Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Sun Moon Lake Teapots

I have spend this year April on Taiwan, you know, pots and tea. It was amazing time and to call it rich and joyful month would be understatement. It was inspirational on so many levels and it is still live. To give you a glance into it, here is one story...

The Lake from Tea research institut, where new clones and tea varietals are developing for decades now...

Sun Moon Lake...for many years it was a symbol of Taiwanese hong cha for me. Red tea, which I love for its unique flavor and energy and which often came to me labeled "tea from Sun Moon Lake area". I did know much about this terior or what to exactly imagine under this name. But when I bought my air ticket to Formosa, the 日月潭 was already on my have-to-see list. If you give a quick search on google images, you will see wonderful lake with mountains around, hotels and tourists but not tea fields. Well, there is a lot to see (and taste) for tea enthusiastic around that place when one drive up from Nantou. But tea finally was not the most precious thing, which I was carrying from that place this time. Nor teapot from local artist. Just ball of wet, yellow, greasy (and bit smelly) clay.

note: for those who would like to read more about background of Taiwanese hong cha I would like to recomment this post on Taiwan Tea Craft blog

How it all have happened? It is so simple. Take three open minded/open hearted friends traveling together for days, combine those with a lot of tea and magical experiences around Sun Moon Lake, and you can bet that one of them is going to suggest swiming. It tooks us a while to find the right spot where "people will be not too many and jungle not too tight". But we did it and with a lot of laughter we were baptized (and refreshed) in Zintun (as Taiwanesse originally call it)

 One of my friends then just reach the bed of the lake (ok, on the edge of bank and water). With words "Petr, this looks like something for you", he give me a small piece of Formosa island. At first touch I knew: I am going to take it with me, I am going to give it a try in fire. It can be slip glaze, it can be body for some small cups, we will see...

After some intermezzos the clay finally land on my work table, in our studio. As intermezzo you can, for example, imagine me, carrying 900g of clay in my jacket, during 7 hours night break on Dubai airport as all my luggage were overweight. Real fun!!... I play with it for a while, thinking what to do with it and how to do it. The clay was very nice, plastic and quite clean (when we consider that it was grabbed from bank of a lake). So I decided to leave it as natural as possible. I just took of some bigger stones, some sharp, smaller ones and few chips of old wood, which I found in it.

First, I make just test cones and put them in to our wood kiln. Such cones, laid out around kiln, can tell us a lot about any new clay. Color, texture but the main thing: How it stands in reduction firing and temperatures.

After this first firing I was pretty sure: It is on the the edge, but there is big chance that this clay will survive in coldest part of our kiln.

So final decision was not to make slip glaze, not bother with small cups. But directly take a chances and make some teapots from that mud! Well, we were three friends on that swimming spot. And as part of this trip, I still had Philip Brook from TaiwansesTeaCraft in my mind, we were happy to meet that day too (he was responsible for the tea in our veins and for much more of the good stuff along the road). So let's make four teapots from bottom of Sun Moon Lake!

What to say more? All important you can see on pictures. The clay was very nice to work with and final teapots are very interesting. Color and texture of the body, "the feeling" is incredible. Because I did not cleaned that clay, there were still some small stones, which on one hand give something special to those small pots. On other hand those stones were my obstacles during throwing and finishing. Pot could be finer without them, losing the rural touch. Either way, these are really unique tea pots. Some Sun Moon Lake hong cha is on its way to my doors. Guess which teapot I am going to brew that tea in.

Bisque fired...

In the kiln...

...with others, before firing.

First peep in to the kiln...

Friendly tea chatting...

First water, first leaves...

Sun Moon Lake in the middle of Europe...

Thank you for reading!

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Wake up, wake up, wake up!

This is wake up call. It is not addressed to you dears, but this blog was asleep for far too long. And what can be better for waking up then few cups of upright, good sheng!

Autumn is here...

