I first laid eyes on Mei Zi's Gaiwan in a shop on Yongkang Street in Taipei. Her signature gaiwan was on display, and it immediately left an impression, with its neo-traditional feel, bold colours and distinctive form. When the chanced came to meet her in person, I jumped upon it immediately!
I was fortunate enough to be visiting Mei Zi on the day her kiln was due to be opened. Waiting for the temperature of the kiln to drop to a safe temperature so that the pieces will not crack, we had time to chat and talk about her life and her art.
Just like her creations, Mei Zi is an interesting character. Slightly dreamy, full of abstract ideas and aware of the difficulties of dreaming in the real world, she shared her thoughts and memories, treading carefully at first.
She draws her inspiration from childhood memories of carefree roaming in her rural hometown of Chiayi, where life was simpler and nature was all around. She fondly recalls days when she runs around the rural landscape, watching with wonder as ants gather around a sweet she left as if by magic. The feel and sounds as she played with water in the large clay jar, scooping water with a ladle. These experiences form a ideas-library that she access when she makes her tea ware.
Her eclectic style is a reflection of her exploratory personality. She uses a range of colours and forms, experiments with wheel formed pieces and hand mould pieces, and seeks to incorporate some nature into her pieces.
Her use of bold colours are interesting and not jarring.
Her hand moulded pieces of Gaiwan are pretty in an imperfect and whimsical manner.
Ginko is a recurring idea in this kiln-load of items.
Mei Zi was brewing with some of her signature pieces - the red gaiwan with textured surface from sandy clay slip and her ladle inspired katakuchi. Because her signature pieces are also her favourite pieces!
We brought home some of her pieces. Most of them are sold out now but we will visit her again! Do check out our web store for some of her pieces!
This was an unplanned visit - we were visiting Spiral Market, spotted the Kanji word for 'tea' on 5F and thus made the discovery! They shifted from their previous premise in Minato. This is a beautiful new space - industrial, airy and bright!
We met Sou, the young teaist, who brewed very intently for us, and was very patient with all our questions. She speaks a little English and when unsure, used google translate to answer our question, which worked very well for the purpose! Follow her on instagram here!
Sakurai has impeccable taste in tea things and teas! The teas are also not the usual run-off-the-mill senchas or gyokuros.
Teas leaves are stored in beautiful copper tea caddies, and carefully weighed with this quaint antique scale.
Well the cups are modern and simple but for flavour brewed teas is definitely not compromised here!
One of the most interesting teas that we tried was the Awa Bancha! Its a fermented tea from Tokushima Prefecture. The processing method may explain its tastes: its mature leaves are plucked from summer tea plants, boiled in a pot, then taken out and rubbed together, then placed in a large jar for one month where it undergoes fermentation by lactobacteria, resulting in a pungent taste. The surprise is the sweet grape-like note that comes at the end of the sip, which is unforgetable because its so unexpected!
We had to taste the Wakocha, or Japanese Hongcha, because we have a soft spot for 'western' black teas since we drink it every morning! Considering that the tea leaves were so broken, the tea was sweet and floral and had no astringency!
We also tasted a fermented tea called Kurocha, which may not be our favourite tea in terms of taste, but academically its a fascinating tea! Made in Saijo City in Ehime Prefecture, where the fermentation process includes molds of the Aspergillus genus. The production is complicated with multi-step, thus accounting for its complex flavours with a lasting aftertaste.
The teas are sold in small packs of 15-30grams, and are thus very affordable. Had to grab a few bags of Awa Bancha for the tea friends in Singapore. One of our tea friends also brought back some Hojicha which was roasted and fruity, definitely one of the best hojichas we have tasted!
Now that its reloctaed to a more assessible location, we do hope to make this a regular stop each time we are in Tokyo!
Minato-ku, Minami-Aoyama 5-6-23, Spiral Building 5F 港区南青山5-6-23
The first Gaiwan by Ms Yang Huiting was bought in a shop on Yongkang Street in Taipei. I brought it home, brewed extensively with it and found that it brewed teas well indeed! And it was decided that we had to sought out Yang Huiting to find out more about her teaware!
I contacted her and she very kindly agreed to meet her in the studio she shared with her husband Mr Feng Jian Zhou in Gaoshiung.
So the story starts with Mr Feng Jian Zhou, who is a renowned tea teacher and potter in Taiwan. Mr Feng and Ms Yang met and they fell in love and along the way, Ms Yang became involved with tea and tea ware. They now teach tea together in their beautiful tea space in Kaoshiung, and are both established ceramic artists in Taiwan.
