Friday, October 13, 2006, 04:47 PMEver since the established of Yixing #1 Factory in 1954, headed by Masters such as Gu Jing-Zhou, Jiang Ron, etc., potters that worked for the factory only supposed to produce for the factory. Private productions were not allowed. However, the following 10-year Cultural Revolution (1966~76) created havoc in the yixing industry and production was mostly halted. Tomakematter worse, they could not receive enough orders to keep every body busy as well. Towards the end of the Revolution, some famous potters tried to produce from their own home to earn additional income to support the living of their family. The factory knew the "illegitimate" activities, but understood it was inevitable as everybody just barely tried to survive.
Into the 80's, China started adapting the western-style Market Economy. It further encouraged the establishment of private studios. Fueled by the strong Asian economy since the 80's, pieces made of famous yixing artists can be easily worth over thousands US$. However, not everybody can afford the cost-you-an-arm-and-a-leg Master-made yixings, so from their studios they re-produce those Master pieces. The studios also serve the purpose for apprentices to learn directly from their masters.
Now, what are the differences between Master-made pieces and Studio pieces? I found some pictures from the Asian forum, http://www.potsart.com/forum/index.php, that give us great ideas:
Piece: 1985 National Grand Master Gu Shao-Pei, "Tian Long Din Zhu" (A Ball-chasing Dragon)
The Zi Sha one on the left is the genuine Gu's work, and the Hong Ni (red clay) one on the right is from his studio. Try to feel the difference in the "feeling" they give you. Feel it?
The Gu's work (price... no less than US$3,000) Note the vivid and dynamic feeling this piece expresses:
The studio piece. It feels not so "dynamic" as the piece above, right? Also note how the surface burnishing is different:
Detailed comparison of the craftsmanship of the "foot":
Studio pieces are often made following (okey... you can say "copying) the Master pieces by his/her apprentices. The Masters themselves oversee the productions and sometimes participate in some more tricky parts.
Buying Master-made pieces are extremely high-stake. In an everything-can-be-faked place like China, I have heard from several cases people find the "certificates" and "signatures" and "photos" that came with their Master-made pieces were all faked!
So we should appreciate the beauty of yixings using our eyes and hearts - if a piece is so pleasing to our sense, so what if it does not come with a "certificate"?
You can usully find studio pieces that are of great clay/craftsmanship (of coz, the above Hong Ni one I would not say "great craftsmanship"). Please don't confused them with "faked" pieces. Pieces like Zhou Quei-Zheng "Shi Piao" and Ho Yan-Ping "Yuan Gu" bear such high aesthetic quality that only Master's studios can achieve.
Tuesday, October 10, 2006, 01:19 PM ( 46 views )We just like to hear the knocking sounds of yixings and cannot get enough of them! I recorded several more for you:
Now we have heard quite a few different sounds from different yixings. Except being pleasing to our ears, what do they really reveal to us?
I will discuss my 2 cents in the next How to Select Yixings to Match Your Teas blog : )
Monday, October 9, 2006, 02:51 PM ( 25 views )This blog entry is for collecting our discussions of the tasting set:
Please feel free to post your tasting notes/comments/likes/dislikes in this entry.
I withhold my own opinions about the two samples so as not to bias your tasting experience : )
Saturday, October 7, 2006, 12:33 AMOld wisdom said that the knocking sound of zhu ni is like the knocking sound of "Jing Shi" - meaning metal and stone. Also, it was also said the knocking sound of zhu ni is like the knocking sound of two jade together. True? Here are four exmples, and you can judge for yourself : )
(1) 60's Nan-Yan Zhu Ni Shui Pin:
(2) Early R.O.C Pear-Skinned Zhu Ni, 120cc:
(3) Early R.O.C. Zhu Ni, 325cc:
It's rare to have zhu ni in such a large size. And even with its size, the crispy knocking sound of zhu ni remains! Marvelous!
(4) 18th century (mid-Qing) "Fu Yuan Ting" Lon-Dan Zhu Ni, 110cc:
I also put all four clips into one file on YouTube - Click here.
Aren't they lovely? Aren't they just like the knocking sound of metal, stone, or jade? Although "modern zhu ni" - hong ni-based blend - can mimic the effect, the sound would not be as natural and round. Above all, the clay would not be as great and treasurable.
Woooow... I can replay those beaufitul sounds for hours ^__^
Please be extra careful when trying this at home! Any teapot can break if knocked too hard!
Monday, October 2, 2006, 05:35 PM ( 28 views )In the coming days, we will gradually roll out a series of discussions on how to properly select an yixing to bring out the best of your tea(s). We may use video clips to demonstrate our concepts.
The first topic - The affect of Shape on tea brewing
In "Chao Zhou Cha Jing" of Wong Hwei-Dong of the Qing Dynasty, it is said, "... to select a teapot, better small but not big, better shallow but not deep." Most of us are familiar with the benefits of using a small-sized teapot when doing gong-fu style brewing. I found the second criteria the old wisdom put forward is also noteworthy: "better shallow but not deep". Why?
The characters of a tea can be greatly changed by different oxidation and roasting degrees. In general, the more oxidized or more roasted, the more stable the tea quality becomes. That's why we can just use a jar to store and age our tie guan yin, dong-ding, bai hao, etc., but need to use vacuum or low temperature storage to preserve the freshness of green teas and Taiwan's high-mountain oolongs.
When a tea is more oxidized/roasted, or aged for pu-erhs, it usually needs a higher brewing temperature to bring out the best mellowness and most sophisticated aroma layers. We all know that green tea like Longjing should be brewed ~ 175degF, but Dong-Ding needs boiling water (212degF).
The shape of a teapot can affect how fast the inside temperature drops. A shallow-shaped teapot dissipates heat faster than a tall and deep teapot.
Moreover, when we pour out the liquor from a teapot, the teas inside the teapot is still hot. As a shallower teapot dissipates heat faster, it drops the tea's temperature faster too. This helps preserve the freshness of tea and prevents the tea being over-heated.
On the other hand, when we are dealing with a high-oxidized/roasted type of tea, we want the heat and we want the temperature inside the teapot to hold.
Following the above discussion, we can draw a Shape-Tea Matching Diagram as shown below:
The X- and Y-axis represent the oxidation and roasting degree, individually. The bottom rainbow spectrum explains the oxidation degree for several common type of teas. In the coordinate, we position three shapes - shallow, round, and tall/deep - that, theoretically, is the best-matched teapot shape.
So why Mr. Wong only liked a shallow teapot? My guess is the region of Chao Zhou, inside GuangDong province, is constantly hot and humid. So a shallower teapot can help balance the ambient condition by keeping the teas cooler.
In general, I've found the shui-pin design, in a form of a slightly compressed circle, to be suitable to a wide range of oolong and black teas.
Please note I highlight the word "theoretically". There are many other factors that all affect the brewing performance at the same time. So the shape-matching discussion should be considered just as one of the factors. We should always judge a teapot from many different angles - shape, firing, clay quality, body thickness, craftsmanship, your ambient conditions, etc.
I have been hesitated to discuss such a kind of topic, for I never like to make the art of tea become too "scientific" or engineering, and for the fear that my limited knowledge might mislead people : ) So please post your comments and let's exchange our ideas.
Our next discussion will focus on the clay quality.