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Warming up to Pu’er: A Beginner’s Guide -- 普洱茶


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Balthazar -- Thanks again for adding your experience to this thread. Fascinating to hear how someone from a different climate approaches the issues involved in storing and drinking Pu'er.

 

Those large crocks are a great idea. I only have one that size, since I know I'll eventually move from China back to the US and they are prohibitively expensive  to ship.

 

What I do use more often is small storage jars. I have two, one for Sheng and one for Shu. Chip some tea off the cake of each that I'm currently using the most, store in a small clay jar, making it more accessible and easier to use.

 

These are both Yixing, but lower-quality Yixing. (Cost 80 or 90 Yuan each.) I've included tea tools, my "Grandpa mug" and a standard gaiwan for size.

 

post-20301-0-27367000-1435456761_thumb.jpg post-20301-0-26266400-1435456786_thumb.jpg

 

I haven't used the desiccant discs such as you have shown. Climate here is dry enough not to need them.

 

The rich, deep color of the liquor from your aged sheng Pu'er is what I always hope to see after a decade or so. But it doesn't always work out that well. I'll bet it was delicious.

 

 

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Let me add a little to my #21 post above regarding buying Yixing 宜兴 tea ware. It can sometimes be very expensive; I have local friends who routinely pay a couple thousand Yuan for a teapot. I myself am not prepared to go beyond the 500 Yuan mark, and most of my teapots cost around 300.

 

Lots has been written on how to select a teapot, particularly from the standpoint of its mechanics and ergonomics. We can backtrack and discuss those aspects later, since they are important and interesting. But what I wanted to do just now, was talk about something much simpler.

 

My friends who pay 2,000 or 3,000 Yuan often buy pots that were created by a contemporary famous teapot maker. Someone who is a "name" in the Yixing teapot world, even if a minor name. Pots by well-known dead masters cost much more. They are way out of my reach.

 

One of those local friends is a middle-aged lady who is absolutely nuts for teapots. She calls them "her babies" and give each of them a name. Not my style by a country mile.

 

(Bragging now.) I do have one pot that was made by an apprentice to a known teapot maker. Bought it in Yixing after meeting the main potter, a lady, and her artist husband. They were both in their 30's and had a small two-person "factory/shop" in an industrial suburb on the edge of town. I spent a morning there, drinking tea, and watching them work.

 

The husband decorated the pots that his wife produced. The wife gave herself over to the clay, and he gave himself over to the brush. He also was the one who dealt with buyers and sort of handled the "business end" of the operation. She was shy; he was gregarious.

 

Both had learned from the wife's father, a master potter now deceased, but famous when he was alive. The wife had formally been his apprentice; when she married, her artist husband joined the team as well. They sold most of what they made through a nice larger shop in Yixing proper and some through a relative in Hangzhou.

 

Here is one of two pots I bought from them. Looks plain, but is perfect in the hand. It's great to use.

 

post-20301-0-53358000-1435459050_thumb.jpg  post-20301-0-28970900-1435459059_thumb.jpg

 

I learned several things on that trip. Two that are relevant here, are:

 

     1. You pay for a famous name.

     2. You pay for elegant decoration.

 

What I usually do is buy un-decorated pots which have good mechanics and an attractive form factor. By that I mean they handle well, have good balance, pour well, don't leak or dribble, the parts are properly aligned, top fits, and things like that. (We can go into all of this in greater detail if there's interest.) 

 

And I buy these pots from unknown, or as-yet-undiscovered, younger makers. People with potential. I don't buy mass produced pots. Only artisanal pots. But artisanal pots within the above parameters.

 

That method works fine for making an economical and cost effective 划算 selection if you have traveled to Yixing or to Jianshui and walked through the maker's front door. But I often buy clay tea-ware at one of the local (Kunming) wholesale markets. (We have two main ones -- north and south.)

 

What I do then to get a sensible deal goes a little beyond the technique described above: Namely, I look for flaws. Any large dealer will have some pots that are not quite perfect. Usually there are small flaws in decoration which are barely visible and do not affect use at all. Both these Yixing tea leaf storage jars are examples of that type of shopping.

 

post-20301-0-36781800-1435459578_thumb.jpg  post-20301-0-12396200-1435459592_thumb.jpg

 

The art work on the lid and the calligraphy are not museum grade. Oh horrors! Can I still store my tea in them? Of course!

 

post-20301-0-97288000-1435459604_thumb.jpg  post-20301-0-74310300-1435459617_thumb.jpg 

 

The same store had others with nicer decoration, but they cost about 50% more. Wasn't worth it to me. I would rather pay more for the tea itself than invest too much in the trappings of the process. No harm in paying more and getting a nicer item if the aesthetics are worth it to you.

 

I just wanted to illustrate one approach to the matter of how to acquire the needed Pu'er supplies without breaking the bank. Of course, after I win the lottery 中彩, my approach may change. (smile)

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Thanks for the informative posts on yixing. As regards using yixing storage jars (or unglazed clay jars in general), I know it's very popular in China (for good reasons), but I think they are a bit too porous for the conditions where I live. Actually, I have tried to "air out" a tea in a yixing-pot I once bought in Hong Kong (caveat emptor: Never, never, never buy a teapot without testing how it pours. It looks beautiful on my wooden stand, though, so I guess it wasn't a total waste of a few hundred HKD), and I think overly humid teas can benefit a lot from being stored in yixing even here in Norway. For long time storage, however, I think stoneware is the best bet, because they are more sealed than unglazed clay but more porous than porcelain. If I ever move to China, however, I will definitely invest in some yixing jars.

 

Your points about names and decoration being a big factor in the price is definitely true. Of course for the average consumer buying a pot from a famous or even semi-famous maker is a big risk (unless it's bought from the maker directly) as the fake industry is thriving (and often highly sophisticated). Age, of course, is another factor, not only for the same reasons as with other kinds of antique goods, but also because it is generally believed that the clay used back in the day was of higher quality, as several good mines are now (allegedly) almost completely emptied out. When there was an abundance of good clay available, even your run-of-the-mill Cultural Revolution era "functional and practical, not beautiful or unique" pots used clay of a high quality. "Factory 1" pots of the 70s, 80s and 90s are still highly treasured even if it cannot be verified who made it, for this reason. That's not to say there's no good clay out there anymore, but much of it has been hoarded and its value is now more appreciated.

 

Many collectors of limited follow the approach you mention, looking for small flaws. Older factory pots that has (i) good clay and (ii) small imperfections can sometimes have a much more reasonable price. The pot on the pictures in my previous post is a Factory 1 pot from the 90s (the clay allegedly from the 80s, not that I would be able to verify this in a million years) with a lid that doesn't have a snug fit. It brews up some wonderful sheng puer, though.

 

There's a very interesting two-parts article from 1998, by Billy Mood, aka Lim Whui Hua. It's a long and idiosyncratic read, and from what I've heard not every claim is 100 % correct, but it's worth reading through for some background.

 

Billy Mood's Yixing Teapots, Part 1

Billy Mood's Yixing Teapots, Part 2

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That's a classic teapot, Balthazar. Elegant yet simple design. I watched a TV special last night about an elderly potter surnamed 汪who worked at Factory 1 for many years, starting in the late 1950's. She talked about first having to master the simple classic designs and then later having an opportunity to work on pots with complex decoration. She called latter 花货。

 

I thought that your storage pots looked like stoneware. Now I understand why. Thanks for explaining. Will read the Billy Mood links tonight.

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Well, I couldn't wait. Read the first Billy Mood article just now. And I found the venerable craftsman from last night's TV special. This quote is from his first article.

 

In the old days, Yixing teapots are created by hand, meaning that every single part, curve and decor is create manually without the assistance of moulds. Time has changed with more and more craftsmen turning to moulds when creating teapots. However, many craftsmasters are still adhering to the tradition of full hand made teapots. Every master craftsman has skills that specialises in certain areas. Some are talented in making 'hua huo' or decorated teapots (such as Wang Yin Xian), others are extremely good in geometric shapes and so on.

