Wednesday, January 14, 2009

CCCI Yixing

I always planned to acquire another yixing teapot, but I figured it would be wiser to figure out what's wrong with the CCCI bug and gourd yixing I have now, and get a teapot that doesn't have those flaws.  Besides, teapots don't grow on trees nor does money.

But I've had the CCCI yixing teapot for a while and I can name all of its attributes, both negative and positive:

The negatives: It's a little larger than I'd like (180 ml) which means I have to limit my cups of tea per day to 5 (about 2 full sized cups or 500 milliliters), and miss out on tastes of the pu'er as it opens up to each infusion.  Which is kind of a bummer, since I've tried continuing infusions from previous days, but the resulting tea is always a little thinner and harder to coax flavors out than if I'd continued my tea session.  It also takes longer for the cups of tea to cool down between infusions, so having 5 cups of tea takes more than half an hour.  On the weekends and late afternoons, being able to enjoy tea for a half hour is great, but in the morning during the week it's impractical.  

Also, because of the time between infusions, the teapot cools a little which weakens the taste of some sheng pu'er-but not all.  The Kunming Guyi 2006 Jingmai Spring seems to be the most susceptible, with the Xiaguan 2007 Bao Yan being the least.

The biggest flaws are the spout and the lid-but from what I've heard, this isn't uncommon.  The spout is quite narrow and it has an internal filter.  This makes the pour a little slow at 10 seconds, but it's something that can be accounted for.  It's just that I wish the person designing the teapot went with either a narrow spout sans filter, or a wide spout with a filter.  We live in a far from perfect world, and when any bit of broken sheng makes its way into the teapot, it lodges in the filter where it is met by its cousin, then brother, then sister, and soon the entire filter is clogged with tea "mulch."  I suppose I could relegate the yixing to solely whole leaf or long leaf sheng pu'er, but I'm trying to get the whole-leaf sheng bings that I have to age, and I'm sampling them intermittently.  The teapot would rarely get used if I went this route.  Removing the filter or having a wide spout would solve the problem of the stopped pour, since a wide spout would have more paths for the tea to go, and a narrow spout without a filter wouldn't offer as much resistance to broken tea leaves to pass through.

The other biggest flaw is the lid.  The lid fit isn't quite airtight, but it prevents most of the tea from flowing out of the top instead of the spout.  And that's fine.  It's my ability to hold the actual lid which is a major flaw.  The lid handle is a bug which measures all of 2 centimeters long and .5 centimeters high, making it impossible to grab when I need to remove it, and the handle is so close to the lid and boiling hot tea that it's really hot to hold. So if it isn't impossible to hold on to, it's too hot to handle.  Today was the last straw; I formed my fingers into pinchers and attempted to grab the lid handle, which shot out of my fingers and chipped for the second time on a hard surface.  One more chip, and the crack on the inside of the handle will definitely widen and cleave the whole thing in two.  

And I should probably mention that the teapot is first slipcast to give its shape and then worked by inexperienced artisans.  The result is that the teapot has a blueish tinge from the different colored duanni clay where someone attempted to get the drying clay off by rubbing it with a finger, and then scraping with tools around the vine handle.  There's also a large, noticeable seam on the outside of the teapot, and the inside of is rough looking.  It appears that someone ran their hands along the inside of the pot...for whatever reason, so that the inside is composed of little valleys and ridges made of someone's fingers.  And the handle developed a crack where it joins with the body of the teapot, but it's stabilized for the moment.

I don't mind the teapot being slipcast, though I'm starting to doubt this method would leave lots of air pockets in the clay, enhancing its insulating properties.  If I wanted a handmade yixing teapot from the studio of a master artisan, I would purchase several bonds, wait for them to mature in 10 years, commission one, and then yell unprintable curses when a mover accidentally drops a box containing it.  It's just that with the finish of my teapot being this rough, the overall integrity of the teapot comes into question.  Will the seam come apart over the years? Will the handle completely crack off? Will some other unknown flaw reveal itself in a stupendous manner?

Enough of the negatives.  So what are the positives? It holds tea, has good heat retaining quality, and is pleasing to look at.  But, I'm still taking those positives with a grain of salt since this is my first yixing teapot.  It "rounds" the tea off, removing any bitterness or off-flavors, but I'm debating whether this is caused by lack of seasoning or the properties of duanni compared to zisha or zhuni or what have ye.

I decided to relegate the bug and gourd yixing to solely shu pu'er, and it had its first session today.  I'm kind of irked that it didn't release any of the sheng pu'er flavors with the shu, but I have to realize that the quality of clay that's been slip-cast is less than ideal.  But, the need for a fast pour isn't as dire with shu pu'er, and I'm sure the teapot will serve well.

The new teapot that I ordered online is a plain, 120 ml volume yixing teapot that has a nice looking spout.  This wasn't exactly an order based on faith; I'd heard of another guy buying an yixing from the vendor and he said that the pour was great, the lid fit was tight, and the whole thing was solid.  Which is something I certainly look for in a teapot.

As of right now, though, I don't plan on buying anymore yixings. If I happen to drop a teapot, my cup will have to suffice for a while...
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