Introduction to Chaozhou Teapots 潮州手拉壶
After patiently waiting, I finally received Master Lin’s teapots. Unable to travel home this year, Master Lin gave me a virtual tour of his studio in Chaozhou via video chat. His passion for the craft was infectious. It’s an honor to bring some of his creations to show teaphiles. (Of course, I myself am keeping a few of these as well). I unboxed each with excitement and wondered how little is known about Chaozhou pottery. In the world of gongfu cha tea pots, Yixing teapots have made its waves. Folks are slowly catching up to the crafts of Chaozhou pottery.
Since Song Dynasty, gongfu cha as a way of life, a discipline to tea brewing, has become the stable norm in Chaozhou culture. In Teochew (Chaozhou) dialect we say “eat tea”, as suppose to “drink tea”. Tea is as crucial to Chaozhou folks as food!
Red clay (zhu ni) teaware with three small cups – no matter where you are going and who you are meeting, these gongfu cha necessities are always present. Yixing pots inspired Chaozhou folks to craft their own teaware. Many traditional shapes are made, similar to Yixings today. If you look closer, you will find there are distinctive characteristics of Chaozhou pots.
Chaozhou teapots are always designed and crafted with gongfu cha in mind. Construction has to ensure it will serve as the best vessel for tea brewing. Upon examining, Chaozhou clay is finer, and the walls of these pots are thinner. For these reasons, they wouldn’t affect the taste of tea leaves as much as Yixing or Jianshui teapots, making it suitable for teas with high fragrance and brighter notes as well as more roasted, and fermented teas.
The capacity is meant for gongfu cha. This is why you will find they are always at around 100 ml. The handle is constructed so one can securely pour the teapot after a less than 10-second infusion using almost boiling water.
Like many art movements, you start refining your craft by copying. If you ever had the chance to see antique Chaozhou teapots made some decades ago, you will find the skills and crafts were poor and aesthetically, nothing special. Nowadays, Chaozhou teapot masters not only have perfected in producing traditional shapes, they are also experimenting to design shapes that attract collectors. You will find personal touches and small tweaks to Xi Shi, Si Ting, or the likes. And some designs are completely different from any you have seen before. For example this pot from Master Lin:
Unlike Yixing pots, all Chaozhou pots are hand-pulled and formed on a wheel that spins 300 rounds per minute. Every line has to be even. If you have the pleasure of witnessing a teapot maker at work, you will see they carefully measure to make sure the difference isn’t greater than 1 mm. To carve and perfect the pot body before firing takes at least an hour. Here they will make sure the difference isn’t greater than 0.2 mm.
The success rate is low during these first stages. This is another reason why it takes one-three days only to make one fully handpulled Chaozhou pot. The handle and lid are constructed off the wheel. All by hand.
Reinterpretation of classic shapes is one of the many reasons why teapot masters do what they do. They take pride in these details that might be hard to spot right away…that will be for another discussion.