Thursday, August 09, 2007

Ni Lu - the ancient kettle warmer

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!


perpleXd said...

This looks beautiful! Wow, I want one :) I bet it does make for a difference in the water. There is certainly a physical explanation, but there will also be an explanation in terms of chinese philosophy. For example, congee (rice porridge) is seen as very warming because it is cooked slowly and at a low temperature. And while you can achieve the same level of doneness much more quickly at a higher temp, it will not warm the body as well. I notice this, for example, when I try to boil a cup of water in the microwave. It will boil quickly, but also cools quickly. The microwave is perhaps the polar opposite of the Ni Lu, so I would imagine a ni lu would produce a quality cup of tea. Not to mention the nostalgia and beauty of it!

Stephane said...

Thanks for your analogy with congee. It is true that in Chinese cooking, you have either the very quick fry to preserve freshness, or the very slow simmer at the lowest fire possible to make meat tender and juicy.

This makes a lot of sense. Thanks.

Steph said...

Wow - such beautiful things, those Ni Lu! I had not known of them before. thank you.

Jérôme D said...

These pieces are really beautiful, but one must dare having charcoal on the table, and I can't imagine using that kind of item on a daily basis (even for the ones who can drink outdoor often).

I find the "white tower" splendid, but I wouldn't put a heavy filled tetsubin on it for a stability concern... but sure, these are certainly very efficient and nice to use !

Stephane said...

Thanks Steph and Jerome D,

Actually, you can also use the Ni Lu as a simple stand for the tetsubin, without charcoal, if you're afraid of the risk of fire or don't want the trouble with lighting it.

Yes, the white tower is slim and a big tetsubin wouldn't fit. But for a small one, it's perfect.

Bruno said...

Superbes en effet, le premier pour sa capacité à supporter de grosses tetsubins, et le second pour sa hauteur qui permet de le poser au sol si l'on ne veux pas l'avoir à table.
Ton potier Stéphane, pourrait-il en fabriquer ? Mais quels poids ont ces 2 Ni Lu ? Sont-ils très lourds par-rapport à une grosse tetsubin ?
Sinon il est possible d'en fabriquer un soi-même, nettement moins compliqué qu'un four à pain comme je l'ai vu sur le Net, en cherchant braséro en terre cuite ça donne déjà de bons résultats, genre brûle-encens géant.

Stephane said...

Si j'arrive à m'en procurer, je vous ferai signe!
Le Ni Lu que j'utilise pèse 1.6 kg.

Je pense, en effet, que cela est possible de le faire soi-même si on s'y connait un peu en poterie. L'important est de prendre une glaise qui tiendra la chaleur.

Bruno said...


je ne me sent pas capable de créer un Ni Lu, n'étant pas bricoleur, alors j'espère qu'un jour un potier de Taiwan ou de Chine sera intéressé d'en fabriquer, même sur commande.
Sinon pourrais-tu faire un sondage afin de savoir qui serait intéressé d'en avoir un ? Puis en proposant à l'éventuel potier ou fabricant de fours les deux modèles, celui de 1,6 kg que tu utilises et celui en forme de tour ?
Moi je suis très intéressé par le modèle le plus bas de 1,6 kg.