, although some teawares are extremely costly. Shockingly so. But to me treasure is something with a ‘soul’ that will harmonize with tea and teach me a lesson about tea culture.
Enought is never enough. I cannot pass up a svelt or chunky tea cup with a pleasing shape, a rustic feel or an unusual glaze. I like pieces that give me clues about where it was made by it’s shape, glaze and overall style. I like to use different teacups with my gaiwans and keep my friends guessing as to what my tea table will be set with each time. Old cups, new cups, shiny finishes, matte finishes, delicate pale colors or rich earth tones all catch my magpie eye in equal measure.
Teawares are my best ‘ take-home’ memento when I travel. In fact, my carry-on bags bulge when I set off for home after a tea buying trip to Asia. Because that is where the treasure lies (some tea is hand-carried too; the rest is air-shipped).
Teapots, too, are just too delicious to be limited to a useful few.
Have you ever noticed that unglazed Chinese teapots are quite different in shape and style from Japanese unglazed teapots ? Both are constructed for use with certain teas, so the form and function of each teapot is in sync. I like to look too, for telltale signs of the hand of the maker in the construction of the teapot or teacup. You know, the little details that let you know that it was made by man and not machine. Whatever clues I can deduce about how was the piece made, what tools were used, what type of kiln was the piece fired in, etc. fascinate me.
I also wonder about the artist who made the piece. Was it a man or a woman ? In Asian, the majority of potters are men, but talented women have been elbowing their way in to some areas of pottery and ceramics work. Did the artist work in peaceful solitude or in a jovial group with other colleagues ? Where do they find most of their inspiration – in a bright, sunny studio space or in the middle of the night sitting beside a woodburning kiln full of their hard work ?
I use many of my teawares; others I do not. Not yet, anyway. Some tea ‘connoisseurs’ find collections of unused teawares silly or wasteful. I don’t. Why ? Because I am supporting the livelihood of potters and ceramic artists with my purchases and using them to educate my tea enthusiast customers about tea and tea culture. And they are lovely reminders of places that I have been in Asia and tea that I have drunk there with friends and colleagues.
To me, the enjoyment of a delicious cup of tea depends as much on the teawares and the environment in which the tea is drunk as much as the quality of the tea. Each piece has a voice and a story, and together they sing so sweetly. Here, a large cookie jar made by a Chinese artist friend can be seen proudly masquerading as a Pu-erh storage jar.