Yixing: The City of Pottery

Yixing is a city of artisans responsible for producing China’s most valued teapot.

“A teapot is like a woman,” Meng Hao says, proudly holding a teapot she made. It’s small and plump, hued a deep orange-red coloured. She brushes her finger on the handle’s curvature from bottom to top, taps the lid, and gently touches the spout. “She should be proportional; the lines should match up.”

Yu—part of an artisan community in the city of Yixing, in the Jiangsu province of eastern China—has been making teapots for 20 years. The city, modest by Chinese standards at 1.24 million residents, is responsible for producing China’s most important tea vessel: the Yixing teapot. Fashioned from purple clay, or zisha (紫砂), the Yixing teapot is China’s gold standard when it comes to brewing equipment.

Tea lovers says that, thanks to the clay’s porous nature and its rich mineral content, tea brewed in a Yixing pot develops a much richer flavor, enhanced with kaolin, quartz, mica, and most importantly—high amounts of iron oxide. The high iron content not only contributes to the clay’s texture but even gives the teapot durability.

“The clay teapot is a vessel of beauty and is legendary for its permeable composition,” tea instructor Wijie Kuo, who owns a tea studio in Shanghai, says. “The pores enhance the flavor of tea.”

Further, zisha clay keeps the tea warm for longer periods of time as compared to material such as porcelain, and the pot’s compact size and sturdiness make it portable and practical. During the Ming Dynasty (from 1368 to 1644), tea drinkers especially valued the Yixing pot’s simple design. It was far different from the gaudy gold and silver porcelain pots prized by the vulgar rich.

The history of Yixing as the city of pottery dates back all the way to Neolithic ages, but written records of its crafts didn’t appear until the late Yuan and mid-Ming dynasty periods, which is around the 13th century. Zisha teapots took off in the Ming Dynasty when rolled tea leaves replaces crushed leaves, and teapots became requisite for steeping.

During the 16th century, a man named Gong Chun (供春) popularized zisha teapots. A native of Yixing, Chun was preparing for imperial examinations at a temple when he spotted old Buddhist monks making teapots with local clay. Inquisitive, he gave the craft a try, fashioning a pot that mimicked the porous texture of the gingko tree, an ancient species native to China. Chun was quick to learn, and he eventually went on to start a trend of making small-sized teapots. Nearly 500 years later, the town of Yixing is still synonymous with teapotsand these venerable receptacles are now exported worldwide.

“Everyone who grows up here has some basic knowledge of teapot making,” says 30-year-old Yafang Jiang (蒋亚芳), as she works on a pot in her shop. Jiang started her craft six years ago, and can make one pot from scratch in four to five days, which is the norm. Today she’s working on a pot using zhuni (朱泥) clay. Zisha clay comes in three basic varieties: zini (紫泥), benshanluni (本山绿泥), and zhuni (朱泥). The combination of the clay plus pigment additives yield five different color permutations: purple, red, green, yellow, and black. Zhuni is the most rare variety and also most difficult material to manipulate.

Nearly 500 years later, the town of Yixing is still synonymous with teapots, and these venerable receptacles are now exported worldwide.

Jiang’s headphones are plugged in. Her multitasking skills are impressive; she’s fashioning a lid with a chisel while watching a Chinese soap opera on an iPad. Her clay is a muddy yellow, but once it is fired, will turn into a rich red.

“This pot will also shrink when it’s fired,” she says. “This will make it very dense.”  And it’s this very density and clay composition that makes the pot special. Zisha clay is obtained from red ore deposits at Huanglongshan (黄龙山) and Zhaozhungshan (趙荘)山, two mountains located just behind Dingshan (丁山)—the area in Yixing where most artisans work and reside. Unfortunately, the clay is a natural resource that is being mined to exhaustion. In 2006, a provincial-wide law was passed to protect the ores.

Artisans, however, aren’t so worried. “In each teapot, only 500 grams of pure clay is used,” Yu says. “We have a hundreds of years left.”

For the town’s inhabitants, pottery isn’t just art, it’s is a way of life. “If you can’t send your kid to a top university, making teapots is the practical way to go,” Yu explains. “Even if they practice for a year, a basic teapot can sell for 300 RMB or $46.” Teapot making, it seems, is an immediate means of employment.

