Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Earth and Fire

Meet David Louveau de la Guigneraye as he adds wood to his small oven/kiln built in the ground. As you can see here and in my other article, David Louveau uses very traditional and ancient methods to prepare, work and fire his clay. He traveled to Korea to learn his craft and has also drawn his inspiration from Yanagi's book, The Unknown Craftsman. This explains the dominant Asian inspiration of his work. David Louveau also loves to drink Chinese teas (puerh and oolong). This tea passion guides him to make accessories that are not just pleasant to watch and hold. They are also useful and greatly improve the tea experience (when paired with the right tea).

23 cl for 260 grams.

This earth ware teapot was fired in the small oven shown above for 18 hours. There is no glazing inside or outside. It is simply the product of earth and fire. And yet, the outer surface of this teapot little bit unevenly shiny. Why? This shine comes from the wood's ashes as they fly in the oven and melt down where they fall. This is one of the reasons why a wood fired kiln can give more interesting results than a gas fired kiln or an electric oven. You'll also see that the color is darker on the upper part, because the heat is stronger. You can even see which side was facing the fire. The colors and the rugged feel of such a teapot are so natural. Amazing!

Beyond aesthetics, will the wood fired kiln have a positive impact on the tea? All things being equal, yes! To understand why, Teaparker proposes the analogy with heating water: boiled water tastes better, softer when we use wood or charcoal fire than when we use electricity or gas.
A characteristic of such earth ware is porosity. I can hear the teapot sparkle when boiling water is poured inside. This is the sound of pores releasing their air. These pores help filter and absorb smells and tastes. The best fit for such teapot are very strong teas like cooked puerh. I made some tests with different teas:
- 'fruity' Dong Ding Oolong: it came out smelling like a more lightly oxidized Oolong and almost nonexistent taste! (Bad fit)
- high roast Dong Ding Oolong from this spring: the strong roast taste was gone and replaced with a honey, sugar taste. Fragrances were fresh again. (Improved!) However, I used glazed porcelain cups to drink it. Using an earthware cup absorbed on top absorbed too much taste,
- top roasted Tie Guan Yin of 2005: Huuummm... Same as the high roast Dong Ding.
- 1990s raw old arbor Yiwu puerh: the result was a puerh that tasted 10 years younger!! Not really a good fit, since you'd want to drink the 'old' side of this tea.
- 2000 cooked Fuhai brick: Here I also used unglazed cup below. The result was much smoother and mellow than usual. Strong smells were just right and the taste even felt lively and bright. A perfect fit.

Below are items that have been fired in David Louveau's big kiln from September 21st to 28. His pottery occupied 2.5 cubic meters and he used 20 cubic meters of wood for the 7 days. More time and more wood mean more impact on the pottery:
5 cl for 90 grams.
It's easy to see that this cup was placed under another cup. 75% of the surface that was most exposed to the fire shows a strong natural gloss. With fire, heat and ashes unevenly distributed in the kiln, each piece comes out looking different and unique. They look even rougher, almost primitive and even ... alive! (Happy Halloween, by the way!) This cup made of earth has been through fire and has expressed its character.
I made the same tea tests and confirmed what Teaparker wrote in his book Cha Bei: earth ware cups fit hei cha (cooked puerh) best.

13 cm diameter and 236 grams.
David Louveau also likes to make simple tea bowls. This one displays wonderful natural color variations. It feels much lighter and thinner than it looks like.

The above pictures were taken outdoors under the late afternoon sun.
For the next bowl, I took my pictures indoors, near a window but without direct sunshine. It works well, because for this bowl the earth is green/gray:
13 cm diameter and 240 grams.
This side took the full impact of the fire. It's a survivor.

And the other side shows amazing color variations and even a thick layer of natural ashes made shiny glazing. And close to the rim, you can see more traces of dried ashes.

It's difficult to remain indifferent to these wares. If you drink cooked puerh, they are a natural fit. What I like most about them is the uncompromising way they are made: each is unique because they were made the traditional way, as they could have been made thousands of years ago.


Salsero said...

Beautiful pottery, but also a very inspired photo essay about them. Thanks so much.

geneviève meylan said...

I am fan !

Anonymous said...

> I am fan !

me too !!!!
belle trouvaille Stéphane, épatant travail David !

Soïwatter said...

One fan more!
There is such a strength in the cups... Wonderful!

Stephen Shelton said...

Great post and wonderful work. Would love to have some of this in my collection.

drumhum said...

That pottery is not for my tea I'm afraid. I associate fine teas with elegance and refinement and as much as the wood fire produces attractive results I could never call it refined!

I want my teaware made by the hands of virgins and decorated by angels - though admittedly these are quite hard to come by ;-)

Interesting article though.

Soïwatter said...

Drumhum, I do not share your opinion. All teas, I mean all oolongs, are not gentle subtle and fine flowery sweets. Sometime it is a real fight not to let you overcome by some powerful and exuberant wuyi yancha. And I think those cups would be marvellous rapier to take up the gauntlet... I find them wonderful.

TeaMasters said...

Drumhum makes a good point about pairing tea and tea ware. I agree this earthware is not a good fit for top green tea or high altitude Oolongs. However, it will be an excellent fit with with strong and earthy cooked puerh or freshly roasted Oolongs. These are not the most refined teas, but when they are paired with this teaware, they can nonetheless be thoroughly enjoyable! And maybe my next article will show that we can still do this in a refined way...

Israel said...

I have been using one of David's pots for a few days now. Here are my observations: This pot is EXTREMELY porous. Even after a few days, it still crackles when I pour boiling water in to warm it. I have dedicated it to shupu and this seems a good pairing. The heavy, earthy thickness of a decent shupu fits the character of the potter's work. After brewing shupu in it once, it soaked up the scent. Even when it is completely clean and dry, it smells like shupu. A more delicate tea, a green oolong or lu cha, would most likely get lost in this formidable creature. The pot has a presence. It is big and thick and heavy, and is the opposite of the aesthetically "angelic" type of teaware drumhum refers to. (My tea tray is suddenly quite cramped. Might have to find something bigger!) But I find this pot a very welcome change from porcelain and yixing. It has an undeniable raw, earthly beauty that pleases me greatly. I love to look at it and feel its rough texture. (It has tiny specks of mineral on its surface and you can still see the rings from the potter's wheel) And it does a fine job taming the edges of a shupu while allowing its essential character to speak. Thank you David and Stéphane! This object is helping me make the transition to winter.


TeaMasters said...

Thanks for your feedback on this teapot. First, it's nice to get your confirmation that heavy teas like shu puerhs are the best fit.

Second, your comments about the size are interesting. The special texture of this earthware gives a big presence to this teapot. This kind of clay is better suited for big pieces. It's like having a big paint brush: you will use it for a big painting. Thus, I think it is fitting for this teapot to be bigger than Yixing teapots. If it were smaller, it would loose some of its character.
Besides, this also fits shupu quite well. Shupu isn't a very delicate and fragile tea. It can be excellent, but it's still a tea that has a rough character.

Israel said...

That's a nice Shupu you included, too. Delicious, in fact. I like it very much. Thanks.


TeaMasters said...

I'm glad you liked my year 2000 CNNP brick.