Last Sunday, with Cha Ren Ya Xin, we each aimed for the perfect tea set for our tea (see next article). But it should also be a very personal tea set, not just a collection of expensive accessories. For instance, all the tea cloths you see where hand made by each tea person (I'm the exception: my mom did the cloth -thanks again mom!-) and the teapots, gaibeis, tea cups are our own. And the tea pot stands were made by one person of our group who started this hobby after taking the tea classes.
Teaparker lent us one object to complete our tea set, though. It's the Ni Lu, a clay 'oven'. It's like a small BBQ grill. It's made of special earth clay that can resist the high temperatures of fire. Their workmanship is usually not as refined as for a teapot. The one I got looks kind of big and clumsy, but I find that it fits my Dragon tetsubin perfectly (please, can I keep it!). And from the texture, you can right away see that it's an ancient piece.
The Ni Lu have almost gone extinct. People collect ancient teapots, but there are few people who care for Ni Lu now that we use gas or electricity to heat our water. This is a real pity and a step backward actually.
I found out that the Ni Lu kept my tetsubin at a constant hot temperature for a quite long time. The slowly burning charcoal placed in the Ni Lu provides for an excellent source of heat. Lu Yu, the classic tea author of Cha Jing, favored charcoal for heating water. It keeps water more mellow and soft. I could verify this as well, this Sunday. The water remained at the right temperature and tasted very fresh and soft. The electric heater I use at home is more convenient, but also more noisy and doesn't improve the water.
So, in order to make the tea experience closer to the refinement of ancient times, I found the Ni Lu a real improvement. If I find one at a flee market or in an antique shop, I will definitely get one myself. I really like to give new life to ancient items. It's really not about collecting them for display, but for real use. They add a more historic dimension to the tea.
I said earlier that many Ni Lu are big and clumsy, but this is not the case for this (white) Bai Ni Lu. See for yourself:It looks like a white tower. With the raw steel (tetsubin) and the fire, it reminds me of a medieval foundry or even of 'The Lord of the Rings'! This closeup shows the glowing charcoal in the Ni Lu. Hot!
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