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About buying a tea set and what does it say?


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Great post!  Sorry I can't help you with your poem, I once tried to learn cursive script off a guy in a park and all I learned is that it's really difficult.


Do you have any experience buying, or using, tea sets that come with stands?  Some of these things look a bit tacky and overdone (like the way Chinese people light up historic caves with neon lights kind of style) but I've seen some very nice plain slate set-ups that look pretty nice.  I'd love to buy one of those to take home eventually but I've no idea how much it would cost or if I should be looking out for a particular kind.


Also, when I was last in Guangzhou, I went to a restaurant where every table had a gas stove next to it to boil a kettle of water and the tea set they used came with a base that had holes in it meaning you could just pour the water wherever your want (I think you were also supposed to use it to wash the set as well) and it was pretty nice.  I'd like to buy one of those for my parents (I don't think they'd appreciate a big bit of slate).


This stuff has probably been posted somewhere else and I've probably insulted a few people with my horrendous ignorance of tea culture.  Sorry!

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Somethingfunny -- No need to apologize; thanks for your questions.


Also, when I was last in Guangzhou, I went to a restaurant where every table had a gas stove next to it to boil a kettle of water and the tea set they used came with a base that had holes in it meaning you could just pour the water wherever your want...


I've been to restaurants like that in Guangzhou too. Tea at the table is very popular in the late mornings with Dim Sum/Yumcha 饮茶 small eats, kind of like brunch. I've seen two kinds of arrangements, and there are probably more. What you are referring to is a chapan 茶盘。Some are made of wood and others are pottery or ceramic. The pottery or ceramic ones are also called chachuan 茶船。("Tea boat.") Here are a few pictures.


post-20301-0-07978700-1443610023_thumb.jpg   post-20301-0-10610300-1443623195_thumb.jpg  post-20301-0-23995400-1443611359_thumb.jpg post-20301-0-11252000-1443622959_thumb.jpg


Pretty sure the one to which you are referring is the kind on the right. I saw some yesterday at the store when I was looking at tea stuff. They aren't expensive, but they are kind of heavy. Shipping would be a problem, as would be just slipping one into your suitcase.


You could look for more examples on Google or Baidu. The search term to use for the slatted wooden ones is 竹子茶盘 and for the clay ones I got the most results with 紫陶茶盘 and  陶瓷茶船。There are many, many sizes and styles, simple and fancy.


As an aside, I should probably add that you really do need something like this because brewing and serving tea is always kind of messy. One always spills water and it's sometimes even considered essential. (With some kinds of tea the gaiwan or chahu must actually overflow.)


When I'm in the US and don't have one, I use a big plate or shallow fruit bowl, or sometimes even a shallow roasting pan. Not as good, but it saves the table top. In China, tea stores often have a special table, a 茶桌。It's purpose built and can be an elaborate affair.




I'm really not sure about a stand for a tea set. Don't know if I've actually ever seen one. Maybe someone else can help with that.

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Many green thank-you points to you, Han_Fu. You arrived just in time to save me from pulling out my hair in frustration. With your help, I have now found it on line.


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I had been hoping for something profound by Lu Yu 陆羽 the "tea saint" or maybe a verse by Li Bai 李白 or Du Fu  杜甫。 This Dong Shouping seems to be a modern (1904 to 1997), and much of his fame is from his landscape painting, not from his calligraphy. Did I understand that correctly?


As I translate the poem word for word, it kind of leaves me cold; doesn't make much of an impression. When you read it, presumably as an educated native speaker, is there some historical context that allows it to really sing and become beautiful? In other words, what am I missing, as a 老外 insufficiently grounded in China's literary culture?


But I see now that he received 276,000 Yuan for this piece of calligraphy, so apparently there are people out there who admire his work a whole lot.




And last, an opinion question. Do you think this makes a good choice to inscribe on tea cup, pitcher and gaiwan? Is it something you might have selected? Or are you kind of surprised to find it there?


Thanks again for your kind assistance, Han_Fu, and a warm welcome to the forum. (Don't mean to put you on the spot with the questions. You have already done enough by identifying the quotation. Only answer if you find it comfortable.)

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What you are referring to is a chapan 茶盘。Some are made of wood and others are pottery or ceramic. The pottery or ceramic ones are also called chachuan 茶船。



My favorite are the stone ones. I always think the bamboo ones are beautiful, and then I compare them with some of the stone ones...


wh32040.jpg 1384448962_XL.jpg



When I was in Taiwan, I bought one similar to the one in the picture on the right. The store owner told me that this rock is mined in Taiwan - I think from TaoYuan.



As for the 茶桌, if anyone is in Taiwan and wants to see some really nice ones, I suggest you go to 鶯歌, a place really famous for ceramics in Taiwan. If you get off of the train and when exiting the train station, you turn right on to WenHua road,, you'll get to this place that makes everything out of stone. The LaoBan there was really nice, and invited me and my family to sit down and have tea. He has this huge 茶桌 hand-carved out of a single slab of stone - if I remember correctly it's carved to look like a pond, with fish and things. Then he has these lilly pads which serve as places to put the cups. The water that is poured out during 溫杯溫壺 as well as rinsing/"awakening" the tea leaves before the first cup just flows out into the "pond" and surrounds everything. I was able to find the place on google maps if anyone's interested - see attachment. Here's also the link to get there on google maps.


Anyways, the LaoBan served us tea and described how he was the sole carver of everything in the shop (his shop also had a lot of teapots all carved out of different stones), and that because every thing was hand carved, he could only make x teapots in his lifetime (but I forget how many). We thought it was all leading up to the sale, but when my parents finally asked how much one of the teapots that they liked cost, he said that none of them were for sale - I guess what he's done is just open up a gallery there for people to admire his work (or he just knew we couldn't afford one and wanted to save our face? :D) Although I think he did have some of the smaller 茶盤's for sale...


I was there with my family - and I think my dad took some pictures - I'll see if he can send some to me so I can upload them here.


As for stands, the only thing I've seen are things like these:

2202620215_888866744.310x310.jpg 49d0833235683.jpg


The one on the left I've only ever seen in stores as decoration. The cup stands I've seen for sale, and almost bought one, but then I figured I could only put the 品茗杯 (small tea cups) and not the 聞香杯 (the sniffing cups) on, so I figured I'd just store everything on my 茶盤, which seems to be what most people do anyways - you'll walk into a house or some place that serves tea and they just have everything lain out on their 茶盤 ready for use.


The only advice I can give when buying a 茶盤 is to not buy one that is too small. Some of them look really small and cute, but if you're going to have a 茶壺,茶海 (aka 公道杯)and more than 1 cup on there, things get pretty tight pretty quick.

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Thank you, Yadang. I agree that those stone ones are really beautiful. The one such as you bought would add a touch of class to any home. I am jealous. I can only have a wooden one because my apartment here in Kunming is small and I don't have any place to leave it siting out all the time. Must put it back in the original box and store it out of the way when not in use. (On top of the refrigerator, which is also in the living room.)


In Yunnan, they are sometimes made of 大理石, a type of local marble which can have graceful, cloud-like veins. But the inclusions in the stone from which yours was crafted make it extremely beautiful. I would have been tempted to buy it too, whether or not it was practical in my current China life. 


Here's the one I use at home. It's one step up from bamboo, according to local friends who know wood. The type of wood is called 鸡翅木; I don't know an English translation. (Chicken wing wood.) Not very expensive, about 350 Yuan if I remember correctly. It has a drawer-type pan underneath and one can also attach a hose and let the water run off into a bucket.


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You made an excellent point about size. I agree 100%. If you buy a 茶盘 or 茶船, by all means get one that is big enough. Mine is 36 cm by 54 cm and it gets full pretty easy when set up for use.


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What I've shown here is only 4 cups. If I'm only brewing tea for one or two guests, I use a discard bowl instead of letting the water run into the underneath tray. The person brewing would be on the side with the purple tea towel 茶巾。




The best looking art on the gaiwan, pitcher, and cups needs to face the guests, and it this case it's no problem, since both side of this new tea set are attractive.


I missed so much on this short trip to Taiwan last month. Look forward to going back and exploring some more. Perhaps I can visit the location you mentioned. I liked that story of the boss who makes these fine pieces and is so dedicated to his craft.

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Something funny's checklist of things to do:


1) Buy 茶盘


1) Get apartment

2) Buy 茶盘

2) Read all of abcdefg's posts about tea

3) Buy 茶盘


Ah hell, lets just have:


1) Be abcdefg.

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 Do you think this makes a good choice to inscribe on tea cup, pitcher and gaiwan? Is it something you might have selected? Or are you kind of surprised to find it there?


Just searched for this on Baidu and it turns out that, although the calligraphy is 董寿平's, the poem is actually by 李时勉 from the Ming dynasty. The poem itself is not famous (although I suppose I'm technically not a native speaker, I had Chinese education from a very young age, and I am now a postgraduate in 文学院, and I've never come across it before), but it's not bad. 董寿平 on the other hand is a very famous artist, and his calligraphy is very good. I wouldn't think it looks out of place on a tea-set. 

