A Tea Addict's Journal

Teapot mysteries again

April 1, 2008 · 9 Comments

First of all, thanks for those comments, as I try to plug the holes in the article and make it a little better.

Here’s some more of that “is that really true?” business with teapots.

I remember one of the very first things I learned with pots is that they need to be well made. Ok, but what’s well made? Well, it means that they should

1) be well made
2) pour well
3) good to handle

Now, I don’t think anybody will have any sort of problem with any of these issues, and neither do I. However, I do have some issues with the way things have been portrayed or interpreted.

For example, I have been told before that to test whether or not whether a lid is well made, one puts water into the pot, put the lid on, and then pour water out. First of all, the stream of water should be smooth and doesn’t break for a long time. Second, when you put your finger on the air hole, the stream of water should stop completely — this is, supposedly, evidence of a well fitted lid and a well made pot. Good for purchase.

That’s the part that I’m questioning these days. My black pot, which makes good tea, leaks when you pour. It does not stop flowing when you put your finger on the air hole. In fact, it hardly slows when you do that. The lid is fitted, but not well fitted, obviously. The pouring is good, but not fantastic. But… it makes good tea.

Since when did it matter whether or not a pot stops pouring entirely when you push on the air hole? How does it affect tea making? In the days before machine made pots, could one truly expect such things from a teapot?

I’m not so sure. I don’t see how that has anything to do with the making of tea. That’s an action that nobody would ever perform when pouring tea out of a pot. Obviously, a lid that is so loose as to leak water profusely out of the lid is no good, but that’s an obvious case of poor make. A pot that doesn’t stop entirely when you plug the air hole, or a pot that has a stream that starts breaking earlier than others, is not a pot that will kill you.

The lid leaking a bit when you’re pouring is a bit of an annoyance, but it’s not a deal killer either, as long as you learn how to use a pot and control it properly. The only thing I can think of when that can be a problem is when you try to do it Chaozhou style, and the lid leaks tea everywhere. But that’s something that can be managed.

If anything, I think a well made pot needs to be made of 1) good clay, 2) good pour (including a fast pour…. not too slow, as some pots are prone to do) and 3) good handling. But ultimately… it needs to make good tea. A pot that doesn’t make good tea, in my opinion, is a useless pot. I don’t know how a tight fitted lid has anything to do with it.

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9 responses so far ↓

  • behhl // April 1, 2008 at 1:49 am | Reply

    Pot buyer falls into two categories and the range in between: one end is tea drinker (taste is everything) and the other end is pot collector (aesthetics is everything). Most of us fall somewhere in between.

    Fit of cover, finish, decoration etc all only affect aesthetics (ie: able to set selling price and critical review of completed pot).

    From the mouth of a Sifu pot maker if we talk of tea quality, main main main important No.1 is Clay Quality. The pouring time etc affect brewing, but the crux and foundation is always Clay Quality. Without this forget about cover fit etc in terms of taste. This is a black hole subject, as in my experience only if you know the potter and he can tell you source of his clay ok, if not this is super minefield. Best is make tea, if good taste then no question.

    If talk of clay quality this is again another essay by itself. For example clay quality is not only about source but about the processing (refinement) and the beating at the potter’s hand … your next post?.

  • anotherteablog // April 1, 2008 at 2:50 am | Reply

    I always felt the suction test was much more of a testament to the craftsmanship, the precision, of the pot, and had very little to do with the pots ability to make tea.

    My hand thrown pots have excellent suction, so I think it is quite possible to get that level of “quality” from pots that were made prior to machines. 

  • HobbesOxon // April 1, 2008 at 3:59 am | Reply

    Yes, I agree with the above comments regarding the element of craftsmanship – speaking personally, it’s not just about function for me (though obviously making good tea is a basic requirement of a pot).

    I seem to recall you writing previously that you’re more of a functional tea drinker… 🙂



  • MarshalN // April 1, 2008 at 7:30 am | Reply

    But I have a feeling that some of the modern day pots that have good suction and all that are that way not because of good craftsmanship…. but of good tools that help them have that precision.

    I have seen very few “old” pots that have that suction ability….

    And yeah, clay quality is a minefield, and I don’t have a clue when it comes to clay quality

  • Anonymous // April 1, 2008 at 9:01 am | Reply

    The tea is not just a function of pouring a pot. If it was just the equipment, there’d be no gong fu to it. If someone can get good tea out of grandpa style, you could argue that a pot is a placebo.

    A pot is just another tool. You can pound a nail with a rock, or you can use a hammer or a nail gun. The end effect may be the same.

    So, when looking at a tool, is it’s craftsmanship then not important? I would disagree.

    As a hobby potter, I can tell you that it is not beyond mortal means to make a good sealing tea pot without special tools. A simple piece of paper tap’d onto the wet rim of the pot will give you an exact template for the lid.

    Now.. outside of construction, as I’ve said for a while now, the clay does something. And since a pot is made of clay, some pots will chemically affect tea in better ways than others.

    But that is a material issue, and not the construction issue posed here.

  • MarshalN // April 1, 2008 at 9:11 am | Reply

    I think I didn’t make myself entirely clear in my post…

    What I actually wanted to say (and I realized I didn’t really say it) is that there are many ways that a pot can have a tight lid, etc, nowdays. Things like pre-fab mold that helps shape each and every pot perfectly, and new materials (clay) that are easier to control than before when making a pot.

    Which is what I was trying to get at — if we’re just looking for a pot that is collectible, etc, then whatever floats your boat, but if we’re looking also for a tool that can make tea (and I personally think a pot that makes poor tea is not really worth collecting, however nice it looks) then those considerations should come first before the rather arbitrary marker of lid fit and that sort of thing.

  • anotherteablog // April 1, 2008 at 11:46 am | Reply

    “But I have a feeling that some of the modern day pots that have good suction and all that are that way not because of good craftsmanship…. but of good tools that help them have that precision.”

    I see what you are saying.  That’s a good point.

  • MANDARINstea // April 1, 2008 at 9:53 pm | Reply

    if you have a lid which is not turnable, how can it produce good suction? To control the speed of the pour is the most important for a pot. That’s function and craftmanship, not clay quality. Me think-toki

  • MarshalN // April 2, 2008 at 12:33 am | Reply

    But do you really need a lid that fits just right — not too big, not too small?

    So what if a lid is looser and so it doesn’t really seal when you stop the air hole? I still don’t see the need for that.

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