Sunday, January 31, 2010

Tea in Detail

Recently, my culinary reading group read a very nice tea book; see "Liquid Jade". I decided to look at another book, The Story of Tea: A Cultural History and Drinking Guide. I'm very glad our discussion leader opted for the one we read -- he considered this one, but it was too expensive. It is also a highly technical book about tea cultivation, production, varieties, and tea tasting. Since I'm not a connoisseur, the book is too much for me, and I only scanned it.

Any book has some interesting tidbits, though, and I was struck by various bits on the history of tea-drinking vessels in several cultures. Here is what the book says about a certain type of Chinese teacup:
To complement this new powdered tea, Song emperor Huizong (r. 1101-1125) commanded the royal pottery works to create new tea-drinking cups.... Huizong favored deep chocolate-brown, almost black glazed teacups, streaked with fine, thin tan lines. Known as "rabbit hair glaze," this style became very popular as it was said that the black glaze pleasingly offset the color of the froth of the whisked tea. ... These dark cups ... showed off the tea to an advantage. (p. 12-13)
In museums I've often seen these rabbit-hair glazed teacups and found them beautiful. Later I believe the Japanese came to value them also. So this information about their origin appealed to me.

Addendum: this afternoon at the Detroit Institute of Art I photographed a Chinese tea bowl of the era and type described in the above passage (photo at top of blog post). The label reads "Tea Bowl, 960-1279, Stoneware, iron 'hare's fur' glaze; Jian kilns, Fujian province, China."

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