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Shelley, I am almost in tears because I've tried to answer your good question, and the flaky internet here in Kunming has swallowed my reply after two hours of work. I even posted photo illustrations. I'll try to do it later when I can get a better connection, but my creative juices are used up for the moment.


I can write it as an MS Word document, and just copy and paste to the Forum, with photos added after the fact. An extra step, but what the heck. (Thank you Xi Jinping and your Great Firewall with its tighter and tighter restrictions. You have been forever removed from my Christmas Card list. Eat your heart out, Big Guy.)

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Many thanks, Shelley. I appreciate your condolences and your question.


Please let me explain how these utensils are used. If you don’t mind, I will also take the opportunity to introduce a few others in the context of brewing tea sort of formally, not just at home for yourself and a partner.


I hesitate to call brewing tea formally a “Tea Ceremony” with a capital letters, because that conjures up images of notorious scams in the tourist zones of Shanghai and Beijing. Be that as it may, there are certain ways gongfu tea 功夫茶 is usually prepared and served when one is trying to make it look nice as well as taste good; when one wants to serve honored guests. And that’s mainly when you use these tools; otherwise you can get by without them.




The round canister of wooden implements in the holder that you initially asked about is called a 茶筒 and is usually placed in the far left corner of the 茶盘, away from the person doing the brewing and serving. This way it’s less likely to accidentally get bumped. Sometimes such a tool set is poetically referred to as “The six nobles of tea” or 茶道六君子。




Here are those tools laid out on a tea towel 茶巾。Let’s discuss them more or less in their order of use. The chazhen 茶针 or pick, pointed on one end and spade-shaped on the other, is primarily used for prying apart a tea cake 茶饼 or tea brick 茶砖。The idea is to sort of “flake off” enough tea leaves for one use without cutting or breaking them. The more leaves that remain intact, the better; you would prefer not to just have a whole bunch of broken crumbs. The broad end of this tool can also be used to pry tea apart.


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If the tea brick or cake is old, hard and tight, you are better off using a metal tool called a tea knife 茶刀。It is pointed but not sharp, and the tip is flattened to make it good for prying. If my American friends don’t have one, I tell them to use a non-sharp butter knife or something similar.


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If the tea you are making isn’t compressed at all, but instead is loose leaves of whatever shape, then instead of the pick, you need a scoop 茶勺 to transfer it from the storage container to a small dish, from which it will later be helped into the teapot or gaiwan.


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Actually, there is a special dish for the tea you have scooped out of your storage container. These are often half round and made of bamboo, but I don’t have one and just use a small saucer instead. On my next trip to the tea market, maybe I’ll buy one; they cost next to nothing.


This last time I went, a week or so ago, I did buy a couple of pretty storage containers 茶管 to send to a tea friend back home. They look nicer than just using the box in which the tea was originally packed.


post-20301-0-55027200-1443948500_thumb.jpg   post-20301-0-05529600-1443947989_thumb.jpg  post-20301-0-88696700-1443948002_thumb.jpg 


I realize appearance is not end-of-the-world important, but they also have another advantage. This particular tea friend has arthritic hands and finds it difficult to pry the tight lid off the metal tea box. That tightness keeps the tea fresh, but makes getting it out an unfriendly task. She can now transfer a month’s worth of tea into these and it will be easier to use day to day.


They are from a suburb of Jingdezhen 景德镇 (actually a small town next door that is kind of an insider's secret) and cost 20 Yuan each, less than a Big Mac down at the corner. The pencil is to give you an idea of the size. I would guess each one holds 50 or 75 Grams, depending on the kind of leaves.




I also have two clay ones from Jianshui 建水 which I use for Pu’er; one for ripe and one for raw 生。I pry a bunch of leaves off the cake so I don't have to do that step every time. The dark clay from Jianshui, here in Yunnan, is an excellent material and is a fraction of the cost of Yixing 宜兴 because it is not as well known. Goes by the name 紫陶 instead of 紫砂。


Next there’s the 茶漏 wooden collar, which makes it neater to scrape tea into a teapot which has a small mouth. This particular teapot has a generous mouth, so I actually could manage quite well without it. When brewing in a gaiwan, it isn’t used.


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You first show the dry leaves to your guests, presenting the platter from your left to your right and tell them about the properties that distinguish this particular tea, maybe where was grown and when it was picked. Then you hold it in your left hand and with the tool shown below, gently scrape some with the flat end into the teapot or gaiwan. That tool is called a 茶拨 here in Yunnan. In Taiwan, a different term was used.  


