Welcome to the 2106 royal rumble. This year's event is a teapot edition where 3 teapots will enter the ring (aka tea tray) and will try to outmuscle each other to see which teapot makes the nicest tea. Let me introduce the 3 teapots. Notice they are approximately the same size (about 160ml capacity) and with similar round and shapely figures.
The 1st teapot (pix 3) is from Taiwan, manufactured by Lin Ceramics and made with purion clay. This teapot had made an impact in the Chinese tea world as many tea drinkers have found that brewing tea with these teapots enhance the taste of the tea.
The 2nd tea (pix 4/5) pot comes from Japan and is made from Bizen clay. Traditional Bizen clay products are unique in that during the firing (baking) process of the bizen ware, ashes are allowed to 'fly' within the kiln and as a result, some ash were embedded onto the bizen ware producing a fascinating finish that looked almost 'extra-terrestial' in appearance. I was told that tea brewed using bizen clay make the tea more soft.
The 3rd teapot (pix 6) comes from China. Made from Yixing Clay. This teapot was recently made (2012) and was given to me by a friend who enjoys making teapots as a hobby. Yixing clay is regarded as the best clay suitable for tea brewing by the Chinese tea brewing community. Antique Yixing teapots or those made by famous potters fetch a very high price in the secondary teapot market.
2 teas will be used in this contest. They are 2004 Xiaguan mushroom raw pu erh and my last chunk of a 2010 Haiwan 5-year ripe brick. I will weigh out 7g of tea for each teapot, 2 flash rinses and the tea will be assessed from 2nd to 5th infusion in one sitting.
Let me digress. During my tea travels, my tea drinking groups would occasionally discuss on why tea would taste different or better, using teapots that were made from different clays. Here are some of the arguments:
a) Brewing tea in such teapots will leave a patina on the inside of the teapot. Patina here seem to suggest a tea coating, like paint being 'brushed' onto the wall on the teapot. With regular use of a teapot, this tea patina will develop on the inner surface of the teapot and this patina will amplify the tea being brewed in the teapot. This is the reason teapot users encourage that you dedicate a teapot for a certain tea, meaning if you drink Shui Hsien, ripe pu erh and white tea, you should have a teapot dedicated to each of these tea, which implies that you should have 3 teapots, one teapot per tea.
b) The firing of the clay. This gets a little technical. Firing refers to the baking of the clay to remove the moisture in the clay and 'hardening' of the clay. 2 factors can be controlled and they are heat (how hot) and time (how long the clay is fired). Chinese teapot users I know claimed that high fired clay are good for traditional oolongs while low fired clay suits pu erh well.
c) The degree of 'porous-ness' in the clay. There are claims that the more porous clay make the tea more smooth while the less porous clay makes the tea more pronounced in taste.
It was mind boggling when I typed out these 3 arguments. Yes, these factors would play a part to explain why tea taste different with clay teapots. But, we are talking about 5 seconds, maybe 40 seconds max when you brew Chinese tea (kungfu style), in a teapot. Does this short time of 5,20 or 40 seconds made the tea inside the teapot, to taste differently? Have tea drinkers considered the 4th possibility that there is a genie in the teapot that magically affected your tea?
I would humbly like to suggest one more argument in addition to the reasons above. It is temperature.
Try a simple experiment. Brew tea into 3 teacups. Drink 1st cup immediately, 2nd 5 minutes later and the 3rd half hour later. The same tea will taste different with each cup. I am suggesting that certain clays hold the temperature of your tea well and some clays do not hold heat well. The temperature of the water used will also affect your tea as well. There are many examples of food and drink where temperature plays an important part. Examples would be cold beer, warm bread, ice cold soda and piping hot soup. I am suggesting as a tea drinker, you can 'taste the difference' from a cup of tea from another cup even if there is a small change in temperature, and yes... even a few degrees difference in heat. A cup of tea would vary in taste at different temperatures. It is my opinion that it may be a combination of these factors I have listed, including the genie, that made an impact on your tea.
Back to the royal rumble. Who won? Ripe pu erh tasted very good in purion. Yixing was very good too (superb for oolongs in another mini rumble I held a couple of months ago). Looking and brewing with bizen is like sitting on a magic carpet. I think I am tea drunk! Since this is a long Labour Day weekend, one more round of tea, please!