 

Then I searched her name on Baidu, and found a little more. (http://baike.baidu.com/link?url=8fXubXaRUo89gvg8MlLjhv_kaa_e0JAg8oAL_ow_rlfDig7DYV9LXxuitD_1mCxbJhBV2Py7fkv_NCG1Y6ySOa )

 

汪寅仙1956年11月参加工作,历任宜兴紫砂工艺厂技术辅导,厂研究所副所长等职,厂副总工艺师,宜兴陶瓷学会理事。14岁就开始学习紫砂陶艺,一直从 事紫砂陶创作设计制作工艺,擅长“花货”制作,具有颇高的艺术造诣和姻熟的制作技艺。为紫砂传统工艺的发展,作出很大的贡献。作品气韵生动、整体协调,并 酷似自然生态,维妙维肖,具有浓厚的东方艺术文化特色和高雅的艺术欣赏价值。作品被故宫博物院、 上海博物馆、香港宋县文物馆,南京博物院、台湾历史博物馆均有收藏,作品在日本、美国等20多个国家地区展出,成为壶艺爱好者的竞购收藏作品,国内曾多次 获国家级大奖 。并发表多篇论文,其中有《紫砂塑器——花货》、《花货的造型艺术工艺技法》、《曲壶设计制作的几点体会》等。她甘为人梯,为传统的紫砂工艺培养接班人倾 注了心血,经她传授的青工,均已成为企业技术队伍中的骨干力量。曾获无锡市“三八”红旗手,市劳动模范,江苏省有突出贡献中青年专家,全国“三八”红旗手,全国劳动模范等称号。1993的被国家授予中国工艺美术大师称号。1997年出版了“汪寅仙紫砂作品集”。[1]
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Read the rest of Billy Mood. Agree with your assessment that it's rather idiosyncratic. Well said. The author is obviously well versed in the subject and possesses lots of arcane knowledge. If read as his personal journal, one can say, "Yes, that's interesting."

 

But it suffers from some glaring flaws is one tries to use it as educational material. These bother me the most:

 

1. It's poorly edited. Looks like several blog posts or shorter articles from different sources, assembled into one, with repetition and omissions.

2. It needs illustrations. It needs them very badly. Sketches or photographs.

3. It needs to include the Chinese names for things, processes, and people. Confusing without them.

 

What's the back story on this Billy Mood? Who is he or was he?

 

Another page in that eclectic collection of essays was interesting to me as well. It traces the history of Yixing clay ware in a detailed scholarly manner. Not an easy read, but a valuable resource.

 

http://terebess.hu/english/yixing2.html

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What's the back story on this Billy Mood? Who is he or was he?

 

Partially answering my own question:

 

(Both posts from 2003. http://www.drinksforum.com/tea/where-is-billy-mood-20257-.htm)

 

I'm hoping that someone in this group will remember Billy Mood, aka Lim Whui Hua, of Singapore. His website www.modeep.com used to be one of the finest on the internet at explaining different methods of brewing tea in fine Yixing teapots. You can view some of his work at http://www.terebess.hu/english/yixing1.html. He suddenly disappeared from my radars in 2002. Can anyone help me out?

 

------------------------------

 

I bought several fine Yixing teapots from Billy in 1999.  I understood that he had some kind of brain hemorrhage or similar medical situation.  I got my information third-hand, but I was told that he finally was released from the hospital, but I never saw any more activity on his website, nor did I hear anything else from him.   Some of us who bought pots from him assumed that he had died.

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Agree about the articles, they could have been improved a great deal in terms of presentation. I'm not sure if the original article (on Billy Mood's own page) looked like that, or if it came with images. As it seems like he is no longer with us, I guess we have to be satisfied with the terebess.hu-version.

 

Thanks for the link to other article, haven’t read that one yet!

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