Today, most artisans aspire for their own practice. According to another veteran teapot maker Shunzhen Chen (陈顺珍), who has been a potter for 16 years, the industry used to be primarily dominated by factories.

“A lot of the factories ended up closing because individuals began to open up their own shops. The industry changed completely and that’s when I decided to open my own store,” Chen states.

Because of the sheer number of independent craftsmen, teapot artists are now required to take an annual test for certification. According to Yu, there are seven levels. The very top level is a national certification and only 12 people can hold that title at once.

“The only way to get up there is if one of the 12 dies,” Yu says.

But for the customers on Dingshan Road in Yixing, where hundreds of teapot shops and artisans line the street, it isn’t prestige that people are concerned with—it’s craftsmanship.

It takes a distinguishing eye to be able to navigate the maze that is Yixing. The entire city is infiltrated with teapot shops. There’s even a teapot museum. Pot quality, naturally, is extremely diverse.

“A lot of the shops have teapots made with molds or by machines; only a select number of shops have completely handmade pots. To tell the difference, you have to look at the inside of the vessel,” Yu explains. “If you can feel or see a seam in the interior, that means it’s handmade.”

… in a town where everyone is fluent in the art of pottery, is also fiercely competitive.

For a teapot’s main body, potters cut out rectangular sheets of clay and seal them together. A handmade pot will have remnants of that seam; a pot made with molds will not. The lid, spout, and handle are designed separately and then joined to the body. Everything has to fit perfectly. A pot has to be functional, as well as attractive.

Yu emphasizes the flow of the tea. “See if it flows smoothly from the spout,” she says. “Does the cap fit perfectly? The proportions are also very important. When we take tests, our teachers will measure out our pot.”

She brews up a serving of black tea and, as she pours, she notes that all artisans start out by studying under a master, adding that, in her two decades of work, she’s produced so many teapots she can no longer keep track. It’s a lifestyle that takes heart, and in a town where everyone is fluent in the art of pottery, is also fiercely competitive.

“The style of pottery is always changing,” Yu says. “When I started out, 20 years ago, we stuck to very classical styles.” Yu points to her own collection. It’s minimalistic and sleek, without any fanciful adornments. “Young people these days aren’t following the old patterns anymore. But I suppose, at the end of the day, that doesn’t matter. It’s about the potter’s relationship with their work.”

She adds, “Every teapot has a soul.”

Source: Eater

2016 Year of the Monkey: 7 Things You Should Know

Today is the first day of the year of the Monkey. Our team would like to wish you happy and healthy Chinese New Year. Enjoy the info we’ve put together so you can learn all the interesting facts about the monkey sign/zodiac.

1. Who’s a Monkey?

You’re most likely a monkey if you’re born during the following monkey years: 2004, 1992, 1980, 1968, 1956 etc.

Do note that the western calendar years do not exactly overlap with the Chinese calendar. The Chinese New Year might start and end up to 2 months later.

2. Types of Monkey Signs

Depending on the year of birth, there are different types of monkey signs in Chinese astrology. In total there are 5 types based on a certain element, which are:

  • fire
  • water
  • wood
  • metal
  • earth

2016 is the year of the fire monkey.

3. Monkey character and personality

Now you know there are different types of monkey signs, we can now discuss each the characters of each type. Monkey’s are generally considered smart, which is why many Chinese couples like to make babies in the year of  the monkye. However, each monkey sign comes with individual personalities. See below:

  • Fire monkey characteristics (..,2016,..,1956,..): Ambitious and adventurous, but irritable
  • Wood monkey characteristics (..,2004,..,1994,..): Always ready to help others; compassionate, with strong self-esteem, but stubborn
  • Water Monkey characteristics (..,1992,..,1932,..): Quick-witted, fond of being in the limelight, but haughty
  • Gold Monkey characteristics (..,1980,..,1920,..): Quick-witted, and confident, but also irritable and stubborn
  • Earth Monkey characteristics (..1968,..,1908,..): Frank, optimistic, and fearless

4. How to write monkey in Chinese?

Here’s the Chinese character of the word ‘monkey’:

5. Compatibility with other signs: Who can be friends or partners with monkeys?

Chinese zodiacs are often used in Chinese astrology to predict how compatible one can be with others. Some people like to read the Chinese horoscope when considering someone to be there future partner.  Below a list showing how compatible the monkey is with other signs:

  • Rat: 90% compatibility
  • Monkey: 85% compatibility
  • Dragon: 82% compatibility
  • Ox: 81% compatibility
  • Tiger: 81% compatibility
  • Pig: 81% compatibility
  • Rabbit: 73% compatibility
  • Rooster: 72% compatibility
  • Dog: 67% compatibility
  • Sheep: 65% compatibility
  • Snake: 57% compatibility
  • Horse: 31% compatibility

6. Ten Famous Monkey People

  • Leonardo da Vinci
  • Julius Caesar
  • Halle Berry
  • Charles Dickens
  • Lord Byron
  • Diana Ross
  • Elizabeth Taylor
  • Michael Douglas
  • Will Smith
  • Tom Hanks

7. Lucky monkey signs

  • Lucky numbers: 1, 7, 8
  • Lucky colours: white, gold, blue
  • Lucky flowers: chrysanthemum, alliums
  • Lucky directions: north, northwest, west
  • Lucky numbers: 1, 7, and 8.
  • Lucky colors: white, gold, and blue.
  • Lucky flowers: Chrysanthemum and alliums.
  • Lucky directions: North, northwest, and west.
  • Lucky months: month 8 and 12 based on the lunar calendar.
  • Lucky days: 14th an 28th month of the Chinese lunar calendar.

Man Opens Fire on Tea House for ‘Overpriced Tea’ of 65 Cents

Yesterday the Turkish police were hunting a man who fired multiple bullets in a tea house in Turkey, after he was charged ‘double’ for a glass of traditional tea.

The man was asked to pay 2 Turkish Lira for a cup. In terms of USD it’s only 65 cents, but in other parts of Turkey it’s usually sold for about half the price.

What followed is a fight between the man and the owner. Though ushered by his friends, he returned later and fired 4 times at the tea house while inside his car, according to Sabah Daily. Luckily, there was no fatal accident. Only one elderly person sitting at the tea house at the time was injured in the ear. Police is still looking for the mad tea drinker.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATurkish Tea House Interior

See below more about tea drinking in Turkey

Tea Drinking in Turkey

In Turkey black tea, also known as çay, is often served in  tulip glasses, and its the post popular hot drink in the country. And this might surprise you: Turkey is among the top countries with the average consumption per person in the world with about 1,000 cups a year per inhabitant.

turkish tea kettle

It’s therefore not strange as the beverage is an important part of Turkish culture, which is also reflected in the fact that it is the drink to serve to visiting guests. Sometimes beet sugar is used to sweeten the tea. The brew is usually served very strong, as it’s prepared in a special Turkish kettle.

Tea is bowled in upper kettle with leaves, while the lower kettle is filled with only water. This results in a very strong brew. However, guests can use the remaining water from the lower kettle to control the taste.

Tea is served in a tulip shaped glass. Not only because one enjoys the shape, but this design also makes sure the edges stay cool to hold the glass.

Iced Green Tea Recipe

If you are looking for something that’s cold and refreshing, but not an unhealthy coke. You should try out this easy to make minty iced green tea recipe.

Ingredients for Iced Green Tea Recipe

How to make iced green tea?

  1. Crush the mint leaves gently in a serving glass
  2. Steep 1 table spoon of tea leaves separately and pour it in the glass with the crush mint leaves afterwards, leaving 1/3 of space for ice cubes.
  3. Let the steeped mint and loose tea leaves in glass cool down
  4. Add ice cubes on top and finish it of with fresh lemons
  5. If you prefer to have a sweet drink, don’t add sugar, but instead, go for honey. The sweetness of honey will match the green tea and mint taste perfectly

How to serve iced green tea?

Get your most beautiful transparent glass and serve the iced green tea with a uncrushed mint leaf on top.

Enjoy!

Meet Me In Venice: Book About Chinese Immigration To Europe

When European traders in the 17th century were offered a cup of Zheng Shan Xiao Zhong black tea in China,…. they liked it. This was a breakthrough for Chinese tea, and it made it’s way to Europe via the Portuguese and Dutch ports. It was at that time that Chinese tea became a globalized beverage.

