Chinese art has many themes that spread across different medium of expression. “Squirrels and grapes” 松鼠葡萄 Sōngshǔ pútao theme is one of the many popular theme. Its’ meaning can be metaphorically translated as “abundance in fortune and offsprings”.
This theme is widely depicted in various Chinese art medium e.g. in paintings, porcelain, carvings and Yixing teapots. Art collector sometimes like to collect the same theme in different medium. This is one of my favorite theme too. The level of appreciation can be thoroughly enjoyed even though they are depicted in different mediums. It seems to unify the different medium together and enhance the level of enjoyment.
Here is three different mediums from my collection which depict the squirrels and grapes theme.
A painting done in squirrel and grapes theme.
A soapstone carving done in squirrels and grapes theme.
And finally, a 1970s large Yixing teapot done in squirrels and grapes theme.
It is really so delightful to watch the expression of the squirrels in the presence of abundant grapes.
There is an elaborate article on tea in one of our national newspaper ZaoBao 早报 today(27th, July 2014). I was one of those interviewed and this blog is also featured in the article. However, there is a typo error on the web address and I will re-tag it for the search engine to direct it here. The correct address should be http://www.teaism99.com instead of http://www.teasism99.com
For those who finally made it here…a big WELCOME to my humble tea blog. Thank you very much for visiting.
One of the most important question in tea appreciation is :
What is our purpose of drinking tea?
Think about it carefully as the answer will shape our attitute and approach towards tea. It is a life long question and the answer will evolve from time to time but it will guide us from getting lost in the complex macrocosm world of tea.
Do we drink tea for meditative purpose?
Do we drink tea for health reason?
Do we drink tea for social status or trying to look cool and exotic?
Do we drink tea for artistic pursuit?
Do we drink tea solely for the pure enjoyment of the highest quality of tea?
Do we drink tea for cultural purpose?
~ The Chazhou peoples’ purpose is to seek the highest quality in tea. Their approach is simplistic on the teawares but highly intricate on their brewing skills to achieve the highest quality of the brew.
~ Some people just enjoy collecting and researching on teapots. Tea is just some drink that comes along while they are busy with the teapots. Tea is a by-product of teapots culture to them.
~ Some people drink tea to pursue tea and tea related knowledge.
~ Some people just like to enjoy the calming effect of the ritual of brewing tea. The atmosphere and environment is utmost important to them. Tea is just part of the element to enhance their mental state.
~ Some people treat tea like stock market, investing in any tea that they think will give a big margin of profits without any genuine interest in tea.
~ Some people drink tea for bragging rights.
~ Some people drink tea for health reason, they feel great and feel healthy after drinking tea, so the overall physical well being is important to them.
When I started drinking tea in the 1970s, it was an act of eventuality as the place I stayed was immersed with tea culture. Tea was served everywhere in lieu of water. I just drank tea casually and follow the tide blindly, tasting tea without thinking, buying tea and teawares without reasoning. It was just part of the culture that many drifted without any sense of purpose and direction.
I was lost in the complex world of tea and then, this question came about and charted the path to a clearer direction. It was then in early 1990s, with a sense of purpose, I extended my interest in tea seriously. My purpose changed and evolved over the period of time but always moving to a higher hierarchy.
My current purpose is to go back to the basics of tea. It is a solitary quest to explore the tangibles and intangibles attributes of tea through a perpetual cycle of learning and de-learning process. Nothingness becomes everything and everything become nothing again and the cycle continues perpetually.
With this guided purpose, I began to enjoy the fundamentals of tea. The tangibles of tea skills and knowledge are keenly perused and instinctively refined. Invariably, the intangibles will reveal itself naturally and lead the path to nature, peace, harmony and tranquility.
Always drink tea with a good purpose, then only we can achieve peace, harmony and tranquility within ourselves.
Without purpose, we will be lost in the complex world of tea and might end up with a lot of confusion, yearning for the undesirables and accumulation of the unnecessaries beyond our comprehension. With a good purpose, we will chart the correct path and ultimately achieve enlightenment in tea.
Three footed Yixing teapots are rare. It is an interesting design expression to incorporate three small feet at the base of the teapot. Generically called three footed pot, 三足壶 (sānzúhú) to describe the three footed expression on the pot. They can be seen in different Yixing teapots types and designs.
Generally, the feet are for aesthetic expression but it works well functionally too, lifting the body of the pot from the base thus making the surface area of the whole teapot exposed to external homogeneuosly. From tea brewing perspective, it has better the advantage of achieving a more uniform temperature control of the brew in the teapot.
The photos below are few examples of these rare teapots in different design e.g. sān zú yú huà lóng hú 三足鱼化龙壶, sān zú yú shuǐpíng hú 三足水平壶:
Ha ha! It is always my nutty gambol when it comes to matcha day. I love a quick fix of matcha. An overpowering kick in the tastebuds to short-circuit all the sensories and olfactories formality with an exhilarating and invigorating fix.
Matcha is a potent Japanese powdered green tea. A dash of the tea powder is pressed through a sieve to ensure no coagulation and then transferred into a matcha bowl (Chawan). Warm water is added and they are whisked with bamboo whisk. I enjoyed the whisking process; often jive with my silly gambol while whisking with accompanying Latin jazz to move and sync along…oh yeah!