The fact that she is a tea teacher and potter explains why her teaware brewed tea so well, both functionally and in terms of taste!
To understand Ms Yang's style, she first explained that they share a love for collection of antiques. They love the way time ravages objects and leaves them with more character. Walking around the studio, its easy to see their love for aged things.
With this appreciation for scars left behind by time, she applies this to her tea ware. The distressed effect of faded paint on metal or wood is a source of inspiration for her soulful tea wares.
Ms Yang shared that the aged feel of her teaware is achieved by layering different coloured slips. She then decides if she prefers to fire her teaware with oxidation or reduction process, which also creates different effects.
Besides experimenting with clay slips, she also explores different forms and interpretation of Gaiwan. An interpretation that she loves is pairing the Gaiwan paired with a multi-purpose tray-plate instead of the usual saucer! She likes the updated look and functionally, the tray can hold cups or snacks as well. The simple appearance of these trays betray the effort that goes in to produce a flat and even piece. Just imagine making flat pieces with play dough that sticks onto your work surface each time!
And because celadon is a neutral surface for tea brewing, she chooses to use celadon glaze internally with for her teaware. She stated her preference for darker, more oxidised teas like Muzha Tie Kwan Yin, occasionally may be brewed better with Shino Glazed teaware, which seems to soften the roastedness of the roasted teas. Celadon does not mask the flavours in anyway thus will bring out all notes equally, which is perfect for someone who drinks a wide range of tea types!
We were on the topic of Shino Glazed teapots because her husband, Mr Feng, had a very beautiful one in the studio that I was eyeing. He is a very established and award winning ceramic artist. Here are some of his works, which are very different in style from Ms Yang's.
Their tea ware were used together during the tea session, each reflecting their own personalities, yet complementing each other styles. I am always amazed at how the style of the ceramic pieces seems to reflect the potter's character! Ms Yang is lady of few words, but she is firm in her ideas of order and understated beauty. Though they share a lot of same artistic appreciation and values, Mr Feng is more expressive about his ideas and he is happy to speak his mind. Do you see the different characters in their teaware?
Below is the said Shino Teapot that I was eyeing, with a matching teacup, resting on Ms Yang's tea tray.
From speaking to Ms Yang and Mr Feng, I know there is so much more to learn of tea and pottery than I can gleam from one afternoon's visit. They were so generous in sharing their knowledge (and their good teas!), and I sure hope to be back to visit them again soon!
We love her teaware so much we want to share them with the world! So do check our website up from time to time, where we carry some of her beautiful pieces!
My first teapot by Jan Pavek is a the little grey one pictured below. It was a long anticipated purchase, which started when I chanced upon his sold out teapots online at Klasek Tea's website www.darjeeling.cz. After an agonizing 6 months wait before his teapots became available again, that batch of his teapots on Klasek Tea's website was sold out in 1 or 2 days! I only got one because I stalked the website almost everyday! If you are as intrigued as me, do follow Jan Pavek on facebook and instagram!
So when I had to be in Europe, a trip was arranged to Prague to meet up with The Potter. He arrived with his then fiancee now wife Bara, and we headed to the nearby park for some tea! Along with the 2 big thermal flask of hot water, he brought a selection of teas, as he was worried I had a specific preference of tea. For that occasion, a new tea cloth was sought out and bought to complete the tea table. Thoughtful and considerate with an attention to details, that surely explains the beautiful tea ceramics he creates!
We spoke further about how he came to be a tea potter. So he first loved tea, because he simply loved drinking tea and sharing moments with his loved ones and his friends. When he started learning pottery, he immediately gravitated to make teaware. No wonder they are all well sized for kung fu brewing! And did I mention he is a self taught potter?!
I shared that I just started learning to make pottery, and he suggested that we should exchange teapots! To which I replied that he must be joking since I am a newbie potter and he replied very earnestly that he was serious. It dawned on me that Jan's love for tea and pottery is so pure that he doesn't think it a bad deal in such an exchange of teapots between friends (even if mine is ugly!).
He brought along some of his favourite not-for-sale pieces just to show me! The teapot below is the one he was brewing tea with! It was a proud and beautiful teapot that suffered a broken handle and was given a new life with a wooden handle Jan carved. And now a prized possession of Jan's.
And this is the most BEAUTIFUL matcha pot I have ever seen! No exageration here! The body is made of stoneware and contrasted stunningly by the lid made of glazed white porcelain.
This is Jan and Bara's favorite teabowl because it reminds them of the universe. I definitely see nebula and stars in this one!