But globalization went much further later on with Chinese migrants who reversed the traders’ journey by moving to Europe. In the book Meet Me In Venice, the Author Suzanne Ma documents the life of a 17th year old girl that travels to Italy in hope for a better life.

If you’re into globalization and the Chinese culture, it’s a highly recommended book to read (of course, while enjoying a cup of authentic Chinese tea). Some reviews below:

Washington Independent Review of Books:

“Eye-opening, fascinating and beautifully written…[Meet Me in Venice] is a revealing and thought-provoking look at the true meaning of our globalized economy.”

Leslie T. Chang, author of Factory Girls and former China correspondent for the Wall Street Journal:

Meet Me In Venice tells of the courage, hardships, and dreams of a new generation of Chinese who are leaving their homeland to seek fortune and opportunity in faraway lands. Suzanne Ma brings beautiful writing, compassion, and humor to the story of seventeen-year-old Ye Pei, who journeys to Italy to pursue her dreams of success and independence—and along the way, to make a perfect cup of cappuccino. Ranging from the language schools of Qingtian to the mushroom farms and garment factories of Italy, Ma illuminates the contours of Chinese immigrant lives that are at once crucial to the global economy and invisible to the outside world.

Los Angeles Review of Books:

Meet Me in Venice “fits nicely with other path-breaking journalistic works on migration & modernization in China… beautifully crafted and poignant.”

While the Chinese tea culture is directly or indirectly part of almost every person in China, that might not be the case for the majority of the European immigrants. At Hello Tea Cup we hope that many of the next generation of Chinese migrants will rediscover the Chinese tea culture, and share it with pride.

Tea Production in China: 4 Main Tea Growing Regions

When asking the question: Which tea regions and provinces in China produce tea? You might as well wonder which areas aren’t producing. China is the biggest tea producer in the world, and in fact, many regions produce tea from the most southern Hainan province all the way up the more northern Shandong province.

4 Tea Growing Regions

More than 20 provinces in China actually produce tea to some extent, though there are some large differences in total output. Traditionally, the tea producing areas are divided into 4 main growing regions:

Southwest China: ‘Xinan’ 西南

This region includes the provinces Yunnan, Sichuan, Guizhou and some southern parts of Tibet. It features many varieties of large tea trees. The most representative tea types are green, black and dark (pu erh) tea.

South China: ‘Huanan’ 华南

This region includes the provinces Guangdong, Guangxi, Hainan, Fujian and Taiwan. This region has according to tea experts the most suitable climate with the best tea growing conditions. All tea types are represented by this region.

South of Yangtze River: ‘Jiangnan’ 江南

This region is situated between middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze river and includes the provinces: Zhejiang, Jiangxi and Hunan as well as the southern part of Jiangsu, Hubei and Anhui. Due to cooler climate this region is famous for green tea, but also produces a smaller amount of yellow and black tea.

North of Yangtze River: ‘Jiangbei’ 江北

This region includes the provinces Henan, Shaanxi, Gansu and Shangdong as well as the northern part of Anhui, Jiangsu and Hubei. With the coolest climate this region is only suitable for growing tea trees of smaller leaf kinds, as they are more resistant to cool temperatures. Therefore, this region mainly produces green tea.

As you might have noticed, some provinces are included in 2 regions. That’s because these regional divisions aren’t taking provincial borders into account, instead it looks at the climate and growing conditions.

Best Tea Plant Growing Conditions For Camellia Sinenses Tea Trees

All types of leaf teas are processed using the Camellia Sinenses tea plant and there are certain environmental factors that make a region suitable for growing tea trees or tea plants. Please note that the conditions described below are only valid for growing Camellia Sinenses. Thus it does not apply to other types of plants that might be used for herbal teas (tisanes).

tea plant growing

Tea Growing Conditions

Generally the Camellia Sinenses plant demonstrate a strong capability to adapt to a wide range of environmental conditions:

  1. An annual average temperature of 15-25 degrees Celsius
  2. No significant period of frost
  3. Moderate to evenly distributed rainfall of above 1,000 mm per year
  4. Annual average humidity of 70-80%
  5. Mountain area; hillsides with loose soil with good drainage
  6. Soil PH value of 4.5 to 6.5

The map below shows which areas in China are suitable and comply to the conditions above:
tea growing regions china map xinan huanan jiangnan jiangbei

Source: Hangzhou Chinese Tea Culture Exchange Association

Coffee Leaf Tea Guide

There are many coffee and tea lovers around the world, and the war between the two beverages has been going on for ages. Tea is still leading by being the second most consumed beverage in the world right after water. But this might change soon. Recently coffee farmers have something new that could potentially be a real alternative to tea: Coffee Leaf Tea.