I would like to share with you the newest addition to my pu-collection, tea which I am particularly happy about. It is 1 kg of tea leaves pressed to impressive brick. Yes, 1 kg brick. One thousand grams means also at least one hundred and fifty tea sessions together. 150 tea sessions in front of us! Lets start.

Brick by brick, 1000g of tea next to 100g of tea

Silent Mountain or White Whale, ambient or jazzy, I take them both. 

At first, good friend Tomaš gave me a piece of this brick with his personal label "The Silent Mountain". He added "You might like this. It is from Mengku area and if this is not from wild threes then I do not what is" He was right, I like it. I have to actually admit, it was love at first sip. Pressed in 2006 it is far to be mature, but already far to be called young. Even some time lived in humid Guangzhou does not left much in it, it is clean and bright. When Tomaš told me that he have few of those bricks left for sale, I did not think twice. Now, it is heaviest brick in my tea cabinet.

What to say, what is so special about it for me. It is both light and heavy. In some aspects sweat like some heichas are, but with undisguised power of old yunnan trees. At first, you would not say that it is "punchy" sheng. But with every cup, its vibrant energy is more and more obvious. It is slowly spreading from throat to the whole body, stopping in palms which starts to sweat. Flying mind slowly ease off, becoming quiet. Beautiful.

One of the firsts infusions. Is it just me or it looks silky even on picture?

It is different from most of puehr cha I know. The difference which is obvious on your tongue but how to describe it? I can give a try: Most of puehr cha (of similar age/area) I know can be in taste and fragrance describe as "apricots with flowers around" And this is, well, more like "molasses with blackcurrant fragrance" Ye, it is a bit really clumsy description. I have had just few teas with this character. From what is online on the market I know just about two teas like this. This strapping brick- about availability and price you have to ask Tomaš (his page is still just in Czech but feel free to ask there). Second tea, which I had sample some months ago, is this cake from EoT. This cake is rather costly but try at least a sample, it is absolutely beautiful. I will have to order at least sample of it too, I would like to see those two teas next to each other.

I love this new Mirka's brazier, which I "have to" test. Simple, quiet and working well. 

I hope, we successfully woke this blog up, I look forward to the rest of those one-hundred-and-fifty  tea moments with this tea. And I belive that there will be a chance to share it at live with some you,

 Now small lure for the next time:

Four teapots made from clay which I brought from Sun Moon Lake, back with my from my Taiwan travels. They are going to meet fire this weekend. Exiting.

Thank you for reading!

Friday, July 11, 2014

Stoves, Braziers for heating water

Some of my more aged readers (or patient, or persistent ones) may recall my previous entries on this topic. In post cut in two, I was already sharing my premature experiences on this field, I was trying to encourage tea folks to go ahead, to experiment with charcoal and water. You can find those posts here (part I) and here (part II). After another year and half of playing with fire, I am not sure if I am really qualified to play a wise man here. Nevertheless, there are some new findings to point out. I arranged those in three chapters, stoves-kettles-charcoal, and I will be glad if you find there something interesting. I am not going to talk again here about how great it is, when you use charcoal fire for heating water for your tea. You already know it, right?


Well, here is something new what we can be proud of. And it is this:

Iron cast basket, bottom up...

What is it? Iron cast basket, which works as kind of grate in our ceramic stoves. Idea of this was born in Mirka's head after few cracked baskets in our stoves and many tests with different clays, shapes and designs. We wanted something, what would be easy to use even for beginners, without permanent worries, if the stove will survive another fire or not. Iron cast basket looked as a simple solution. How it is often in life, idea is one thing and reality another and it took us over a year to receive first pieces of iron cast to start with. After Mirka has made design of the basket, we search for iron cast company to make it for us. From thirty contacted just three were able to make the shape and details we asked for. And after some more discussion we start to cooperate with small iron cast factory and first prototype reach us last fall. I started to test it and I found out that there are changes, which have to be made. More holes, thinner walls, to lower the shape. Iron cast mold had to be rebuild...

