Chinese Tea Art - Tea Sets

Chinese Tea Art - Tea Sets

As the old Chinese idiom goes, "it is necessary to have effective tools to do good work." It refers to ordinary labor and creations. As a material activity, tea art is also a spiritual and artistic creation; therefore tea sets should not only be convenient to use, but also show orderliness and aesthetic feeling in the arrangement, combination and operation. Lu Yu designed 24 vessels when he created Chinese tea art, which were recorded in the Book of Tea. The 24 vessels", as shown in the pictures, included:

1. Wind stove: Used to make a fire to brew tea. It was designed in accordance with Taoist five-elements theory, and Confucian etiquette and spirit, and was usually cast in iron in ancient times,while later some were made of sintered mud.

2. Bamboo basket: A square basket woven in bamboo filigree used to pick tea. Ancient tea devotees attached great importance to actual practice, and usually picked, baked and processed tea by themselves before drinking.

3. Charcoal seizor: The ancients used charcoal to brew tea, and believed that tea's quality would vary with the type of fire. The Charcoal seizer was a one-chi-long ironware with six ridges used to break charcoal pieces.

4. Fire-clip: Used to grip charcoal pieces to put it into a stove. Boiler: 5. Boiler: Used to brew tea. The boiler has been retained in Japanese tea ceremonies up to the present. It was made of iron or stone in the Tang Dynasty, but some rich families used silver boilers.

5. Boiler: Used to brew tea. The boiler has been retained in Japanese tea ceremonies up to the present. It was made of iron or stone in the Tang Dynasty, but some rich families used silver boilers.

6. Wooden stand: To place a boiler with a stove underneath. During the Ming and Qing dynasties, mud stoves were wrapped with rattan and bamboo so wooden stands became unnecessary.

7. Paper bag: To keep brewed tea so that the fragrance would not be let out.

8. Tea roller and tea dust cleaner: The former was used to grind tea, and the latter, to clean tea dust off the roller. We can see the original shape of the tea roller among the tea sets unearthed in the Temple of Dharma Gate in Shaanxi Province. It was composed of are rectangular mill groove and a turbine with an axle.

9. Tea basket: To sift tea.

10. Ze: It was like a pancake-shaped soup spoon, and was used to measure tea.

11. Water container: To store unboiled water.

12. Filter bag: To filter tea water. It was made of copper, wood or bamboo.

13. Gourd ladle: To ladle out water. Sometimes it was replaced by a wooden dipper.

15. Salt stand: To hold salt powder. In the Tang Dynasty, people used salt as a seasoning while drinking tea.

16. Processed jar: To store hot water. People in the Tang Dynasty stressed three key points when brewing tea. When the Water boils for the first time, put tea into the boiler to brew it directly; the second time, ladle out foams and put it into the processed jar; the third time, pour the boiled water from the jar into the boiler.

17. Bowls: Necessary implements for tasting tea.

18. Ben: To store bowls.

19. Zha: To wash the vessels. It was similar to a pot-scouring brush.

20. Water collector: To store water.

21. Dregs collector: To gather tea dregs.

22. Cloth: To clean the vessels.

23. Tea set stand: To display a tea set. It was similar to a modem tea table or wine stand.

24. Big basket: To store all the vessels after drinking tea.

It seems hard for modern people to understand that such complicated vessels had to be used to drink tea. However, they were necessities for the ancients to perform and perfect the ritual of drinking tea. A person could also change his mood and temper his practical ability through using the vessels. People who understand Chinese cooking culture all know that the system of meticulously designing, arranging and combining, and rationally using vessels was practiced on a grand scale, as we can see from the bronze wares of the Yin, Shang and Zhou dynasties. It was not only reflected in royal families, but also in the folk wine ritual in which a 70-year-old man/woman used more jues (an ancient wine vessel with three legs) and dous (an ancient stemmed cup or bowl, similar to a standing plate) than ordinary family members. Such customs showed the Chinese peopled traditional virtue of respecting the old and taking good care of children. Of course, compared with ancient wine culture, tea culture is richer in natural flavor and the joy of life. However, they both stress order and rhythm.