Jan fires all his pieces in an anagama kiln, and explained that the beautiful colours from each piece is dependent on 2 factors.
1. The clay colour, which forms the base colour of each piece.
2. Ash from the burning wood falls on the pieces to create smears and hues of different colors. He used different wood in his kiln, among them oak wood, apple wood and pear wood.
Jan feels that he just only made the form of the pieces with clay, and he credits the beautiful colours created by the ash glazes to nature!
I am sure everybody has experienced when pictures doesn't always capture the essence of the real scene or object. It was frustrating trying to capture this piece because the crackle, glitter and shimmer is so lively and there was no way that could be recreated in a photo!
Because the ash fall and the flames are random, a woodkiln fired piece has different faces from different angle.
So much so that the two sides for this piece almost look as if they belong to different teapots! Jan also has a knack for making beautifully simple and elegant shapes for his teapot.
And check out this gorgeous dark set! It reminds me of Korean Onggi!
When we spoke then at the end of June, Jan and Bara were about to get married. They were also in process of building their very own anagama kiln. By now, they are officially Mr and Mrs Pavek! Congratulations Jan and Bara!
Looking forward to more beautiful tea moments and tea wares!
I first spied and fell in love with Mr Hong's teawares when I chanced upon them on Tea Urchin's webpage, and then found his Instagram account. So when the time came to visit South Korea, I was determined to seek him out and make his acquaintance! He was very kind to agree to meet me!
Mr Hong lives about 5 minutes away from the famous Boseong Green Tea plantation, where he runs Nosan Clay Studio with his wife Lee Hye Jin. We had lunch at a traditional korean restaurant near by and then off to Nosan Clay Studio we went.
Nosan Clay Studio is a bright and cheery light-filled space, a beautiful place to nurture creativity for a ceramic artist. His tearoom is beautifully decked out with gorgeous teaware!
Laying eyes on the shelf beside the table, one can immediately tell that Mr Hong is a tea lover. Teapots, Gaiwans, Houhins, Katakuchi, tea caddies, all items that a tea lover would love to possess!
As we were drinking tea, we were interrupted by a series of thuds. That was my introduction to the resident cat. She tumbled in half way during our serene conversations, hot in pursuit of a..... mosquito! Which I don't think she caught! While you may think she was a clumsy cat for a ceramic studio, she actually managed to nimbly seat herself at the window sill without knocking over any tea ware, as seen in the last photo! However, she has since gone missing, much to the distress of Mr Hong, who has been waiting for her return. Let's hope the dear kitty will return!
The time came for me to depart. Meeting a potter who is a tea lover as well made the meeting extra special, and Mr Hong and his wife Hye Jin were such kind hosts! I know Mr Hong looks serious in photos here. Don't be fooled! And I am sure Mr Hong's instagram followers will agree as well - in real life he is as whimsical as the tea ware he produces. So getting a piece of his beautiful teaware is like getting to know him a little! Do check out our web store with his items! (we only have 3 teapots left for now!)
The idea of a festival focused on tea bowls appeals to the romantic tea lover in me! This annual event takes place at Mun-gyeong, which is situated in the central of South Korea. The festival uses the KBS (Korean Broadcasting System) film set based in Mungyeong Saejae Provincial Park, where Korean period dramas/movies are filmed. The participating potters each took up a hanok, which are traditional Korean houses, and set up these hanoks in their own personal style to display their art works.
The setting is beautiful and surreal, with these ancient looking cottages nestled among mountains. For those seeking activities for their kids, there are booths for children to paint their own tea bowl. Visitors can also try their hand at making a teabowl, or watch the Korean potters at work during the Tea Bowl making competition. They even have a mobile anagama kiln set up for a more realistic experience!
The local high school students dressed up as guards, residents and farmers in the town was a wonderful extra touch to the experience! They walk around the village, and at times appear round the corner where modern visitors do not wonder. Moments like these seem to transport visitors to a place long before our time.
When you need a break, go visit one of the hanoks serving up teas with the Korean Traditional Tea Ceremony demonstration. The demonstration is beautiful but casual, and their matcha whisking skills are top notch!
Our favourite Korean Potters at the Festival
After walking through the whole compound with about 30+ different potters, here are Pekoe and Imp's favourite potters at the festival!
Lee Kyeong Hee
Speaking to the potters are a great way to better understand their style and Lee Jyeong Hee is one of the few potters who spoke English at the festival! Her teabowls are beautifully shaped and she has a mixture of modern designs and traditional pieces. The combination is stylish and rustic at the same time!
