02 December 2008

Is aged tea ware always better?

More learning from Daniel at Arts de Chine

In Daniel's collection are some Qing dynasty brewing vessels, like gaiwan and teapots, as well as some Ming dynasty porcelain. The distinctive cobalt glaze of the Ming dynasty that has been so widely duplicated is a popular design for tea ware.

Both Daniel and I believe that the usage of different clay teapots will enhance the tea that is brewed within it. But is the same true for an antique vs. a modern gaiwan?

Per Daniel, antique gaiwans have porcelain that is mixed and made by hand, molds that are hand-made and a product that is fired at less consistent temperatures than the machines that make porcelain today. Because of these and several other factors that he explained, the porosity of the ancient porcelain should be greater.

Modern gaiwan are largely made by machines that pound the raw materials into the powder/paste that will then be molded into the final product. Not only do the machines create finer and more consistent "mash," but the usage of modern technology allows for higher firing temperatures and more consistent thickness. Consistent density of good porcelain products should be easier to achieve with modern machinery.

celadon tea ware set

Daniel told me that he had a friend and fellow tea lover that believed that he could tell the difference between not only tea that is brewed in an antique vs. a modern gaiwan, but also the taste of tea that is simply placed in an ancient vs. a modern porcelain tea cup. Porcelain here is the central argument, as there can be some taste differences if you put tea in a porcelain, metal, plastic or clay cup. After much experimentation and blind tasting, the result was that his expert friend - as Daniel had already guessed - could not pick out the difference.

Porosity is important for teapots, since this quality can, among other things, help round out an especially harsh tea. Among its many names, gaiwans are known in Cantonese as a "steaming pot," its primary purpose to trap heat for delicate brews, such as less-oxidized teas. Thus, I believe that higher porosity, as in the case of antique porcelain, may not be a favorable trait for gaiwans as it may be for clay pots.

So does a significant difference in taste exist? Perhaps, but if the experts can't spot the difference with any level of consistency, then the difference is not significant enough for me to necessitate usage of antique porcelain.

My bottom line is that a nice Qing-dynasty gaiwan may cost you $1000. A nice modern gaiwan may cost you $20. Without being able to conclusively say that the old gaiwan significantly enhances the taste of a good tea, I'd opt to spend the difference between the two on some good tea. The beauty of an aged Wuyi tea vs. a grocery store tea bag - now that's enough of a difference for me to care. Antique collectors will definitely disagree with me, but like I've said all along, I just like tea.

Drink good tea and enrich your life.


  1. I must say that your celadon ware is exceptionally beautiful. If I may ask, where did you happen to find it (crosses fingers for an online vendor)?

    Thank you,

  2. Hi Tyler,

    I do love the delicate hue of a thin celadon above all other modern porcelain (antique celadon is WAY out of my price range).

    The Gaiwan, aroma cup and tasting cup were all from a bay area teahouse called Celadon Fine Teas, which is now known as Teance. I bought it about 10 years ago, so I'm not sure if you can still find it there. www.teance.com. The owner's name is Winnie and she's cool. She may still have some, even if it's not posted online.

    Good luck,