As the name already reveals, it’s a tea made from the actual leaves of the coffee plant. Wise Monkey is one of the first companies that attempt to revolutionize the coffee industry with this tea. See their video below:

Tea type: tea or tisane?

Coffee leaf tea is in fact not a real tea, as it’s not made from the original tea plant called ‘Camellia Sinensis’. The official term for other steeped beverages made from other plants, herbs, or fruits are called ‘Tisane’. In reality, most people still tend to use the term ‘tea’ by classifying it in a separate category of ‘herbal teas’. Popular teas made from other herbs such as kuding and honeysuckle tea also belong to this category.

Health benefits of coffee leaf tea

Though it’s often claimed that coffee leaf tea has more antioxidants compared to green tea, there is no reliable academic evidence for this yet. See the video below discussing the benefits:

Coffee plants & processing

Coffee leaf tea can be made from one of the two types of coffee plants:

  • Arabica coffee plant: originally from to the mountains of the southwestern highlands in Ethiopia
  • Robusta coffee plant: originally from central and western sub-Saharan in Africa

The processing of the leaves aren’t as complicated as for real tea. Right after picking the leaves are dried, roasted and then crumpled. At the moment, there are no such tea available yet made from full leaf or buds. The cultivation is mainly focused on making sure the quality of the coffee bean is good, so the quality of the leaf is kind of ignored. Besides, that coffee production regions don’t have the tea cultivation knowledge yet, to produce better quality coffee leaf tea.

The taste

The most important question: How does it taste? If the taste isn’t good, this all doesn’t have any meaning. The tea community describes this tea with the following words the most: earthy, grassy,  vegetal, licorice. The taste is often rated from bad to reasonably good.

Though the taste isn’t as well received yet, future improvement in processing (and maybe even better cultivation) can make this type of herbal tea only better.

Secondary income for farmers

Independent from whether it tastes good or not, the idea of coffee leaf tea is great, because it can offer secondary income for bean producers, as the discussed in the video of Wise Monkey above. It has economic meaning, as the leaves aren’t gone to waste. And, if the taste is good, then all tea lovers can benefit from it.

So what about you? Is it going to be coffee or tea? or coffee leaf tea?

Traveling Tea Boxes (TTBs): Ultimate Guide To Tea Swapping

The tea community is growing bigger and bigger and it’s brewing a culture with its own rituals. One of them is an activity called the ‘traveling tea box’ (TTB). In simple words, joining a TTB means that you are entering a tea swapping activity with a group of tea lovers who also joined.

Swapping things has always been around, especially before any currency existed. However, what makes traveling tea box activities so special that tea lovers aren’t swapping for economic purposes, but it’s a kind of a enjoyable social activity. After all, we all love to share enjoyable experiences with others.

To get an idea of what you can expect to receive, see for example the image below

traveling tea box
source: My Thoughts Are Like Butterflies

Common Rules For Traveling Tea Boxes

Some tea lovers do want to join a tea swapping activity, but are worried about breaking one of the established rules. Below we have listed common rules that will ease your mind. In addition, if you plan to organize a TTB yourself, then it will be a great checklist for you to go through!

Though each of them will have its unique rules, below are a few types of rules that you will commonly see for TTBs.

