Saturday, October 17, 2009

Breaking the Rules with a Little Silver Teapot

We've mentioned a few times here on the blog the Chinese preference not to mix tea and metal because of the conflict between metal and tea's wood element in the Chinese five-element schema. Ideally, metal is avoided at the tea table. But rules are made to be broken, especially by teamasters. So yesterday Roy and I spent about an hour doing something I never expected to do with a Chinese tea drinker: enjoying green oolong tea in a tiny silver teapot.

Apologies for the photo quality; I only had my phone to make pictures. Roy acquired this outrageously cute little pot 20 years or so ago, from a Taiwanese tea vendor. It has a charming inscription in Chinese about the pleasures of drinking its tea. Due to the conductivity of the metal, the handle is insulated with a hand-tied string cover and the top is attached with a classic tied teapot string decorated with a wooden bead. Both of these enhancements are practical with a metal teapot, but they also add to the little pot's appeal.

The pot hadn't been used for quite awhile and was rather tarnished. We rinsed it with hot water but didn't polish or otherwise clean it. Interestingly, as we brewed tea a few times, the tarnish diminished noticeably and the silver began to shine.

But appearances aside, how does it brew tea? Roy said silver pots enhance very aromatic tea and are also good for teas where quick cooling of the water is desired. He selected a Taiwanese jin xuan, sometimes known as nai cha ("milk tea"), a fragrant high-mountain green oolong. The infusion was a rich yellow gold that quickly filled the room with its distinctive florals. I braced myself for a metallic off-taste, but couldn't detect one. I was a big skeptic about mixing tea and metal but had to admit that this little teapot had just made a delicious brew.

It's rare to see a silver Chinese teapot, but if you do, keep an open mind! The universe of tea is always ready to deal a few pleasant surprises to those who aim to explore its secrets.

4 comments:

Jason Witt said...

Ah. Awesome. Because I just acquired silver cups for tea and I bought an old silver teapot on Ebay that's on its way here. I'd heard that raw, young Puerh is enhanced by silver and I've found that many teas are better or even best in silver. And silver is antimicrobial and antibacterial just like tea itself is. There'll be no cold or flu and certainly no food-borne illness drinking tea in silver. --Teaternity

Jason Walker said...

Was reminded of "The Meaning of Tea"'s coverage of antique silver teapots.

Silver has long been a preferred material for water. Even before the time of Alexander the Great, people were storing water in silver vessels to preserve its sweetness. Good to read of silver pairing well with a wulong.

author said...

I've seen some antique Chinese drinking cups in silver. I believe there was a lot of trade with the Middle East (including Armenia, Mr. Fong) at a time when more Western countries were allied with Khans (such as trade of silks, embroideries, etc)

I believe there is also a traditional type of silver pot that is used in brewing on tea farms, isn't there? Someone wrote about it but I can't remember where...

- Janine

author said...

Tea drinking silver cups are of Tang dynasty and later... see photos here
(thanks to my friend Toki at the MandarinsTea blog)

http://themandarinstea.blogspot.com/2009/04/mang-sheng-pots-and-silver-lotus-cups.html