A Tea Addict's Journal

The King of Pots

July 18, 2011 · 9 Comments

One of the great things about being in a place like Hong Kong, rather than being stuck in Maine, is that there are a lot more tea people out here.  Drinking tea alone is quite common in the US, but here you can always find a drinking mate if you need one.  Since I have returned I have yet to visit a teashop of any kind, and haven’t really taken advantage of my situation here.  Today, while I was out and about, I stopped by a shop when there was an hour between engagements, and ran into someone I’ve met before — someone who is nicknamed the King of Pots.

This guy taught me a few things before when I met him at the Best Tea House some years ago while I was hanging out there.  One of the most important things I learned was that when looking at someone else’s pot, put down the lid or the body and only look at the other.  Don’t hold the lid while you’re examining someone’s pot, or the pot while you’re actually just looking at the lid — that’s rude, and may damage the ware by accident.  I’ve met many people who do this sort of thing since then, and have passed on this rule, which I think is very sensible.  I’m sure the King of Pots himself was scolded for doing it, just like he scolded me when I did it to his pot.

Seeing him again this time is quite lucky, really, because otherwise I have no way to contact him, and I would love to learn more from him as he has hundreds, if not thousands, of pots, and has certainly seen more pots than I have had teas.  Not all of his pots are good — I saw one today that was only so so, but as he explained, you don’t need a vintage or famous pot.  If you use your pot often and it’s made of decent clay, that’s better than a Ming dynasty pot that’s been sitting next to a dead body for the last 300 years.  Of course, it’s much easier to say that when you’ve got as many pots as you do.

Now, not all of what he knows or believes in is going to be correct.  He told me today that he also started by drinking tea and learning from Vesper Chan of Best Tea House, but like many others, he has since grown out of it and rarely goes back there.  I count myself in the same category, although a few generations behind him.  What we have both learned in that regard is that people who you revere as teachers early on often turn out to be, at the very least, not all right, and sometimes downright wrong.  Yet, Mr. Chan continues to attract students and adherents who go and buy his stuff, while many older students fall out of the circle.  He’s doing a service to the tea community in that he’s attracting people to come, but very often, people don’t stay as they start wandering around for other sources of things and find out more for themselves.

People like the King of Pots are the tea people I like the most — they drink with an open mind and who are welcoming of newer ideas, who want to try new things, and who’s not afraid to challenge perceived “authority” figures, who, sadly, are often just big sellers with a strong vested interest in teaching you about certain things.  I respect the King of Pots, but I also know that he’s not likely to be correct on all things, and our exchanges often turn into just that – exchanges of information, when both of us can contribute to each other’s knowledge.  Too often, I see people who are attached to one teacher and who just believe in everything the person says about tea.  It’s more understandable if it happens in places like Maine or Minnesota, but seeing people like that in Hong Kong or Taiwan or China really makes me cringe.  Learning from others with more experiences makes your progress in tea go faster, but equally important is the use of a critical mind.  That’s what I teach my students in the classroom, and that’s what I try to practice, and sometimes, like this post, spills over into the blog.

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9 responses so far ↓

  • gingko // July 18, 2011 at 1:40 pm | Reply

    I like what he said about using a teapot to make it nicer!
    I’ve seen quite a few discussions on Chinese forums about tea sellers playing the role of tea mentor. Although many of them are very knowledgeable, obviously there is conflict of interest. Besides, in Chinese culture, people are more “religious” about their teachers than in western culture. In real life, I’ve seen some buyers calling the owners of the teashop they frequent “teacher”, but in more of a joking and friendly-manner way. In puerh world, there seems to be more of the seller/teacher phenomenon, and often it’s not only teaching of particular facts, but a whole system and school of theories – while academic institutions don’t have comparable amount of theories about puerh yet. It’s not all bad, but indeed of some concern.

    • MarshalN // July 19, 2011 at 9:12 pm | Reply

      Yes — and those school of theories change from time to time to suit what’s being sold, which is the most frustrating part for a lot of people and why many eventually leave and find their own path.

  • Lew Perin // July 19, 2011 at 10:11 am | Reply

    If you use your pot often and it’s made of decent clay, that’s better than a Ming dynasty pot that’s been sitting next to a dead body for the last 300 years.
    I would like to see this engraved in marble. The only thing I can add is that if you know your pot is new you know it hasn’t been lying next to a corpse for 300 years!

  • Tang Dynasty // July 19, 2011 at 8:44 pm | Reply

    Good that you are back in your element. My introduction to the tea culture was a stay in Hong Kong in 1995. I have a memory of seeing compressed tea in the shape of a wheel hanging from a peg on the wall of a tea shop. Maybe it was my imagination.

  • Su Ming Ng // July 20, 2011 at 9:02 am | Reply

    Actually , even here in Malaysia , many tea vendors have taken to teaching students tea appreciation. I think by going to these tea masters , you’re limiting yourself to just those teas that the particular shop sells. They invariably tell you that something you’ve bought from elsewhere is no good.

  • MikeC // August 31, 2011 at 4:36 am | Reply

    It’s certainly a wonderful experience tasting tea at various outlets in Hong Kong. I am lucky because my wife is Chinese, and can translate for me, so I have learned a lot from these relaxing one-on-one sessions, picking the brains of tea experts. I keep away from upmarket, shopping centre outlets, where it can be “just a job” for young sales staff, and prices can be exorbitant (think of their rents). We go for the Chinese emporium in Jordan, and back-street shops we have stumbled across. Here, you find experts who really love their tea. Some of our tea-tasting sessions have been up to two hours long. Always buy from someone who you can tell loves tea and teapots. You’ll not regret it, and you will learn a lot..

  • Von Monstro // April 24, 2014 at 5:03 am | Reply

    Many posts on this blog leave me closing my eyes and nodding my head in agreement. This post, especially the closing statements, had that effect. Part of me feels that I should be more specific, but I think we have both already come to the same conclusions here and need not say more at this time. Feeling that way is rare and, I’ve come to believe, one of most true ways to connect and adequately communicate.

    Thanks for being a relatable mind.

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