Monday, 26 September 2011

Finished Tea Table

Behold: the finished and also completed table.

Following beta testing, I found that making tea using a surface elevated to exactly slightly over a foot above the ground wasn't as bad as I'd thought it would be. As it turns out, it's actually quite comfortable, and should I ever feel the need to occupy a slightly more lofty perspective over my teaware, I'll use a cushion.

The finishing process for this table was pretty basic: some sanding to smooth surfaces and round corners, one coat of stain (I like the relatively light and dark areas this gives me), and varying amounts of varnish. My primary concerns in building this table were practical, and for that reason there are three coats of satin-finish varnish on the table's most utilitarian surface to protect it from spills without making it look glossy. In contrast, the wax finish on my floor dissolves every time a droplet of water touches it, and as a result much of my floor has an interesting grey-speckled pattern thanks to a previous hobby involving misting a lot of plants.

Some of the rougher sanding has left criss-cross patterns in the stain on the table's surface, an effect I personally enjoy. This is a table I anticipate keeping for quite some time, and I look forward to the accumulation of dings, scratches, and other inevitable detrital markers left by the passing of time and tea over its surface. Much in the same way as I cultivate a patina rich in stains and drip lines on my teapots with simple and loving use, I look forward to the appearance of wear on this table in all its wabi-sabi forms simply as a result of, and as a reference to, its use.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Tea Table in Beta Testing

For the past couple months I've been meaning to start and just not getting around to making a small tea table for myself to have tea at during the winter months. Over the summer the overwhelming majority of my tea sessions have been outside on my back porch, but when the mercury drops a layer of screen doesn't provide much insulation against your average -25C winter day. I usually solve this problem by having tea at the kitchen counter, but I've been in the process of developing a more quiet space to dedicate to tea, and now I've finally got around to building a simple table to facilitate making tea there.

Today following a trip to Home Depot I built the basic structure for the table, which is what you see here in beta testing. The table's surface is now at just over a foot off the ground, and after making a few rounds of TGY on it I'm considering lowering it by about an inch. I cut the longest legs the four foot piece of lumber I bought permitted (I'll let you do the math on that one), figuring I could shorten them if needed.

In its present state the table is entirely unfinished and a bit rough around the edges, a few rounds of sanding, staining, and varnishing are in its near future. Stay tuned for the finished product (no pun intended) in a few days time.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Wood-Fired Teaware by Petr Novák

A package from the Czech Republic arrived at my door recently containing the wares I had ordered but a week previously from Petr Novák, a potter and tea enthusiast who has combined the two interests to create beautiful wood-fired teaware out of his kiln in, you guessed it, the Czech Republic.

Having recently started exploring tea away from the tea board (or tea sink, tea tray, tea boat, or any number of other terms) and enjoying the increased flexibility this affords me, I picked up this bowl and vase as well as a cup to add to my modest collection of tea wares.

The ribs which circle the outside of the vase are slightly unevenly spaced, betraying its handmade origins and adding interest to the piece (while the cup and bowl are by Petr, the vase is by Mirka and has the stamp "MR" on its underside). The texture is very rough, especially between the ribs, but the base is well made and the vase doesn't wobble. While the inside is glazed to avoid leaks, the clay on the outside appears bare. I'm not sure whether this piece was charcoal glazed or not to achieve its dark colour, but in any case the way the dark colour anchors the gaze and provides a stable and interesting root without drawing too much attention away from the flowers it's meant to display pleases me.

The bowl is similarly well made, with an even shape that highlights its finish. The glaze is off-white, thick, and bumpy on one side, gradually thinning and letting a carroty orange come through on the other side. Crackling in the glaze is most obvious where it's thinnest and will eventually accumulate seasoning as it's used, increasing contrast and slowly transforming the piece.

The cup comfortably holds a full infusion from the teapot pictured in this post (about 90ml) which cools to a drinkable temperature at a similarly comfortable speed thanks to its thin walls. The glaze covers the inside and extends to just over the rim, allowing its holder to feel and admire the clay from which it was made while providing a smooth surface from which to drink. The colour of the inside glaze is an off-white with a slight olive tint, attractively showing off the colour of darker oolongs such as the charcoal roasted Anxi tieguanyin I drank from it today. Intricate swirls of various translucent shades trickle down into the bottom of the cup from the rim; a treat for the inquisitive observer.  The wood firing has caused the bare clay to become a significantly darker shade of orange-brown than the other, obscuring the small stones dotted throughout the clay.

A beautiful and functional set of wares, you can bet these will be featuring in future posts.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Some Fresh Yixing

This is my new teapot. I like it very much.

Director's Cut recently made a weekend trip to Montreal and picked up this little gem (along with a bunch of tea, of course) from Camellia Sinensis. A couple of weeks and a dozen or so sessions later, he decided 90ml steeps aren't really his preference, so, figuring I could get better use out of it, he sold it to me. The clay is porous enough that it had already accumulated some cosmetic outside seasoning in its short stint with DC, so I figured it wouldn't suffer much of a setback if I got rid of said seasoning and gave it a fresh start.

Conventional wisdom says to never use detergent or a cleaning agent of any kind on a clay teapot, lest it should become impregnated in the clay and ruin it forever, but because MarshalN has been routinely bleaching his teapots now with no adverse effects that I can gather and because I've learned not to trust conventional wisdom when it comes to yixing (conventional wisdom often being profit-motivated and sometimes arbitrary from what I can gather), I bleached it. The pot and lid soaked in a dilute Javex bath for a little over an hour before being pulled out and rinsed again and again. After being rinsed in a half dozen baths of boiling water and subsequently soaked overnight in a bowl of hot water with some tea thrown in, the smell of bleach was gone. The first couple of post-bleach sessions with this teapot had a bit of roughness in the aftertaste usually characteristic of pesticides, but at the time of writing the pot bears no indications of having been bleached.

In order to better equip myself to decide which teas to make in this pot, I poured some 85C water through it just to see what the clay on its own will do. DC told me that this teapot is made of some great clay, and I'm inclined to agree with him. It has great energy and lends the water a very deep and full feeling in the mouth. The most notable characteristic seems to be a mineral aftertaste I normally associate with yancha, making this seem the most intuitive pairing. In practice, for whatever reason the way this pot renders yancha is unbalanced, and is actually much better suited to traditionally processed TGY. Surprisingly, despite the porosity of the clay, this pot is high-fired enough to produce an aromatic but also round and full baozhong.

So far, this teapot seems very versatile, but the degree to which the clay accumulates seasoning leads me to believe that I'll have to eventually settle on a genre. In the meantime, my plan is to continue experimenting and searching for that ideal balance between a tea that pairs well and a tea that will ensure the pot gets used.

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Whoops: Competition Muzha TGY

As it turns out, my assertion that the level of roast applied to the particular competition Muzha TGY mentioned in this post was unusually high was a bit misguided. In fact, the amount of roasting on this tea is more or less typical for an awarded example, it's just that roasted teas in general are not awarded quite so often. I've changed a couple of lines in the original article and added an addendum for the sake of accuracy.

If you're not too interested in the relative popularity of tea genres or associated bias in a competition environment, then I apologise for having wasted your time. Please accept this picture of a leaf in some water as compensation: