Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Shui Pin & Biao Zhun teapots • 水平 & 標準壺

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The most important concept in the art of making teapots is 'Shui Pin', 水平. The original meaning is 'water level', as in the tool, but in teapot terms, it is the three point line connecting the tip of the spout, the rim of the teapot's opening, and the vertex of the handle. In terms of function, a pot with good Shui Pin is well balanced when held and pours comfortably. Because of shrinkage of the clay during firing, you can judge a potter's expertise by their ability to produce a nice Shui Pin.

For the first Yixing teapot I ever bought, the tea master at Kkikdageo chose a simple, standard looking pot, which he said was as a good teapot for a beginner. It turns out its Chinese name, 'Biao Zhun' 標準, translates directly as 'standard'. It's an old Early Republic of China Shui Pin design that the Yixing No 1 Factory literally standardized and produced in mass quantity during the 1960's. The highly functional design of the Biao Zhun Shui Pin pots has kept them the standard design. Though different specialized teapots have been designed for different teas, a Biao Zhun Shui Pin is suitable for any tea.

A quick way to check a pot's Shui Pin line is to remove the lid and set it upside down on a flat surface. If the spout, rim, and handle are all touching the surface, then you have a well crafted teapot. Another test is to set the lid so that it is balanced either between the rim and the spout or the rim and the handle. This can be useful when allowing the steam to escape, not to cook the tea, or when leaving the teapot open for drying. To demonstrate this, I've superimposed two photos, with the lid balance on each side.

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Friday, October 5, 2012

Dragon Well Tea (Long Jing Cha) • 龍井茶

West Lake Dragon Well green tea  ❦  西湖 龍井茶

Of the unofficial "Ten Famous Chinese Teas", Dragon Well is by far the most famous.

The name originates from the town it's produced in, where there is a "dragon well" in which a benevolent dragon once lived. The water in the well is very dense and when lighter rainwater flows into the well, it swirls on top, resembling a dragon. It is possible this natural phenomenon is the origin of the dragon that once lived here, but China also used to have giant, serpent like fish that were known as dragons. So, perhaps there really was a dragon! ^_^

The most recognizable characteristic of Dragon Well tea is the way it is carefully pressed along the inside vein during roasting. The flattened leaves, with long, jagged points are like the shed scales of the tea dragon. Opening a fresh package of Dragon Well fills the space with the sweet, grassy fragrance. The leaves have an olive green hue with yellowish patches on them.

I heat the teapot and drop a couple of heaping scoops in. The sent of the tea intensifies. Generally, a pot should be filled to about a third, but with Dragon Well, it's nice to add even more. Also, green tea usually requires much cooler water, about 70-80ºC, but Dragon Well can handle 90ºC water, provided the first five infusions are kept to five seconds each. Cooler water tends to produce a sweeter tea, but hot water brings out a more complex bitterness. It's the unique boldness of the sweet and intrigue of the bitter, like dew from the dragon's breath, that makes Dragon Well so good.

The tea liquor is yellower than usual for green tea, which usually has more of a jade colour. Looking closely at the surface of the tea, you can make out the little specks of tea hairs. This is good, it means the leaves were picked young and are of high quality.

A true "West Lake" Dragon Well tea, from the town of Hang Zhou, in Zhejiang Province, just South-West of Shanghai, has the best, most complex, long-lasting taste. Though it's much more subtle than an oolong or puerh tea, every once in a while, throughout the day, after drinking this tea, a pleasant reminder of its taste emerged in my mouth.

Like other high quality green teas, when you are finished brewing, the tender leaves can also be eaten

link to The Chinese Teashop: