Well, my weeklong Beijing trip has ended. Teawise, it has been rather fruitful. I got six bags of tea, a Puerh cake, and two new pots (not to mention a teabox that is a gift from my girlfriend, on which I will talk more later, and a pile of new, expensive books). Although I only made it to two tea drinking establishments, I did get to visit lots of teashops and just generally being very happy to see lots of tea around me. You never get that in the US. Too bad I got sick twice on the trip, otherwise I would’ve spent more time tea shopping.
Of these new possessions, the pots matter the most. I’ve always needed a new pot for qingxiang oolong, especially since I usually end up drinking lots of Taiwan oolong because they are everywhere. That makes it worthwhile to acquire a new pot for that purpose. There is also another pot that I got that I intend to use for Danchong, or “single bush” tea. It is also a kind of oolong, but in a wiry form rather than the rolled balls form.
It is hard to find nice pots at a reasonable price. Pots sold in the US are usually of two variety. The really fancy looking, exotic shaped ones (what they call “huahu”, patterned pot) or poorly made, simple design pots. I don’t like the fancy pots with dragons and flowers and fruits, and prefer the simple shaped ones. Those are hard to come by in the US, and they are rarely, if ever, under $30 USD, when a non famous pot-maker’s product should cost no more than $5 or $10 USD at best. That, and the fact that most of them are only sold online, makes it an unattractive option.
In China there are lots more places where you can buy pots. There are the tourist traps, the antique markets, the teashops, and the specialty pot shops. Ubiquitous in China are the “mingjiahu” or “famous artisan pot”. They are, more often than not, big, often about 400ml or larger in size. They are also almost always expensive, with a price tag of usually more than $300 USD. For me (or any one tea drinker) they are far too big. The price is often negotiable, and my uncle claimed that he got one pot down from 3000 RMB to 300 (his pot is of the 400 ml variety, way too big). I think the rationale is that people are more willing to put down big bucks to buy a mingjiahu when it’s big, thus making the small pots rare. So, instead, I buy the cheap, non mingjiahus. Since I usually only go with pots that are 100 to 150ml in size, the pots end up costing 100 RMB or less.
At that price range though, there are a lot of crap. In fact, even among the mingjiahus, there are still a lot of crap. I am not good at picking out nice pots, and my experience is pretty limited. From what I have learned though, the most important things, aside from the actual clay, are the fit of the cover, and the way the spout pours. There are some pots that have covers that don’t fit very well at all. when you turn them in the pot, they often don’t turn smoothly or evenly (at least for the ones with round covers). When pouring, if you press on the air hole, the water should stop completely or very near so. The spout should be well formed (not misaligned, as I’ve seen on some pots) and the water should pour well without dripping and the stream should only begin to break a few inches away from the pot. Therefore, a pouring test is a must when buying a new pot.
All these theories though are hard to put into practice, and I’m still fishing my way around finding a nice pot, and probably paying some tuition along the way for some stinky ones (one of my previous pots were discarded). All my pots are rather “young” in seasoning, and I have to work on that. I don’t polish my pots like some people do (essentially, rubbing it with a towel). They make the pots look shinier, but I don’t like that look.
That said, there was a nice, small, mingjiahu I saw in a somewhat shady teahouse. Very well made, although I’m not sure of the clay. Costs too much though, and I have no use for it now with my two new playthings.