Korean Tea Pot Types and the Breaking in Process

Korean Tea Set

Korean Tea Set

Before you begin using your tea set it is important to determine what type of tea you will be using it for. The reason for this is because whatever tea you will use will be absorbed into the cracks of the pottery. Generally potters and connoisseurs suggest one teapot for one type of tea. For example one for green tea, another for Oolong and a third for black or red teas.

Over time the teapot that you use will take on the particular character of the teas that you drink. This is especially true for Chinese, clay pots. Because they are not glazed and the tea seeps into the tea pot. A gummy residue forms and leaves its deposits. They say that after extended use you will be able to pour in water and get tea without using any leaves!

There two distant types of Korean pottery; Bek Ja and Boon Chung. “The former” is the older style and it is generally characterized by its rough texture and intricate crack lines. Usually the glaze that covers it’s surface is either thinly or partially applied to expose its true character. However potters can manipulate its appearance and make it look as if it were in the Bek Ja style and vice versa. The Bek Ja style is smoother in texture and is closer to the ideal of perfection. They prefer to make this type of pottery in the north. There are not so many crack lines that are visible in this type of pottery. Also because of it’s glazing it can be used to serve different kinds of tea. Personally I, and the potters that I have met prefer to make Boon Chung pottery because it is more interesting in design and texture; through it the Master Potters express the warmth of being human; and being human means to be imperfect.

Before you start to use the tea set I suggest you cook it! Immerse the set into a pot of boiling water, add some green tea, or which ever you will be using, and simmer for a few hours. Then let it soak over night. This will break in your tea set and also bring out the natural crack lines.

Once you start using your tea set, here are practical ways for cleansing. I recommend just rinsing the pottery in hot water after using. Over time, residue may start to build up. These tea stains are easy to get rid of, just use a clean cloth to rub the cups, pouring bowl and the outside of the teapot. Personally I don’t think it is necessary to clean the inside of the pot. But you may if you wish. The other option, that some potters have suggested is to use natural detergents, even coffee grinds are good. What ever you do not use commercial detergents. They will seep into the pottery; and with the delicacy of green tea you don’t want a soapy taste.

Traditional Korean wood kiln fired pottery

When our eye’s first encounter traditional Korean tea sets they might think that they are defective in some way. The cups are not perfectly round. In fact they’re lopsided, and the hand painted sets seem to have been thinly and sloppily applied, with runs dried into place. But all this is done Intentionally.So what does all this mean? In many respects we have been brought up with cookie cutter standards of perfection; at the first sign of imperfection we say: “hey how about a discount!” Most of the products we buy are exactly that: products, identical and devoid of any humanness. We cannot see or feel the artists uniqueness or the energy they put into creation. If we feel anything at all it’s the fragmented process of the assembly line.

The Korean potters that I have met and spoken with have told me that it is their intention to draw our attention the imperfections so that we may reflect upon them. Life is imperfection. A bump for example, may remind us of a beauty mark; it’s a apart of us. However, for some a beauty mark is a defect, and they seek surgical solutions.

Korean potters reconnect us with our own nature through the use of simple, familiar shapes and the elements that are used; through earth, water, wind, and fire we can identify and contemplate our own humanity. For that reason potters are special artists, because they create functional art from which we can sense ourselves and our relationship with the world we live in.

Decanting tea

Decanting tea

Design, color, texture, and the energy I feel in a tea set reflects mood, mind and personality of the potter; but more than that the tea set represents and connects me to the universe. When I examine the delicate and intricate crack lines in the pouring bowl, or the cups, it is like looking at the lines in the palms of my hands, or like looking up at the constellation in the night sky and seeing the connections. And this reminds me of the phrase ” a butterfly in Hong Kong affects the weather in New York.”

The tea sets that these Master potters make are not destined for museums. Museums are like the catacombs. They displayed dead objects under glass for spectators who pay an admission fee. It is only by using the pottery, by holding it in our hands that we can feel it’s energy, and gain introspection into our own lives and existence.

Tea Bowl

Tea Bowl

traditional tea sets are our teachers. They are vessels that instruct us in the meditative process of drinking a single cup of green tea. Tea is not about consumption, it’s about the process; that links us to the moment, to our true being, and the universe in which we live.