Article: Bian Zheng Photo: Chen Ming Tsung
Pitchers, which were hardly seen at the early stage of tea art development in Taiwan, have since become a very important part of tea preparation in our country.
When the art of tea first emerged in Taiwan in the 1970s, it was very much an extension and evolution of the art of gongfu tea in the Minnan style. In Minnan (the southern part of China), the main utensils for brewing and serving gongfu tea include the 'standard' teapot, tea brewing tray and 'egg-shell' teacups. The teapot is placed in the brewing tray, while the cups tilt on the side waiting to be rinsed. Tea art advocates put much emphasis on hygiene and convenience, knowing that this is crucial to increase the mass appeal of tea drinking. Japanese sake cups art sometimes used as aroma cups, and the creamer of a western tea service doubled up as pitcher.
The pitcher is also known as the 'fairness' cup because it helps attain evenness in the tea liquor in terms of strength and colour, and improves tea pouring.
However, creamers were designed for serving tea and coffee in the western style; they are by no means ideal as a pitcher. Also, they do not go with the style of the rest of the tea set. As such, with the advice from tea drinkers, manufacturers came up with pitchers for Chinese tea. The earliest choices, made of porcelain and clay, were very affordable for the masses. As tea aficionados became more and more sophisticated, artistically-inclined potters and industry personnel began churning out pitchers which were functional, aesthetic and blended into the tea service. The range of pitches on offer are now of different sizes, shapes, colours and decorative motifs; hence, mixing and matching has been made much simpler.This has heightened the pleasure of tea-brewing. And interest in tea took flight, setting the stage for full development of tea art.
As far as functionality goes, pitchers help regulate the smoothness of the stream of tea liquor from the teapot, and ideally achieve an anti-dripping effect. Besides, they help contain the aroma, and make the colour of the tea liquor even, These are important considerations when designing a pitcher, so that it will not end up as a decorative piece.
Pitchers come with or without handles. In general, ordinary tea drinkers prefer the handled variety, because it won't feel hot and is suitable for pouring tea at a distance. Tea aficionados and tea art instructors, however, opt for handle-less designs, because these take up less space on a tea presentation table and go well with other items in a tea set. Besides, they add a touch of refinement to the entire brewing process.
Pitchers can be made of porcelain, clay with glazed finishes, zisha (purple clay) and glass, etc. Porcelain pitchers are the most popular by far — their glazed finish can reflect or improve the colour of the tea liquor, and offer a concentration of aroma concentration. Tea drinkers will be spoilt by the choices of porcelain pitchers - understated elegance of shadow-green, white and blue-green hues, colourful pitchers with decorative motifs, blue-and-white pitchers with hand-painted motifs, and multi-coloured designs, and many others. As such, porcelain pitchers have become the mainstream among pitchers on sale in the market.
Some prefer glazed clay and zisha pitchers, which have more character. However, these varieties fail to reflect the colour of the liquor, and do not hold the aroma for long. Besides, they come in rather limited choices, making it difficult to mix and match with mainstream tea sets. Glass pitchers, first appeared a few years ago, are another choice. Inspired by glass wine jars, glass pitchers show off the colour of the tea liquor pretty well, adding to the visual enjoyment of tea drinking. This explains why they have won over many tea drinkers. The in shortcoming is, that they are more susceptible to scratches, offers poor aroma retention and less room for aesthetic design. As such, tea aficionados and tea art promoters are not so keen on glass pitchers.
I have been developing a range of hand-blown super-hard glass tea sets with the support of a fine glass manufacturer over the past few years. In many ways, these pieces have overcome most of the shortcomings of ordinary glass pitchers — they offer a clear view of the liquor, are resistant-proof and do not promote sediment deposit. Meanwhile, they can concentrate aroma well, and come in various shapes, sizes and overall designs, winning the approval of tea aficionados and tea art promoters.
Pitchers may not be an indispensable tea utensil; however, they have a very important role in the development of tea art in Taiwan. Tea culture may not have spread this wide and far without the emergence of pitchers. Without pitchers, an elaborately laid-out tea presentation may look, and feel, incomplete.