The whisking and whipping process makes the tea frothy with creamy small bubbles, like espuma and I would just suck the froth in and hiss… Ahhh! it is really exhilarating as the power packed tea hits all the sensory receptors making them all bling and shout …TEA! TEA!TEA!
Ahhh! it is my silly macha gambol again. Enjoying tea in its raw and purest form.
Fluid dynamics is the science of studying fluids in motion. Although it has little to do with teawares, I always thought of this phrase when I see the carvings on yixings teapots and wares. The expression and strokes of the carving on some Yixing teapots and wares always looks so fluid and dynamic.
Normally, the carvings on Yixing teapots and wares are done by the potter or specialist carver. The fluid and dynamic strokes of the experienced carver is really very hard to emulate unless one has gone through thousands and thousands of carvings over many years.
In the cultural revolution period of the 1960-1970s and through to 1990s, many of the carvers were just factory workers in Yixing as teapots were mass produced there by the hundreds of thousands. Usually the production batch consist of some popular theme and the same carver will carved the same theme over and over again by the thousands. With the huge amount of repetitive carving, the carving knives metamorphosed into a very dynamic fluid strokes and expression, capturing the spirit of the subject.
As a result of this very high level of craftsmanship in the carving of older pots and wares, the fluid dynamics of the carving strokes can be used as a tell tale sign for authenticating pots of certain eras. It is really almost impossible to fake such level of carving unless the carver has gone through thousands of carvings over many years.
It is such a delight to enjoy the dynamism and fluidity expressions of the carving done by experienced carver. The strokes and rhythm naturally just flow with the spirit, culmunating to a higher and higher level of artistic expression.
Once my tea master, Sifu, 師父, made this statement in response to my casual remarks of good and bad tea day. I thought it was a bit blunt but after I pondered for a while, I realised that it was a reality check for me. Oh yes! I was to be blamed for having a bad tea day because my tea brewing skill was not good enough. Perhaps it was a subtle message to ask me to work harder and think harder. I worked hard, thought hard and kept this reality check in view and then I finally saw some light with lesser and lesser bad tea day.
Eventually, after many years, the notion of a bad tea day still haunts me but kept in abeyance unless I get sloppy with my brewing skill again.
Finally, my tea master concluded this notion for me by saying: Control your tea and don’t let your tea control you, then there is no such thing as a bad tea day.
Until today, every time when I brew tea, I hold this thought firmly in my mind. Of course, I was fortunate to go through with him for years on how to control tea.
Remember, control your tea and don’t let your tea control you then there is no such thing as a bad tea day. “
An ambivert is an intermediate character between an extrovert and an introvert. It is an easy character to relate to, having the best of both worlds in different situations. Sometimes we need to be quiet and sometimes we need to be assertive. Tea behaves this way too. I often use the term “ambivert stage” to describe Sheng Puer tea that is in the transition phase of changing from the vibrant young to the mellowed aged tea. This is one of the most exciting stage in the aging of Puer tea.
I have been following the aging process of sheng Puer for many years. It is the real joy in tea appreciation. Most of the time when a new tea is vigourously tested and approved to be in my good book, I would procure a dozen or two pieces of the tea. From the day of purchase, I will drink the tea often and experience its’ aging process. I often drink them leisurely but every quarterly, I would be more rigorous and thorough in the tasting process to enhance my understanding of the tea.
A Sheng Puer should be tasted frequently to experience its aging process. It is like growing and maturing with it. At every stage of its aging process, it will reveal new personality, talk to you differently and sometimes surprises you. Sometimes it makes you smile and sometimes it challenged you to accept its’ new character. The guessing game of what it would turn out be next, is equally exciting. Even iconic tea like Lao Banzhang is still in the questionable stage and there is not certainty that it will be a great tea until proven so in future. That is the joy and beauty of keeping and aging tea, which is to grow with it. There is no point buying a Puer tea and hoping to enjoy it many years later or bet that it will be great when it is old. Just like life, we must enjoy the journey, not the destination.
At ambivert stage, the Sheng Puer is usually around about 10 years of age plus minus one or two years. It is the period of when the tea is approaching maturity, but still have its youthful vigor.
I recalled a special tea, a 2002 wild spring Da Xue Shan, 大雪山野生荼, which make my life so wonderful for many months when it reached 10 years of storage. The tea was changing its character every few days. It is at the stage of mellowing down to a smooth aged tea while still revealing its vigor and youthful vitality. The dynamism and constant struggle between being introvert and extrovert is really so exciting. The taste, the texture, the aroma, the body and whole language of that tea changes and evolve in every few days. It was really a wonderful experience beyond description.
Eventually after that ambivert stage, the tea will mellowed down to something more constant but the complexity, Qi and the spiritual growth of the tea will continue further for many years.
Enjoy your tea from day one and grow with it so that you will understand and appreciate it even more. Just like our children, we don’t put them in childcare and collect them only when they grew up. Grow with them and have a wonderful life journey with them. Likewise for your tea.
Ambivert stage is the most exciting stage in aging Puer tea. It is the stage when the tea changes dynamically over a short period of a few months, erratically revealing all its personality, potential, vigour and vibrancy. It is the most exciting and joyous period of enjoying the tea beyond any description.