Finally, after the New Year, Mirka was making first ceramic stoves with iron cast baskets. First, some testing pieces for me and our friends. Now it is growing, new shapes, clays, surfaces. Inspired by tea community, she is using her creativity to make functional stoves, which will be adornment of your tea session and yet, are not too distinct, screaming from behind your tea table.

Eventhought most rules of usage are the same as with whole ceramic ones, I still would like to mention them again:

- as iron cast is thermal shock resistant, you can more freely start fire directly in the stove. Using wood chips, playing scoutboy, or using gas spray gun is not problem anymore. Just don't forget to use common sense. Starting fire indoors this way is for example not good idea. Also, if you use wood or charcoal from bone fire to light up charcoal inside such stove, you will need later on to clean holes in the basket from ash. Some kind of iron chopstick works here.

-be aware, that iron cast keeps heat for very long time. It is good thing when you are boiling water, you will find that even hour after your tea session, it can be still hot. So don't leave it without supervision. Do not pour water over iron cast to cool it down, it might crack!

-Mirka's stoves are suitable for all kind of kettles. Tetsubins, glass, silver or ceramic kettles, all will work on such stove. Just when the bottom of the kettle is really flat and wide, the heating of water can be slow. If you are not sure, let us know sizes of your kettle and we will check if it would work.


There is no such revolution in kettles as there is in stoves. No miracle clay around, which would handle every fire, every wild treatment. It is ceramic and as such it have to be approached. All rules basically fall in the "using common sense" category and I don't want to scare you. But I think it is better to write them down. So basic rules are as follows:

- My ceramic kettles are meant to be used on charcoal stoves. I am giving full guarantee for my ceramic kettles, if used over charcoal fire. If you use it on gas or electric stove then you are on your own. Sometime it works even on gas/electric but there are some bad experiences. Recently, I am using several kettles for my everyday tea on our electric stove (the one with glass on the top) with steel diffuser. It works, no more cracked kettles! But it is still too soon to tell with certainty so just please be aware, it is more risky.

-Do not refill hot kettle with cold water. Especially when the kettle is empty, wait at least ten minutes. If you don't have two, three kettles to heat them after each other, then it is better to refill kettle when there is still about 1/3 of hot water

-Do not let empty kettle on the stove. It will crack.

-Do not forget the boiling kettle on hot stove. When it is full, it will slosh out, either on iron basket or ceramic stove. Both pieces are hot and can crack under thermal shock attack. If the kettle is almost empty, it can boil out and you already know what will happen to empty kettle on fire.

-Find some soft, warm material to put your boiling kettle on. Do not put it directly from fire on cold, wet surface

As you can see on pictures above and bellow, there are some new designs. Especially those top ceramic handles are very comfortable to use. When for smaller kettles, up to 750ml, I still make side handle kettles for bigger one I recommet top ceramic handle.


I have tried many different charcoals over the years. Mainly focusing on how easy and comfortable each charcoal is. After visiting Taiwan and seeing and trying some charcoal there I am aware of big differences between charcoal there and here. Hardwood fareast charcoal is much more dense, last longer and burn with higher temperatures. But I still prefer to use local products, looking for the best ones, then to import it from far, far away.

There is one rule, which I already said in my first post, but now I see it as crucial. More dry charcoal is better then not so dry. It sounds and it is logical. But it really can make big difference. Dry charcoal means less smoke/smell (or not at all), it is easier to light up and gives more heat.

Also mentioned before: If you have time, wash your charcoal. It will give you also opportunity to sort it out. Especially if you use some cheaper, mixed charcoal, usually the bag will contain some, let say "unwanted" items. Three bark, dust and fragments, pieces, which too big, and very smoky un-carbonized pieces of wood. All that you can sort and clean, wash with shower. Then dry, dry, dry!!!

If you have any  stoves, kettles, charcoal related questions,  feel free to ask in comment section bellow or via email.

With burning charcoal around or without, enjoy every sip of your everyday live.

Thank you for reading!