Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Lee Kyu Tak's Teaware: Teapots and Tea Sets

Have you read the first post on Lee Kyu Tak?
Lee Kyu Tak is one of the most versatile teaware artists I know.  His teaware includes teapots, water pots, water heaters, water storage jars, waste water jars, ceremonial tea caddies, storage tea caddies, chawan, incense censers and incense cases.  I have not found another teaware artist who exceeds the variety of teaware items as those produced by Lee Kyu Tak.  There are so many teaware options that I am probably missing some.  In addition, he treats each of them in so many different ways that it is impossible to show them all.  So this blog post is limited to teapots and tea sets and can only be an introduction to them. 
If you are interested in purchasing, you should know that the items you see here may no longer be available.  We will be happy to see what is available since at this time we do not stock his work.  I’m just a potter trying to promote Korean tea and teaware and can’t afford to carry much stock.

 Click images to enlarge. Click the X in the upper corner to return.

To begin let’s look at the anatomy of a good teapot.
The Body:  The teapot body must not be so large that the infused tea will become cold, strong or bitter before it is consumed.  That is why most Korean teapots are quite small compared to Western style teapots or English style.

The Cooling: While it is not a teapot, a Korean style teapot must have a companion cooling bowl, cooling pitcher or open cooling teapot.  When infusing with a Korean teapot, the tealeaves are infused in the teapot and the entire finished contents poured into the cooling pot before serving.  This insures proper brewing for all infusions.  The tea is served from the cooling pot not the teapot.  So the cooling vessel must have a large enough capacity to receive all the tea from the teapot.
Since Korean teapots do come in various sizes you will want to consider the use of your particular teapot.  Will you be using it for 3 or fewer guests or for larger groups?
Next to the body capacity and the cooling vessel, we should look at either the spout or the lid opening.  Because I can treat it simply, let’s look at the spout.

The Spout: The opening of the spout in relation to the water level of the teapot is very important.  If you draw a visual line from the bottom of the opening of the spout straight back to the handle that line will be at the maximum water level for the teapot.  All of Lee Kyu Tak’s teapots are made with that in mind.  This is particularly important.  There are many, usually Western made teapots, where the spot opening is far too low on the pot.  This should be the first thing a potter considers when adding a spout to a teapot.
Next, let’s look at the opening of the teapot itself. But first The Knob:
Does the knob function well?  Is it too fragile?
 Click images to enlarge. Click the X in the upper corner to return.

The Opening: Take off the lid and look inside.  With this size of an opening, will this teapot be easy to clean?  Will it be relatively easy to add the loose tealeaves to the teapot?  Will it be easy to remove the used loose tealeaves from this teapot?  With all of Lee Kyu Tak’s teapots the answer is a resounding YES.
The Strainer: Is a tea leaf strainer built into the teapot?  Teapots for loose leaf tea must have a leaf strainer.  Are the holes in the strainer small enough to block most leaves from coming out of the teapot?  Note: it is impossible to block all leaf fragments and tea dust from coming out of the spout.  That is why we often use an external mesh strainer when serving tea.  The teapot straining holes are the first defense.  Some small leaves may escape because they enter the strainer hole point end first and broken pieces and tea leaf dust really can’t be avoided.  Lee Kyu Tak’s teapot strainers are perfect.  When considering a teapot, look at the thickness of the glaze within the teapot.  Was the glaze applied so thickly that it filled or reduced the size of the strainer holes?  Are the strainer holes too large or too small?  This is not an issue with Lee Kyu Tak. 
One other thought on strainer holes.  There is currently a debate between serious teapot artists who are asking which style is best A) holes through the natural wall of the teapot or B) indenting the wall to create a bulbous strainer.  While many Western artists are taught to indent a bulbous form before creating the strainer holes some Asian teaware artists, who know tea deeply, are now arguing for the non-indented strainer.

The Handle: While the handle is important, back handles,

side handles or top handles

 or even wing handles

are a matter of personal choice.  Which is better for you?  Can you ‘handle’ the teapot easily with the handle on your teapot?  The large majority of Lee Kyu Tak’s handles are back handles.  That choice is an interesting one.  According to my teacher the Japanese master Hamada Shoji, Korea was the first country to use side handles.
The Decoration: While the decoration of a teapot has little to do with the physical aspects of a teapot, it has a lot to do with the emotional, perceptual and spiritual aspects of a teapot.  This is your teapot.  You must decide what type of mood you want to achieve with your teapot.  Some may want a flower on their teapot because a flower makes them feel good.

Others may want a teapot that is very humble and simple because such a piece will aid their meditation while drinking tea. 
There are many possibilities and all are legitimate because a teapot is personal.  What I might select could be the opposite of what you might select.  Can you live with that teapot?  Will that teapot serve you well?  Go back to my first post on Lee Kyu Tak for more on decoration.
Now that we have looked at the anatomy of a good teapot, lets look at some of the tea sets and other teapots made by Lee Kyu Tak. 

 Click images to enlarge. Click the X in the upper corner to return.
This is a simple 5 cup set - ‘Chosen Karatsu’ in style.  It includes a teapot with lid stand, cooling bowl, 5 cups and a ceremonial tea caddy.  A more simple and basic set would include a teapot, 3 cups and a cooling bowl or cooling pitcher.  Did you notice the lid stand?

This Jinsa-yu (copper red) set added a hot water pot.

This set has added to it a waste water bowl, water pot and heater.  The water pot is quite a bit larger than the teapot because of its several duties during the preparation of tea including heating water for the teapot, cooling bowl and cups. 
Note: the heater is not intended to bring the water to serving temperature but simply to keep it at serving temperature.

Even that many items may not be enough for some tea connoisseurs.  This ‘cherry blossom’ buncheong set has all the items above plus an additional teapot, including a larger one with a side handle and a smaller one in addition to two cooling options i.e. a cooling bowl and an open cooling teapot.
What “basic” items might be added to such a set?  Very little.  Although other teaware artists might add an ‘ocean’ and ‘boat’ or other water handling systems.


Lee Kyu Tak's tea sets and teapots come in many styles here numbered in case you are interested in learning more.  They are quite reasonable in price.  
I know I have ignored teacups on this post. Wait for the next post.
Thanks for reading this introduction to Lee Kyu Tak’s teapots and tea sets.  His work is far more versatile than I am able to illustrate here.  Join us on our next Korean Ceramic Tour or our next TeaTour Korea to meet him and many other artists personally.  We visit Lee Kyu Tak on both tours.  Contact us to learn when our next Korean tour is scheduled.
My next post will be on Lee Kyu Tak’s other teaware.  Contact us if you are interested in the prices of his work.  I think they are quite reasonable and I often give prices lower than you would pay in Korea. 

If you are interested in learning more about Korean ceramics, Korean tea or Korean culture in general, please consider liking us on FacebookYou might also like to connect to our website.  Click here to go there. 

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