Thursday, November 14, 2013
Korean-made Yixing "Xi Shi" teapot • 韓國 西施 宜興 茶壺
Looking for a break from the city, my family and I spent 2012, bookended by a few months of 2011 and 2013 on each side, in a small town just outside of Daegu in the south-eastern corner of Korea.
Adjacent to Daegu's famous traditional medicine street, is a street with a surprising number of tea shops. One in particular caught my attention because the owner was a potter who'd studied in China and claimed to be the only Korean potter who makes Yixing teapots. He makes them in China, then brings them back to his shop to sell. He has a large variety of designs and they were all very well crafted. Some even had Korean themed images or poems written in hangeul, rather than the traditional Chinese subject matter that may usually adorn pots.
I ended up choosing a small Xi Shi pot, mostly for its size but also because of my weakness for Xi Shi pots. I've always liked how they sit firmly and balanced but appear as though they could roll over with the slightest nudge. I like how the lid fits (usually) flush with the contour of the pot, creating a continuous line. Then one day, in Seoul, I learned that the design was meant to resemble the breast of Xi Shi, the first of the historical four most beautiful women of China. The funny thing was, the tea master at Kkik Da Geo had just placed a newly arrived Xi Shi pot in my hands as he told me the story. I couldn't resist blushing when he got to the part about it being her breast and there I was, delicately cupping it in my palm, admiring its shape. I also had to pause a moment and wonder if that had anything to do with my natural attraction to them. I didn't arrive at any definitive conclusion...
Back to this pot, I was very impressed with the Korean potters skill. The lid fits perfectly and the lip is so smooth the lid slides on it like glass. The pour is quick and clean. Xi Shi pots should have a feminine sensitivity to them and the spout, which could be seen as phallic, is often kept very short, though I have a few Xi Shi pots with regular spouts. The handle is bottom-heavy, as though it was attached up side down, but adds to its charm. The top bead is relatively large but not awkward. Then, finally, on the bottom is a very unique stamp, the only Korean one I've ever seen on an Yixing pot.