Monday, November 6, 2006

1970's Yixing Pots


A small, well-made Yixing teapot is always a nice find. It tends to become a close personal tea companion and possession as its size is ideal for serving one person: the owner. Also, there is something to be said about using just enough tea leaves so as to not waste any. After all, "tea is like eating silver."

Pictured are two 1970’s Shui Ping Hu (水平壶 “Balanced Water Pot”) that I acquired recently from Jing Tea Shop (left) and Houde (right). Both pots were made by Yixing Factory #1 and they have 70ml capacity. The pot from Jing Tea Shop is a Nei Zi Wai Hong1 kind (literally translates as "inside-purple-outside-red"). This type of teapot is made from low(er) quality Zisha (purple clay) and then “painted” or "showered" evenly with Hong Ni clay on the outside to hide its low-grade Zisha look. Judging from the absence of any drib on the inside of the lid by the air hole, the specimen that I got is most likely the "painted" kind. The outside texture of the pot, however, is not as smooth as the other pot.

The pot from Houde (right) is made entirely of Hong Ni clay. This pot has developed a somewhat creamy and juicy feel from age and use. It has a very pleasant wrinkled smooth texture. The clay quality, balance, and its clinking sound are excellent.


Notice the slight shape and proportion differences between the two pots? The nei zi wai hong has a "Zhong Guo Yi Xing" seal, while the hong ni pot has a "Jing Shi Hwei Meng Chen Zhi" seal. After some practice, both pots brew and pour very well, with good lid-body fit.
Click here to see better the inside-outside clay contrast.

These pots have become indispensable companions when I’m drinking tea solo. I use the pot from Jing Tea for high fire Tie Guan Yin oolong because it has a slightly bigger, rounder belly for allowing the leaves to unfurl better. The other pot from Houde, with its slightly wider opening, is for brewing high fire Wuyi Mtn. rock oolongs. So far, fortunately, I’ve had no problem fitting the long and wiry Wuyi leaves inside the pot. I suppose when I encounter a Wuyi with leaves that are too long to fit inside then I'd have to use a gaiwan.

1Thanks to Guang of Houde who
recently discussed about the history, the making and the attributes of Nei Zi Wai Hong and Shan Tou pots on his blog.

13 comments:

MarshalN said...

You nasty pot addict, you!

Dustin said...

They look very nice. Does one perform better than the other? I'm wondering if there's any correlation between better clay and performance. Maybe it's a dumb question but I'm curious.

MarshalN said...

http://i21.photobucket.com/albums/b257/MarshalN/IMG_1694.jpg

Is this any good?

~ Phyll said...

Dustin:

I don't think clay quality affects performance. By performance, I mean the pot's balance, pour, airtightness, etc. I think performance is correlated to the artists' workmanship. As for taste, some experts may argue that certain clay is best suited for certain tea. Unless you have super sensory ability, you would be hard pressed to claim that it's true.

MarshalN:

It's a risky proposition. 1976 was just a so-so year, especially in Margaux. Ch. Marquis-de-Terme is not an estate known to produce consistent quality, despite its Grand Cru 4th Growth status. If it's been stored excellently for all these years, then there might be a chance it's still drinkable. If you own the bottle, well, what's the harm in opening it to find out if it's vinegar or not, and open it sooner than later. Stand it upright for 24 hours before opening, then pour really really slowly into your stem glass so as not to pour out any sediment into your glass. Decanting may be a bad idea for this old wine. If it's still alive, it may not be for much more once it's exposed to oxygen. Good luck and keep your expectations low. Let me know how it is!!!

Hobbes said...

Marvellous pots indeed. How do they feel? Robust and solid?

I had no idea Guang had such a varied range of pots, thanks for the link. There are some beauties on there. I wonder if I can get a family member to start thinking about Christmas gifts... :)


Toodlepip,

Hobbes

MarshalN said...

The wine's not mine, it's a bottle sitting on the kitchen counter. I think it's meant for consumption at some point soon. Although I think it's probably been sitting here for more than a few days already.

MarshalN said...

Hmmm.... the pure hongni pot is probably made after the Cultural Revolution, and probably not made in the 70s. I think anything made during the CR had to be Zhongguo Yixing on the chop.

~ Phyll said...

Hobbes: There is always a compromise to be made, right? :) Both pots are very good. The Hong Ni one feels more solid and substantial in my hands than the Nei Zi Wai Hong. Its (Hong Ni) clay quality is simply excellent. The nei zi wai hong pot, on the other hand, pours better than the Hong Ni. Only after some getting-to-know time I learned how to avoid the slight initial choke that the Hong Ni makes.

Yixings as Christmas gifts? Now that's an awesome idea, as long as you point to them which EXACTLY that you want! :)

~ Phyll said...

MarshalN:

That's what I asked Guang, too, when I was considering the pot. Below was our email exchange.

I wrote:

I'm curious as to how come the seal is not Zhong Guo Yixing because I thought everything had to be homogeneous during that period in China. Or is it because "Jing Shi Hwei Meng Chen Zhi" was considered to be alright? Sorry, too many questions!

Guang's response was:

The six-lettered seal was used from 30's to late 80's. Zhong Guo Yixing was started to be used since 1954.

Other six-lettered seals: Jing Shi Nan Meng Chen Zhi, Yi Xing Hwei Meng Chen hi.

Guang said...

IMHO, using seal to identify age of yixings is extremely risky. Of the whole teapot, seal is the easiest thing to fake. I rarely, or only use as a reference, use seal to authenticate a piece.

Difficult to be faked is the clay, craftsmanship (inc. proportions) and the ultimate aesthetics of a piece. I had explained to Phyll in a separate private email the significance of the clay, lid shape and handle shape of this piece.

Guang : )

~ Phyll said...

Yep, Guang did. In any case, I didn't get the pots for the sole reason that they're made in the 70's. I was looking for a couple of small pots. Guang and Sebastien had these pots, and they happenned to be from the 70's. The coincidence and timing made me grab them both for comparison and, most of all, for brewing tea.

"Hello, my name's Phyll and I'm a pot addict."

MarshalN said...

Guang, I understand that seals can easily be faked. So just because something has the seal of Zhongguo Yixing on it doesn't mean it's from the 70s. However, what you're saying is that something NOT sealed with Zhongguo Yixing CAN be made in the 70s by the 1st Yixing factory. Could you tell me where you got that piece of information?

Guang said...

70's is a period that covers late CR to after CR. So by "70's" I did not necessarily refer to CR. Real CR-period yixings are easier to identify. Even during CR, it was only true that "most" yixings were sealed with 4-letter Zhong-Guo Yi-Xing. Yixings produced during the "peak years" of CR were few anyway, and they were different from the early-CR, late-CR and especailly after-CR ones. It's a quite complicated topic and I do not think that I understand all. But, I would be cautious to generalise all CR-period yixings to 4-letter seal.

My 2 cents, Guang ; )