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What Role Does a Pitcher Play In Tea Appreciation?

Article: Gan Hou

"Nothing beats the appeal of gongfu tea made and served with the exquisite Ruoshen teacups, Mengshen teapot and tea tray".

Lian Ya Tang's contribution to the tea culture of Taiwan is realized in the incorporation of Fujian Gongfu tea drinking into daily life. The above, one of his twenty-two tea inspired poems, highlights three items of a tea set, namely the teapot, teacups and tea tray. An other poem talk, about Wuyi tea, water, charcoal, the signature teapots, and pitchers in tea brewing. But just when did pitchers enter the scene and become a part of the tea service?

My father was born in 1912. A typical tea drinker from the mid-south, he had been sipping Dongding for six decades. I recall watching him brewing tea when I was a child. He never changed the tea utensils he used during his lifetime (1912 - 2006): a stainless steel tea tray, a standard red clay teapot, Kaipian tea brewing tray, white porcelain teacups; and he never used a pitcher.

I met Chen Junliang and Zhou Guoqin during my stay in Taipei in 1979. Watching these two friends of mine brewing tea was an eye-opening experience. I was bowled over by Zhou's Chaozhou brew, Anxi 3-flavour brew and Zhaoan brew, and Chen's Qinzhou brew - the two avid drinkers redefined tea liquor before. With the use of a teapot, timing and water temperature, they managed to enhance the value of the tea. The stream of tea coming out from the spout was carefully monitored. They also advocated the use of two cups, instead of one, fox each tea drinker. When it came to tea utensils, what struck me as new was a handle-less square mug used as a pot rest. Chou told me this was the idea of Master Xu Buliao. I did not have the chance .to meet with Master Xu; but I could imagine that at a time when the range of tea utensils had not been fully developed, items serving more functions than they were intended to would not be rare.

The emergence of pitchers would have taken place after brewing became an art of sophistication. When the Luyu Tea House launched the first commercial tea art teaching centre in 1981,. it introduced a whole range of tea-brewing and serving utensils from electric kettles to tea trolleys. Pitchers wore a part of this setup, recognized by their lidded and handle-less shape. They were much more refined than the Lianzi Xuantu version of clay and pottery pitchers in the 1980's, We can safely say that pitchers first found their way to tea tables in the I970's.

My dad once told me, scraping the water mark is aptly described as "Guang Gong patrolling the city", and ensuring the evenness of tea liquor is known as "General Han Xin taking the roll call". These are the two stages in tea brewing and serving that require absolute attention. No matter how flamboyant the guests have been, they would stop making noises and wait for their share of the favourite beverage. This is the best moment one can get from the entire tea-drinking experience - small tea-filled cups are distributed to each drinker. These cups will be collected after tea has been drunk and hot water would be poured over them: after which, they would be filled with tea again. Though each tea drinker will be served with a different cup, the hospitality and attentiveness given remains the same. This could be described as the essence of the so-called 'old gentleman's tea', serving that require absolute attention.

With the introduction of pitchers, the process of tea brewing has become different. Tea liquor is poured into the pitcher without much attention given to the its colour. The host is more relaxed and begins chatting with his guests while waiting for the tea to settle. Tea liquor sports a uniform colour, even but lacking in fine, personal touches. Temperature drops, and gone is the steaming hot brew. After the 1980's, new additions to the tea service were continued to fill tea tables with or without handles, glazed or unglazed, they represent new generations of tea utensils.

When my father began using pitchers in his waning years, he was less attentive chan he had used to be. He found the freshly brewed liquor and the teacups too hot; pitchers, it seemed, solved this problem. I did not notice any use of pitchers when I observed the tea ceremonies in Kyoto, Japan back in 1982. However, when I returned in 2006, there were a lot of two-palm-sized pitchers, and cups were not collected and redistributed before the 2nd brewing was served. Well, the Japanese may have improved on the pitchers used in Taiwan. The interesting thing is, Taiwanese fill the pitchers to the brim, while the Japanese keep them half or one-third filled.

To someone involved in tea promotion, teaching tea brewing is very important. Before you teach, you must integrate various brewing methods, When I was young, I had learnt brewing methods such as those of Chaozhou, Zhaoan, Anxi and Yixing. Equipped with the knowledge and knowhow, I had held demonstration in different places; and yet, I was feeling rather inadequate as I was always using either aged or poor quality tealeaves. How about new teas and loose and larges leaves? I wondered. Among the four, Pu'er brewing and brewing with cups and large teapots are not so dramatic, h?ice not really suitable for performing.For show, Gongfu brewing and the twin-cup high-land tea brewing are the ways to go.

When designing tea utensils, the pitcher is used. solely for Gongfu brewing of vintage or roasted tea. Its role is not as clearly defined as the square 'resting' mug and the aroma cup in twin-cup drinking. Take the aroma cup as example. It acts as the messenger between the tea pot and the tea cups, specifically for the appreciation of aroma after stemming tea liquor has been poured. During winter, it is also used as a hand warmer. Appreciation of aroma, colour and taste denotes the three stages of the highland tea appreciation method. As such, the role of pitcher is sidelined it is only used to cool tea liquor or serving second brews.

The fact that it is also known as the 'fairness' cup tells how objects like a pitcher can be personified. Under normal circumstances, it would be hard to achieve even strength of tea liquor in a teapot - to achieve evenness throughout, it is necessary to distribute the liquor before drinking. The so-called 'fairness' cup or pitcher as some sort of a 'go-between'. It enables tea liquor to attain evenness. However the sense of participation achieved through the appreciation of the stream from the spout of teapots and the concentration in tea pouring is simply not there, Whether this adds to or cakes away the completeness of tea drinking experience is purely a matter of personal view.

I am open co different shapes and sizes of pitchers.I like glass pitchers as I like to appreciate the colour of tea liquor, especially that of the Pu'er tea. However, this is limited to personal appreciation at home, For formal occasions, I insist on proper pitchers.