First bumped into Mr Oh at a local eatery. From his friendly demeanor one will not guess that he is such a distinguished potter. I was loitering around his pieces and taking photos for such a long time, that he invited me to sit with him for a few cups of puer!
He makes the traditional Buncheong pieces where each piece is stamped or carved and then inlaid with white clay. His pieces are spectacular! Each stamp and carving is bold and confident, producing very clear and contrasting designs against the original clay colour. In my limited experience with Buncheong, he has the best Buncheong pieces I have came across so far!
Admire the intricate stamped designs on the plate below! How much patience and focus a piece like that must have required!
Park Yeon Tae Gaeun Pottery
I was immediately smitten by Mr Park's style! His teapots were suitably sized for tea brewing if you like small pot with multiple steeps to explore changing flavours with each steep. Love the designs with clean lines and rugged finishes.
His teapots can have a delicate touch too! The piece below looks almost feminine! Each time I look at this photo, I regret not buying this teapot :(
Kim Dae Woong
Definitely the most quirky potter around, his cave-man styled ceramics are such that people either love or hate them. He has a matching personality too: confident, jovial and slightly boistrous in a charming way. He spoke English so we have a very enjoyable chat about his pieces!
Now in case you are now tempted to go for the next tea bowl festival, here is some information.
For information about the festival, check out the event information on the Korean Tourism Website. It usually takes place around end April or May annually. The dates may not be set till 1 or 2 months before.
Mungyeong is about 1-2 hours away on the bus, there are no train services to Mungyeong from Seoul. There are also information about inter-city buses between Seoul and Mungyeong here, but do double check the information at the bus terminal.
Accomodations at Mungyeong is scarce as the town is usually only occupied by outsiders during filming, and during the festival. There is only one hotel in this sleepy town so do book in advance. I had a lot of difficulty booking online and eventually had to call a Korean friend to call up the hotel for me.
As this is a small town, most people do not speak English. Either engage a translator, or else be prepared to gesture/mime/ draw.
There are no money changer near the hotel so do make sure you have enough cash before getting into Mungyeong. Most of the potters do accept credit card at their booths!
Hope the information helps!
Tasting notes from tea gathering with friends on 14/5/16
Every so often, we feel the insatiable need to come together to drink tea with like minded tea friends! So this time, we have Kevin, Julie (from Australia Tea Masters Singapore), Melanie (from the tea blog Mel Tea Lady), Alex (from Eagle Tea Merchant), Edwin, Steffi, and Clarence Aw, the professional photographer and newly initiated tea enthusiast who took most of the photos here. We love the session not just for the geeky bits of tea tasting, but to enjoy each others company. In fact, the silly and crazy bits of the gatherings are always most memorable!
Now a photo blog is the perfect way to record our discussions for future references! And this time, we drank these teas:
1. Korean Jirishan Ujeon 2016
2. Shizuoka Sencha Shincha 2016 from Chacha Noma, Tokyo- brought by Mel
3. Korean Dokcha (likely 2012) from Jang Heng, near Boesong
4. Junshan Yinzhen from Hunan - brought by Edwin who just returned from his business trip
5. Japanese Matcha with Gold Flakes - brought by Kevin
6. Korean Jirishan Wild Grown Yellow Tea 2012
7. Kamairicha likely 2014 from Cha Ginza, Tokyo.
Tea One - Korean Jirishan Ujeon
Ujeon, which means tea plucked before the rain, is the first harvest of green tea in Korean. Similar to the pre-qingming in China, its the earliest of the spring harvest. We tried the tea in the two types of teapots above. AND the consensus was that the Japanese Mumyoi reduction teapot brewed better, with more sweetness. The Korean teapot's brew was more ocean-like.
Tea Two - Shizuoka Sencha
We tried to brew it the regular way with the Japanese Mumyoi teapot at about 75 degree celcius. But the flavour was not what Melanie had remembered fervently from the Chacha Noma visit last month. Under her direction, we used the white clay teapot I had bought from Chacha Noma a few years ago, boiled water to about 50 degree celcius using the trusty Bona Vita kettle, and voila! The Umami! The sweet savory note of the ocean that Melanie had tasted! Lower temperature was indeed the better way! The flavour was all extracted in that one brew, but that one brew was magical!
Tea Three - Dok Cha
We tried the first brew with distilled water and half a piece of the Dok Cha. The tea turned out astringent and bitter, and everybody glared at me for using distilled water. But hey I think distilled water works for some tea, but that's discussion for another day.
