aesthetics of the tea table

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AaronFisherSilverpotjswm.jpg Aaron Fisher (aka Wu De) uses a silver teapot and antique Chinese tea bowls as an aesthetic and soulful treat

Tea enthusiasts spend countless hours tasting teas, but perhaps even as much time focused on the aesthetics of their own personal rituals with tea.  Collecting fine or simple tea ware is a favorite pastime of most tea lovers and brings a deeper awareness of the potential of a tea by the kettle, gaiwan, teapot, or cups that are used to heat the water, prepare the tea, and sip it. 

People who study tea know that all aspects of tea ware will influence the final cup.  The kettle and its heating element, the teapot or gaiwan and serving vessels, and the cups themselves all have an effect on the taste and "mood" of the tea.

While some use very expensive and collectible tea ware including silver or antique Japanese iron tea kettles, others seek out or come upon items for the tea service that fit more into the "wabi" aesthetic of tea in which the rustic, pure nature of the tea ware stands out by virtue of the beauty of its simplicity. In other words, the refinement of the unrefined. 


A roadside stone can be put to use on a tea tray
For example, I had tea with a well-to-do, Taiwanese tea company owner who has one the largest collections of antique Japanese tea kettles I've ever seen.  However, for his own tea service, he uses a kettle that is "un-sellable" because of its cosmetic defects, and in addition, uses a stone he found on the side of a road as a platform for his yixing teapot lid.  His tea tray? Part of an old wooden door whose finish has been worn by years in the elements.

Aaron Fisher, a tea teacher and author of the new book The Way of Tea, uses Ming Dynasty tea cups and Song Dynasty tea bowls to teach his students about the impact of tea ware on the taste of a tea. He told me that the quality of tea ware has a huge influence on the tea, and that even touching one's full tea cup to a treasured piece before sipping from it will heighten the taste and experience of the tea.

Some tea friends of mine bought slices of semi-precious rocks at a mineral show, and use these under their yixing teapots, so when the water flows down over the teapot and onto the rock, the slice of geology is transformed into a lustrous and luminous tableau full of color for all to appreciate. This demonstration of the abundant beauty of nature is the most fitting offering in a tea ritual of any kind.

You may wish to purchase expensive items or simply find usable "tea ware" in nature, abandoned construction sites or at estate sales. You can spend tens of thousands of dollars on one silver tea kettle or find a gorgeous item for your tea table on the beach, in a forest, or even on the roadside. Whatever you choose, have fun experimenting with what makes your tea experience look, feel and taste the way you want it to.
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