Sunday, December 18, 2005

The way to hold a Yuan dynasty tea cup

Faced with this beautiful reproduction of a Yuan dynasty cup (1277-1367), one wonders: how should I hold it? What do I do with the cup holder on which the cup rests?

Before I answer these all too important metaphysical questions for Chinese tea lovers, let me first give more information about this amazingly beautiful tea cup. More pictures of the cup here.

Only one similar genuine antique exists in a Chinese museum (I think it's Taiwan's National Palace Museum and while you are on that site make sure you don't miss viewing the video 'Old is New' in Quicktime format). It served as a template for the shape and one design of the drawings on the cup. This cup is actually part of a set of 8 cups. The other designs are also replicates of actual ancient Yuan Dynasty designs (as found in books edited by museums).

The cups are made and painted by hand (la pei) using the very same techniques as seven hundred years ago by pottery craftsmen that have specialized in these old techniques. That is why the production time is kind of slow: it took half a year to make five sets of eight cup each. I've asked how much such a set would cost (the first five sets have already been sold out): approximately 3,000 euros! That's a lot of money for 8 cups! However, last time I looked at the price of Meissen tea cups with plate (the fancy 'english tea' ones, not the ones I have) I saw that 1 cup can cost as much as 1,800 euros! So, while expensive, it is still relatively normal. I think I will see if my fellow tea students are willing to buy a set together with me so that we can buy 2 each.

I had the pleasure and honor to drink from it today again. The porcelain feels very hard, heavy and has a very high degree of concentration. The glazing is smooth and feels like the best old tea cups I have. The color of the tea is clearer and shinier than in other tea cups. Even the smell is better, richer and more fragrant! And now that I know how to hold it correctly, I felt like in tea heaven, just like an imperial official in a yamen (townhall) taking a rest from his daytime duties...

So, what's the correct way to hold it? Used to western tea plates, I guess that modern people would instinctively hold it like this (wrong) way:

Teaparker found the correct answer in a one of thos big art books printed by a researcher working in a Chinese museum. I don't have the reference of the book, but I did take this picture:

And so, when you hold the cup from the bottom, and you look at your cup, this is what you see:

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