by kate on September 13th, 2011
Jen: I had two experiences on my Spring trip to China that were not directly to do with tea. One was hunting for bamboo shoots in the jungle around the tea farm in Fujian. It was wild territory (we saw snakes) and battling through the dense bamboo to find the fat, young succulent shoots was deeply satisfying. They were easy to snap off and carry home in a bundle – then we peeled, chopped and steamed them for supper.
The other experience was spending time in the shop/workshop of National Craft Master Gao Jian Jun. He is a friendly, cheerful, charmingly distracted man with a dedicated following. The area was crammed with teapots, cups and canisters, all in different shades of Yixing clay. Not everything on display was his own work. There were some eccentric sculptural pieces – and pots in the shape of boys peeing, smiling animals and knotted tree trunks . . . But the Yixing teapots were perfect.
He handed me a lump of precious purple clay and told me to press it out in the style of a nursery school pinch pot – meanwhile he swiftly rolled, cut and shaped his piece of clay into the start of an elegant teapot. Making a Yixing teapot is a long, slow, highly skilled process. Click here if you want to watch a video of a pot being made – and you have an hour and half to spare . . .
When it came to placing an order for the teapots he was going to make for us, it was not entirely straightforward. You can try to specify a certain number of pots in a specific style – but the Master is an artist. He doesn’t just churn them out and will make the ones he feels like in his own time. Fair enough.
As with China tea, you really need to know and trust your sources. There are many imitation Yixing teapots made from inferior materials and it’s crucial to find the genuine article if you are going to get the most from your tea. If you want an original Gao Jian Jun piece, the details for each pot including the potter’s name are on the website.
And do look after your Yixing teapot – one day it may be very valuable. A 1948 purple clay Yixing zisha teapot by the master ceramicist Gu Jingzhou sold last year for nearly $2 million at the China Guardian auction in Beijing.