Friday, January 04, 2013

Tea Bowls, Specially Made

Teacher Low wasn't making the tea bowls in this collage. He was beautifying a student's work.

The dear friends mentioned about a low-key, seemingly little-known but well respected and talented ceramic artist Low Kok Hwee (刘格玮老师). They invited me over to sit in at one of the pottery classes he teaches at Toa Payoh Central Community Club. Toddled over one evening and I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of his work, and some of his students'. If I could make them myself, I would. But the hands and the clay don't communicate well at all. So I stick to appreciating, and purchasing beautiful works of art.

I was particularly interested in his tea cups and tea bowls, and secretly hoped that he would accept requests to make a couple. Of course I didn't want to mention anything much. It was all dependent on the finesse of his skills. What I saw, was more than satisfactory. In fact, I didn't know where to even begin asking him about it! He uses Taiwanese glaze, and also Japanese clay in a matte finish. I like his work, and the feel of the tea bowls and cups. It wouldn't be easy telling him exactly what I would like. But he had examples on display, and those would suffice. Whether a finished product would be perfect, is entirely arbitrary. Vessels for tea aren't pretty because others say so. It's subjective, and boils down to the feel of the vessels in your hand.

Had a chat with Teacher Low who entertained all my questions with patience. Learnt that he loves to drink tea as well, especially Fujian teas. Of course the pu'er is welcome. But he likes the Rock Oolong (武夷岩茶), in particular, but apparently it doesn't totally agree with his body, so as an everyday drink, he prefers the Iron Goddess (安溪铁观音). With this chat, instantly, I knew that he would understand the intrinsic feel of the vessels I would want in a tea cup or bowl. By the end of the night, I was very confident that he knew what I'm looking for, and once back in Singapore proper after all the travelling, I'd be able to think through what I want and ask him to make the tea cups required.

Imagine, to my giant surprise, to receive two huge tea bowls made by the pottery master himself, generously commissioned by the friends (for meeeeeeeee) and gifted for Christmas. I was absolutely over the moon! It was given to me over lunch at a restaurant. If I could have run around screaming with joy, I would have done so. These friends so know what I love. Royal gifts!

Opened the gift immediately and squealed. Carefully brought the bowls home for an extended look, took photos from all angles, and to 'cook' them for a bit in tea to prep them for usage. The bowls felt so good. Similar coloring finished in an identical glaze, each bowl felt just that bit different. Unique. As handmade items should feel. But there wasn't enough time to use them properly for a brew of something. That would have to wait till I've more than an hour to spare.

Finally, made time to sit down to use my new tea bowls for the very first time. Picked out two teas to drink and test out the flavors in these bowls. An imperial pu'er (宫廷普洱), since the man seemed keen to have that as a constant companion for tea. A tea bowl would be perfect for pu'er. Procured a new batch of Phoenix Dancong (凤凰单丛) and wanted to try it out. This tea bowl would be fine for it too. The fragrance would waft up beautifully and linger despite a wider neck than the usual tall cups meant for Guangdong oolongs.

The tea bowls, cooked, was all ready to receive the teas. The teas, tasted lovely in them. I really really like handmade pottery, and not factory-produced porcelain or celadon. Something about the 'liveliness' of the clay that interacted with the unique properties of tea that made these particular brews so enjoyable. Swirled the tea in the bowl, nosed it, and drank. Lovely. Am so very pleased.

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