One of the great things about being in a place like Hong Kong, rather than being stuck in Maine, is that there are a lot more tea people out here. Drinking tea alone is quite common in the US, but here you can always find a drinking mate if you need one. Since I have returned I have yet to visit a teashop of any kind, and haven’t really taken advantage of my situation here. Today, while I was out and about, I stopped by a shop when there was an hour between engagements, and ran into someone I’ve met before — someone who is nicknamed the King of Pots.
This guy taught me a few things before when I met him at the Best Tea House some years ago while I was hanging out there. One of the most important things I learned was that when looking at someone else’s pot, put down the lid or the body and only look at the other. Don’t hold the lid while you’re examining someone’s pot, or the pot while you’re actually just looking at the lid — that’s rude, and may damage the ware by accident. I’ve met many people who do this sort of thing since then, and have passed on this rule, which I think is very sensible. I’m sure the King of Pots himself was scolded for doing it, just like he scolded me when I did it to his pot.
Seeing him again this time is quite lucky, really, because otherwise I have no way to contact him, and I would love to learn more from him as he has hundreds, if not thousands, of pots, and has certainly seen more pots than I have had teas. Not all of his pots are good — I saw one today that was only so so, but as he explained, you don’t need a vintage or famous pot. If you use your pot often and it’s made of decent clay, that’s better than a Ming dynasty pot that’s been sitting next to a dead body for the last 300 years. Of course, it’s much easier to say that when you’ve got as many pots as you do.
Now, not all of what he knows or believes in is going to be correct. He told me today that he also started by drinking tea and learning from Vesper Chan of Best Tea House, but like many others, he has since grown out of it and rarely goes back there. I count myself in the same category, although a few generations behind him. What we have both learned in that regard is that people who you revere as teachers early on often turn out to be, at the very least, not all right, and sometimes downright wrong. Yet, Mr. Chan continues to attract students and adherents who go and buy his stuff, while many older students fall out of the circle. He’s doing a service to the tea community in that he’s attracting people to come, but very often, people don’t stay as they start wandering around for other sources of things and find out more for themselves.
People like the King of Pots are the tea people I like the most — they drink with an open mind and who are welcoming of newer ideas, who want to try new things, and who’s not afraid to challenge perceived “authority” figures, who, sadly, are often just big sellers with a strong vested interest in teaching you about certain things. I respect the King of Pots, but I also know that he’s not likely to be correct on all things, and our exchanges often turn into just that – exchanges of information, when both of us can contribute to each other’s knowledge. Too often, I see people who are attached to one teacher and who just believe in everything the person says about tea. It’s more understandable if it happens in places like Maine or Minnesota, but seeing people like that in Hong Kong or Taiwan or China really makes me cringe. Learning from others with more experiences makes your progress in tea go faster, but equally important is the use of a critical mind. That’s what I teach my students in the classroom, and that’s what I try to practice, and sometimes, like this post, spills over into the blog.