In recent years, several tea sets were unearthed in the Temple of Dharma Gate in Shaanxi Province. They were given to the temple as a charitable donation by Emperor Tang Xi Zong (873-889); andthey were so exquisite, ingenious, luxurious and splendid that they went beyond the descriptions in Lu Yu's The Book of Tea. The vessels included a tea roller, basket, ze, salt stand, chopsticks and bowls. Some of them were carved with Emperor Tang Xizong's pet name, "The Fifth Brother", the vessels weight, and manufacturer.Most of the tea sets were gilded with silver wares, and decorated with the Taoist patterns of an immortal riding a crane, auspicious clouds and swan geese, and the Buddhist patterns of Datura and the lotus design. The exquisite vessels won people's great admiration.One of them, an olive-green bowl made of "Porcelain of secret color," which was as bright as glass, is a rare ancient chinaware.Various beautiful colors would appear when it was filled with tea, During the Song Dynasty, tea sets were similar to those of the Tang Dynasty. However, to meet the needs of contests, people paid special attention to the qualities and colors of bowls. Because white tea was popular and contestants had to beat white foams, special attention was paid to black and celadon wares to set off the tea to advantage. Special natural decorative patterns appeared on some black chinaware when it was glazed or fired in kilns. For example, the heaven-eye bowl, whose decorative patterns were like eyes in a black sky and the small rabbit-hair cup, whose decorative patterns looked as if white hairs were growing out of the animal's black fur, are regarded as treasures among tea sets.

During the Ming Dynasty, vessels in groups were abandoned in order to simplify the sets, and attention was mainly focused on teapots and bowls. Many exquisite tea sets were produced in the Ming Dynasty, the peak period in the development of Chinese chinaware. The teapots were of high quality and novel style. There were many porcelain tea sets of a high order, including the ones made of . "ruby red", and blue and white porcelain in Xuande City,contrasting-colored ones and those made of blue and white porcelain in Chenghua City. Teapots were very varied in style: long,flat, square or round, with loop or side handles. Most of the designs were flowers and birds, although figures and landscapes were also important subjects.

During the Qing Dynasty, tea sets were also made of other materials other than china; however, with developed technologies, chinaware was elaborately wrought in great quantity, and with the development of international trade, it was delivered to many countries.

Into this history of Chinese tea sets, I would like to introduce the purple sand porcelain pot. As everyone knows, the brilliant achievements of Chinese ancient potteries occupied an important place in cooking culture. Later, bronze and iron wares appeared, and potteries were relegated to a secondary position although chinawares were still used because they had fine qualities, and could be washed easily. However, to meet the needs of tea culture, during the Ming Dynasty, the status of ancient potteries was improved. After tea sets in groups were abandoned, people made tea in teapots directly. It took a long time to make fermented and semi-fermented tea. China teapots were so impermeable that the tea would spoil if kept too long in them. The purple sand pottery pot was invented to solve this problem. It was made of special clay from Yixing, Xianyang, Chaozhou and some other cities. It became bronze in color after being sintered. In the Ming Dynasty, an excellent purple sand teapot was equal to the wealth of a middle-class family, so you can see that it was very valuable. At the time, some people were so fond of exquisite purple sand teapots that they tried all means to collect them, even, in some cases, dissipating their fortune. This common practice was continued until the Qing Dynasty. Purple sand teapots have always been treasured by collectors.

Why are they treasured so much? On one hand, they make tea, especially fermented tea, send forth its full fragrance. Pottery clay absorbs fragrance easily, so an excellent purple sand teapot is fall of tea's essence after it has been used for a long time, and will send forth a refreshing fragrance immediately when people used it. On the other hand, the teapots, accord with the requirements of tea culture. The Chinese people always advocate primitive simplicity and naturalness. Purple sand teapots impart a sense of natural beauty,and give people a feeling of moderation when they hold them in both hands. The effect is in concord with the restful charm required by tea culture in both vision and somesthesia.

The purple sand teapot is also treasured because of the artistic designs of the manufacturers. There were many experts in purple sand teapots. The teapot was first invented by an eminent monk of the Gold Sand Temple who remained anonymous. However, for all practical purposes, its real originator was Gong Chun, and the teapot invented by him was called the Gongchun Teapot. Gong Chun was a boy serving in a scholar's study, and was well-trained in accomplishments and practical spirituality. He was greatly influenced by Buddhism because he lived in the Golden Sand Temple at the time he tried to make the teapot. The formation of his unique artistic style may be attributed to many factors. His works were very simple and elegant in color and shape, and were lively and diverse in style: some looked like red melons full of the fragrance of earth; some were like tree stumps, which looked like old men telling the long history of tea; some were like fragrant buds, which naturally suited tea.

Shi Dabin, an expert succeeding Gong Chun, often visited the Songjiang River. He had close contact with Chen Jim, a famous tea expert of the Ming Dynasty, and absorbed Chengs ideas on tea culture. The design of his works was ingeniously conceived. For example, a small teapot looked like a monk's cap, which naturally reminded one of a monk praying to Buddha in the ancient temple. The message was clear: you drink tea to purify your soul, and the teapot could bring you immediately to Buddhism's realm.