  • Tea in / tea out: One basic rule traveling tea boxes is that you put a similar amount of your own teas in the box to what you take out. There is usually no minimum or maximum as long as you stick to this rule (unless this is a stated rule for a particular TTB).
  • Tea type: As the diversity of tea offerings increase, so is the different kind of TTB groups with a different scope of tea. For instance, some tea swapping groups only limit the teas to loose tea and exclude tea bags and some only allow one tea type (e.g. green, black, oolong etc.). Besides this, it could go even more specific, such as a TTB for only unflavored teas or only tea blends.
  • How long to keep the box: This is a common rule that it’s part of every TTB and it normally ranges from a few days to a couple of weeks. Make sure you know this rule and send it out in time to the next person, so nobody who joined the TTB is waiting too long for the next box to arrive. It’s not a big deal if you for some reasons can’t send it in time, but do communicate this to the participants, so they are aware of it.
  • Geography: For practical reasons, for most TTBs it’s stated that participants of only certain geographical regions can join. Mostly often, swapping is limited to a certain country, province or even city, to avoid high shipping costs.
  • Shipping method: Sometimes it’s required to ship the box to the next person using a shipping method with tracking.
  • Sign-up spots: TTBs might be limited to a certain amount of participants. Groups that are too big are often hard to manage and keep over sight.
  • Tea & packaging labeling: Try using packaging for the tea that can be sealed well. Otherwise, the teas will over time start smelling and tasting the same. Take special care of teas that have a strong scent, as those have the biggest chance of affecting other teas in the box. Sometimes original packaging can be good enough already, but if not, try to buy some seal-able packaging. One last note: If you don’t use the original packaging, make sure to write down the tea company and tea name on the new packaging.

Best Tea Swapping Practices

Besides the general rules, there are some best practices that sometimes are part of TTBs and if they aren’t, you can still try to apply them to yourselves to make the activity more enjoyable.

  • Be nice, share teas you love: While you might share tea that you personally don’t like, do not share tea that is low quality or unfresh. A kind of an unwritten rule is that you don’t use the traveling tea box as a way to get rid old tea that you don’t like. While it’s true others might possibly like teas you don’t like,  try to balance it with teas that you really like and would love to share.
  • Write notes: Most tea lovers like to read tasting notes about the teas that others have tried. Some participants will enjoy reading your notes as much as drinking the tea itself. Don’t feel pressured to write a note on every tea, but whenever you do have the inspiration, try at least to write a few.
  • Maintain box condition: If the box is damaged and you feel it might affect the teas when they arrive at the next participant, then make sure to replace the box. Sometimes it’s stated in the rules, but if not, you should still take care of this.

Reasons To Join Tea Swaps

There are so many reasons why you should at least give traveling tea boxes a try.

  1. Try more teas with a lower budget. Do join a TTB in your own country though, because international TTB can be expensive due to shipping costs.
  2. Swap teas you don’t like. If you don’t like certain teas you bought, it’s such a waste to leave it in the kitchen, especially if it’s good quality tea that for sure some tea lovers out there are very happy to steep. As mentioned before, do keep it balanced by sharing tea that you do like and do not share tea that is  not fresh or low quality.
  3. Make friends. Sharing is caring and this rule definitely applies to tea. Share, drink, and make more tea friends.

How To Find TTBs To Join

By now you should probably have pretty good idea whether traveling boxes are something for you. If so, there are two places to find TTBs to join.

  1. Steepster is tea community website with a discussion section especially for tea swaps.
  2. Reddit is another good place. Checkout the subreddit r/teaexchange to start browsing!

If you know any other good place for tea swaps, let us know and we will add it to this list!

San Francisco International Tea Festival 2014

16 vendors participated during San Francisco tea festival 16 this year with interesting lectures and tea tastings for roughly 1000 visitors. It’s great to see so many tea festivals being organized all over the world to educate tea lovers on authentic loose tea and it’s wonderful culture. See below some pictures of this year’s festival in San Francisco.

Ferry Building, San Francisco, SF tea festival san francisco market hall
Ferry Building, San Francisco
SF tea festival tea tasting
Wanna try this 😉
SF tea festival free tea tasting 2014
Here’s your cuppa.
san francisco tea festival visitors
What should I try first?
I just can't wait to take a sip
Close-up shot, pouring tea
san francisco tea festival gaiwan
They look pretty!
san francisco tea festival gaiwan tea tasting
Yummy, it’s steeped perfectly!
san francisco tea festival enjoy tea 2014
No words can describe this taste…
s.f. tea festival tea shopping bags
Looking good!
s.f. tea festival girl drink tea
You’re never to young to start drinking tea. Watch out for the caffeine when drinking in the evening though.