26 June 2009

Tenacious Tea

At the moment I have Menghai Factory's 2005 "Ba Ji Pu Bing" (Grade 8 Pu'er Cake) in my cup. I'm on my second day of drinking this good, mild shu pu'er.

Yesterday marked 48 hours spent brewing many infusions from the same pot of gao shan leaves before I tossed them out. They probably could have continued juicing, but two days was enough.

8 days ago, I ended a 3 day brewing session of a pot of a Taiwanese oolong, an inexpensive Alishan from a local store.

In attempting to place the reason why one pot of leaves could go so long, the idea that these teas were better than those I encountered previously crossed my mind. These teas, though, were relatively inexpensive, except for the Ba Ji Pu Bing (which is no longer available from online vendors). The oolongs taste good, but have textures and aftertastes that are only acceptable. Better leaf appeared an incomplete answer.

Next I suspected that perhaps my brewing improved. Also not the answer.

Today I realize I am using more leaf and initially brewing faster, in a kind of reverse Grandpa-style, or a hyper gongfu. Later infusions I brew longer, and what I discover is that, with the additional leaf, the teas brew some flavor for at least 2 work days full of drinking, often longer. For about a third more leaves, I get another day of brewing, saving me that other 2/3 that would have been in the next day's pot.

This frugality is truly ridiculous for someone with as much tea on hand as I am grateful to have. I may go back to my old style, simply to make the leaf cycle of jar-teapot-compost move faster. But when I'm lazy and wanting to pay little attention to my tea at the office, this method works great.

Thought I'd pass it on, and I'm curious if anyone else does something similar or to the same end.

25 June 2009

Glaze and Surface Texture Explorations

It's been a long while since I posted to my blog. A few things have happened to cause the delay.

First, I had an emergency move to a new apartment. The new place has very little natural light, and my attempts at macro photography of my tea sessions and pottery pieces yielded very poor results, jeapordizing my commitment to make this a visual blog.

Second, my routine quickly became: wake, work, cook, clean, pottery, gym, sleep. On weekends, I have been visiting my ailing father, building a container garden, traveling for business school interviews, and occasionally having tea with the LA Tea Affair or other groups of friends.

I have returned, macro photo studio in tow. The brown background pics are the last photos of work I took at the old apartment. The white background pics are new pieces. Many more to come in the following weeks.

Currently, my studio time has me exploring lidded forms, glaze calculation, and surface texture.

Initially, progressing through pottery in the order of bowl, cylinder, vase, lidded form, teapot seemed the most logical in terms of building skills. While that may still hold true, I failed to realize that somewhere along the way I might get stuck or, as is the case, choose to stay in one subcategory of forms because I enjoy them so much. The progression above also indicates naivete about other variables: some pieces are easy in one size, more difficult in another, and the kind of clay used (stoneware, porcelain, sandy stoneware, etc.) also influences the relative ease.

Glaze calculation's science and adjacency to cooking captured my interest, too. After reading up on the subject, I have been experimenting with altering glaze recipes, and have produced some nice variants (and ridiculous failures). Without my own kiln, though, formulating recipes from scratch will prove a time-consuming process.

Black Star Gaiwan

Above is a glaze layering combo whose results suprised me. The Mother of Pearl glaze melts the black glaze I applied over it, creating a bluish fur texture. Detail:

Black Star Gaiwan

Here's the same combo on a kyuusu-style teapot I made. The spout, while better and more functional than my last, hideous teapot, still needs major work. Unfortunately, I neglected to poke a hole in the lid for proper air pressure. The lid fits so tightly that water does not come out when the pot is full.

Black Star Kyuusu

Black Star Kyuusu

I have picked up some tips & tricks regarding surface texture. The two jars below form the results of two variants of a single process. With the first jar, it gives the piece a texture like human skin, though the photographs capture this poorly:

Dragonfly Jar - 2

Dragonfly Jar - 3

Dragonfly Jar - foot

In this jar, dry clay and small holes acecnt the slight cracking texture. I really like the raw earth look to the piece.

Raw Earth Jar

Raw Earth Jar - detail

Raw Earth Jar - top view

Raw Earth Jar - foot

I have new pieces that take this technique farther, but I am waiting for them to finish firing. I will share them soon.

Hopefully, though, my next entry will be a tea entry.