Thursday, September 1, 2011

Know Your Stones?

A couple weeks ago I received my very first stone teapot. Since that day I've been using it often and getting some surprising results. While testing teas that I know well, I've been able to coax out many different flavors. Sometimes better and sometimes worse. Please check out yesterday's League of Pots post for a photo of this new teapot.

I wanted to know what type of stone my teapot is made out of so I've been doing some online research. In no time at all, I found myself buried deep in the enormously complex world of stone art. I'm still not sure what type of stone my new teapot is made from, but my guess is soapstone.

People have been carving and polishing precious and semiprecious stones (aka gemstones) for thousands of years. Many stones, whose names I recognize, include granite, onyx, jasper, marble, agate etc.... These, and others, are used to produce all manner of useful objects, vessels, jewelry and decorative items.

Know your stones?

I'm now on a quest to learn more about the types of stone used to make teaware. I'm pretty sure I'll always favor porcelain or clay for my own tea brewing but there is still something deeply appealing about stone. Perhaps it has something to do with the hundreds of millions of years that most stones have been on the earth and/or the trace minerals it could add to one's water.

I've only just begun to scratch the surface of this hugely fascinating subject, but the following seven stones seem to pop up often during my research of Chinese stone carving art:

Muyu (木魚) (Wood Fish) - I find this stone very interesting because it is touted as improving your health if you use it to brew tea. I'm skeptical, but it does appear to have a long history for use as teapots and I really like its beautiful dark wooden appearance. I wouldn't mind adding a Muyu teapot to my humble collection.

Soapstone (皂石) - This is a relatively soft stone that is still durable and can handle high temperatures. Many good looking teapots have been carved out of this ancient and versatile family of metamorphic rocks.

Chicken Blood (雞血) - I'm including this stone in my list mainly because of its cool name. The stone, which blends cream colors with blood-red colors, is used mainly for decorative pieces. It contains cinnabar, which contains mercury, so I'm not about to actually use a Chicken Blood teapot. I don't want to go "mad as a hatter."

Cheng Ni (澄泥) - This is one of the most popular stones for making ink-stones (for calligraphy and painting). I only found one reference to this type being used for teapots.

Jade (玉石) - Not surprisingly, I found tons of very expensive jade teapots online. Many of these are being sold by shady-looking live auction websites. I also found mixed reviews of their usefulness in brewing good tea. They sure are pretty, though.

Shoushan (寿山石) - Hailing from Fujian province, this is another type of stone that I'd really like to know more about. The Shoushan stone teapots that I've seen online are pretty wicked looking, in my opinion. They are really "rocky" with muddled red, gold and yellow hues. Also, they are described in several places as being "fully functional" and "excellent for tea brewing."

Qingtian (青田石) - Named for a small county in Zhejiang province, Qingtian stone encompasses a large category of beautiful decorative sculpture. Alas, I could only find a few vague references to its use as teaware.

I would really love to hear from anyone who has used stone teaware (especially teapots) to enhance their own tea drinking. I'd also love to hear from any "rock buffs" who may be able to point me towards some good books, websites or other resources pertaining to tea related stone art.


Charles said...

As a tea lover who frequents rock and gem shows (my son loves fossils and my wife makes gemstone jewelry) I occasionally see nephrite jade tea cups or (more rarely) a whole nephrite tea set including pot and tray. I've never been able to afford one of these pots, but I have a couple of nephrite jade cups. They feel a bit too heavy to be as comfortable to use as ceramic or zisha cups, and the cool/smooth mouth-texture is similar to using a heavy glass cup.

On a side note, I picked up some raw fluorite crystal growths from Yunnan to sit among my aging pu'er. It seems fluorite has some folk mythology in Asia, and I figured it couldn't hurt for my pu'er to have a little magic from the home country!

Brett said...

Thanks for the comment Charles. Nephrite jade is fascinating. I just checked out an Qing dynasty White Nephrite Jade teapot being sold for over $8,399 US$ !

Luke said...

I just bought a soapstone(?) teapot the other day and I like the idea too to make some tea in such old materials.
I used the pot yesterday for the first time and recognized a smell of the stone. My question is if anyone made the same experience with his/her stone teapot? Will the smell of the stone become weaker with time/usage? Sorry, english is not my first language...