Tea Three - Dok Cha continued
Kevin then suggested that we roast the tea first, which was the traditional way of drinking Dok Cha that he had previously been exposed to. When I was in Daegu last year, the lady I was studying tea under did not roast her Dok Cha before brewing, though her Dok Cha looked darker in appearance, so there was a possibility that hers had been pre-roasted before storage.
Back to THIS Dok Cha. Roasting the tea released a beautiful mellow fragrance, like cane sugar, or brown sugar. After roasting, we boiled 1/4 piece of the tea cake in Volvic mineral water this time. The tea did taste much much better, with less bitter notes, much smoother and a honey suckle after taste. We suspect the dosage could have been dropped some more as there was still a lingering bitter note. The boiled quality of the tea resulted in tastes that were much deeper and an after taste that lingers longer. A very calming brew indeed!
Tea Four - Junshan Yinzhen
The Junshan Yinzhen 君山銀針 is a yellow tea from Hunan, given this name because its harvested from Junshan in the middle of Dong Ting Lake in Hunan.
Brewed the Junshan Yinzhen with the two Duan Ni 鍛泥 teapots. We liked the tea better in the little round grey teapot! Though the water used for the flatter yellow teapot was hotter, so that was not fair comparison. This Junshan Yinzhen is sweeter with a more chestnut like note than the one we were more familiar with, which was more of dry hay. A combination of the two notes would be very nice, like the one from Hojo Teas that Steffi and I bought last year ( it was very expensive, but one of the best Junshan Yinzhen I have tasted).
A brewing trial the next day on Junshan Yinzhen on the same two teapots, keeping both steeping time and temperature the same, actually brewed teas that tasted pretty similar, so it might have been the temperature control that affected the flavour during the tea gathering.
Tea Five: Japanese Matcah with Gold Flakes
Kevin brought it for novelty! Drinking gold flakes seem so grand! Though we could see the gold flakes, they didn't show up well on photo! Kevin had said that the matcha was passed its prime, which we could tell from the dull green colour. But it still foamed fairly well! And now we can boast that we had gold flakes in our Matcha!
Tea Six - Korean Jirishan Wild Grown Yellow Tea
The Korean yellow tea, to us, is more like a slightly lighter oxidized red tea rather than a 'Chinese' styled Yellow Tea. This turned out to be one of the favourite teas of the night! Here, we brewed the tea with a Shiboridashi by Korean Potter Mr Hong Seongil, one of my favourite Korean potter!! The 'Wild Grown' attribute of the tea probably gave it a calming and rounded flavour. It is interesting that though most of us do not think this tea is complex, we seem to like it for its simplicity: just a subtle floral highlight over the calm sweetness of the red tea.
Tea Seven - Miyazaki Kamairicha
As if 6 teas were not enough for an evening, we finished off with the Kamairicha 釜炒り茶. Even though its been kept for a year and a half, the roasty flavour is still sweat like cereal, and very smooth. Kamairicha is a very old and relatively uncommon method of producing green tea in Japan, where the method travelled from the China and survived in limited places, especially in Saga, Nagasaki, and Miyazaki prefectures in Japan. Julie and I cold brewed this Kamairicha for the Christmas Pop Up at Necessary Provisions last year, and the roasted and sweet notes were very well extracted into a sweet nutty brew!
Thank you for visiting our new website and photo blog! As a start, we thought it fitting to talk about creation story.
So much has changed since Jaq and I started Pekoe & Imp on a whim in 2013. On a random day, we decided we wanted to share teas in a methodological, exploratory and non-judgemental way, just the way we like it. That very night, we came up with the name. One month later, we popped up for a fortnight with a tasting event at Atomi, a Japanese boutique furniture shop in Mandarin Gallery. A tea workshop followed shortly at Broer's cafe. And just like that, Pekoe & Imp started.
Since then, we traveled to Tea producing regions to learn about its origins. We visited Tea Establishments to learn about new concepts in tea service. Along the way, we gleaned knowledge and acquired experiences from talking to people of all sorts, who helped to shape our ideas about tea.
We brought back our tea finds and insights, and shared them in our workshops. In turn, our guests showed us new perspectives of tea appreciation.
Fast forward to 2016. Its been a year since Jaq sadly left to pursue other interest. Pekoe & Imp has evolved since, but always holding on to the desire to share good teas with an open mind.
Our future photo blog posts will share about all things tea, from random musings, to tea drinking notes, and tea experiences. We hope to learn more in the process, together with everybody else who share the same love for teas.
About all things Tea
Hello! My name is Hongyuan!