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On the Catwalk! Here you will find all must-haves of samova’s modern tea culture – nice and convenient.

 

 

The Teapot – Queen of the Table


Late Bloomer


It is elegance par excellence. Hardly any drinking accessory has enchanted people as much as the teapot. Its bellied body invited calligraphers and poets in Far East to immortalise themselves with characters, verses or stories and inspired painters to embellish it with pictures and ornaments.

But it wasn’t only art that came onto the teapot, but also found the teapot its way into art. There is, for instance, a fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen in which a pot tells its story from when it was a proud porcelain vessel until it ended as a pile of shards. Or the analogy by the philosopher Bertrand Russell. He sends his teapot into the universe on an orbit around the sun and compares it with a god that one can believe in or not.

Although teapots nowadays are quite plain they haven’t lost any of their grace. In view of design they make the centre of each table service. Strange though that they were such a long time coming. Strictly speaking, from the discovery of tea five thousand years ago until the early 16th century, the prosperity of the Ming dynasty (1368 – 1644). So how did it get to the development of the teapot?

 

No Free Hand


In the beginning was the bowl, a simple round thing made of pottery or bamboo. For ages it served the people in China – the original home of the tea – for making tea as well as for drinking it. Such a bowl had to be big enough to allow a good brew, but also compact enough to hold it and bring it to the mouth. In fact, these old chawan (as the tea bowl is still called in China and Japan) were so big that one had to use both hands. Quite inconvenient, as some must have really scalded their fingers. Moreover, one had no free hand to do other things. An aspect that would only be useful for participants of a tea ceremony, where the tea was to be given undivided attention.

At the beginning of the Ming era the bowl was expanded by lid and saucer, named gaiwan and already a step closer to the teapot. Indeed, it still was a vessel to drink out of, but also for pouring off the tea water, while holding the leaves back with the lid. This became advisable when black tea came up. For if it steeps too long, the bitter compounds are unleashed, and these taste… well… bitter.

 

A Thumb Print as Trade Mark


The final leap to the teapot is told in the story of the young servant Gong Chun who lived in the 16th century. Gong’s master, a scholar of the emperor, had to travel to the Jinsha temple nearby the city of Yixing, in order to prepare for his imperial examination. Gong Chun went with him and soon became friends with a monk who made pottery in the temple. Back then pottery was already regarded as an old trade in the East Chinese region, since it was rich in the valuable purple clay “zisha”.

Now there was an old ginkgo tree in the temple garden. It appealed to Gong Chun because of this huge tuber on its stem. This inspired him to make a vessel that since then has hardly changed in shape.

As a smart salesman Gong Chun gave his teapot a trade mark by leaving a thumb print in the bottom. And he had the finger on the pulse: More and more, loose tea leaves displaced the by-then-common powdered tea which was stirred with water in a bowl. Chun’s bulbous pot suited well because the flavour of the leaves can best unfold in vessels of large volume and the tea smoothly be poured out through a spout.

 

You Drink with Your Eyes


Millions of makers copied Gong Chun’s teapot using various materials – porcelain, iron, brass, silver and glass. In Europe it was the English who introduced the pot. The oldest is made of silver and dated back to the year 1670.

While clay, due to its porosity, absorbs the aroma of tea, it gradually intensifies its taste. A welcome feature as long as one uses one tea type only. Yet if you change it like your clothes there will emerge a jumble of aromas, and after the hundredth brew one tea will taste like the other. An effect that can be avoided by using slick materials, ideally glass. As far as no layer of old tea is required it can be washed up – saves teapots. Furthermore a glass pot has one key advantage: You can see the tea and tell just by its colour when it has steeped enough. And last but not least: You drink with your eye. Cheers!