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The tongs or 夹子 are used when warming and washing the small individual drinking cups 品茗杯。


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A word about the tea towel 茶巾。If possible you really should get one; costs about 10 Yuan. Any time you pick something up, whether it’s a gaiwan or pitcher or drinking cup, you need to blot the water from the bottom so it won’t drip. You touch it quickly on the 茶巾 before putting it down someplace else. That important step is called 拭水 shi shui.


post-20301-0-54781900-1443948959_thumb.jpg  post-20301-0-02236700-1443948977_thumb.jpg 


If you don’t have one, best not to volunteer a real good towel from the kitchen or bathroom because tea makes stains that will never wash out. Instead just dedicate one single, dark-colored towel for tea use.


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Set each cup on a coaster 杯垫 before serving. Don’t need to use the tongs for this; fingers are fine.


There are countless other little adornments and gadgets. But better gear will not necessarily mean that you can make better tea. Careful attention to buying good leaf, storing it properly, using the right amount each time, brewing with good water heated to the proper temperature, and steeping just long enough are the really essential elements. These should form the core of a tea person’s mantra.


I must openly admit to having a bias: namely that making good tea doesn’t need to be complex. You can get by very well without a whole lot of stuff. I’ve been making tea a relatively long time and only recently bought most of these things, though I admit it that shopping for them was fun. 


For example, here are two easy and inexpensive setups. A serving plate or just a bamboo mat. The mat even rolls up for storage.


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If worse comes to worst, most of the time you can even use the Grandpa Method in a screw-top mug, such as this one that I drank from while preparing this long post. A delicious aged Pu’er was my fuel.



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By all means, @889. The nearby small town was 新厂 in 珠山区, about 30 minutes south of Jingdezhen city center. My maps are not working tonight (very slow internet,) so I can't tell for sure whether or not it was actually a Jingdezhen suburb.


The main thing is that this area mostly had small family-factory workshops and only some of the wares were displayed on shelves in a dusty, poorly-lit storefront. Others were in boxes out of sight, but they would open them and take out the items once they knew you were interested.


They didn't get many walk-in customers, and they shipped most of their output to the larger city-center stores. I would imagine those nice retail stores, with their museum-like showrooms and well-dressed staff, took a hefty mark-up. That's where the bus tours stopped, not out in the boonies.


Now that I think about it, I found a similar set up in Yixing 宜兴 and even in Jianshui 建水。Namely, a cluster of nondescript workshops with zero curb appeal, situated well outside the main "downtown" tourist zone. No glamor, no glossy brochures, no pressure to buy; but better prices and a chance to talk with some of the artisans face to face.


Besides getting a nice tea set, I had some questions I wanted to ask, and this gave me an opportunity to meet someone besides a 售货员。 One thing I asked several times was, "Why does this teapot only cost 100 Yuan, and that one costs over a thousand?


One friendly young gentleman told me he and his sister did the decoration and his wife and her brothers worked in back making the  pots. He didn't answer right away, but insisted on sitting down and brewing us some tea.


What it eventually came down to was that on some tricky designs they had to throw away 5 or 6 pots that warped or cracked when fired for every one that made it through. Then, of those, sometimes the lid didn't fit snugly or the glazing was flawed. He started holding up cups to a strong naked light bulb and showing me tiny imperfections I would never have noticed.


Spent most of a day going door to door on foot. At noon, one of the shops invited me to share a simple lunch with the staff. Wound up being an education for me.

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@889 --


I've often wondered how those bricks are used, or whether they're just for decoration (or investment).


About the tea brick 茶砖 -- What I've found is that lots of the older 熟普洱 comes in that form. They are 250 Grams instead of the usual 375 for the cakes 茶饼。


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This particular one is from Menghai 勐海县城 in Xishuangbanna Prefecture 西双版纳州。It's one of my favorites, especially when the weather gets cold. I go back year after year to the same seller. Always just buy two, one for me and one for a close friend back home who likes this tea above all others. If I remember right, last time it was about 300 Yuan for each cake.


They didn't start putting the date on bricks of Pu'er until 2008. At least it wasn't a requirement before then. So lots of old tea, such as this piece, just say 陈年 and you have to know the maker or seller for any more information beyond that.


In the photo above, I wanted to show the 内票 along with the tea brick. It's the label that is partly imbedded in the tea. Supposed to help reduce counterfeiting. Round cakes have them too.



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Many thanks. I think you may be talking about the old compound of the 雕塑瓷厂 at 29°18'11.82"N 117°14'58.65"E on E Xinchang Road. It's vast and filled with shops and workshops, as well as an outdoor market on weekends. You can also study pottery there. It's about 30 minutes east of central JDZ, and much worth a visit.


Apart from the 雕塑瓷厂, there are many other potteries clustered throughout JDZ.

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