Monday, January 25, 2010

3 Al Gu Dae bowls and an experiment

The 3 bowls I'm presenting here were made by David Louveau de la Guigneraye. He is a French potter who works with natural clays (Earth) and 2 wood and a gas kilns (Fire). This first unglazed bowl was fired with gas. It looks a shiny and the touch is rough and hard. The large foot reminds me of a Tai Chi's sculpture by Ju Ming. It has a very martial and powerful spirit.

Matt from Mattcha's Blog tells us more about this bowl shape:

"The 'Hal Gu Dae' style, which originated in sixteenth century Korea, is a very difficult style to pull off and, perhaps for this reason, is rarely attempted by the master potters of today. It is characterized by its famous eye-catching foot and the balance that it creates with the main body of the bowl. The original 'Hal Gu Dae' foot has four protruding extensions forming a hollowed-out cross that can be seen on the very bottom of the foot if you flip the bowl over.

This style of foot has a inclination to overwhelm the grace and naturalness of a bowl. The challenge is to make such a monstrous and pompous foot look harmonious, natural, and more modest- not as easy as it sounds."
This second bowl (above) was glazed (white) and wood fired for 2 days and then got another 3 days of rest to cool down. It came out of the kiln on August 5, 2009. (The picture was taken after reopening the kiln). You can see the very top of it below in the middle of the picture left. It stood just right in front of the main fire. That's why one the sides facing the fire and the inside are so dark.
Its surface tells a story of suffering and resistance. It received the full strength of the fire and lots of ash deposits. The red colors one sees here and there are like fire on ice. Its touch is cold and smooth, but not entirely.

This bowl has a wider shape and its feet were shrinked at the base. Thereby, the feet appear smaller. This is also emphasized by the light color.

This last raw (unglazed, except near the foot) Al Gu Dae bowl was wood fired together with the one above. You can see it below on the far left of the picture in the kiln. It looks the most natural and its touch also feels much smoother than the gas fired bowl. I would almost say that this one feels like wood while the gas fired bowl feels metallic. The bowl closes before it opens again at the rim. This allows to hold it very comfortably with both hands.

Overall, this feels and looks the more harmonious of the three.

One of the reasons I brought these 3 bowls back to Taiwan is to study how to differentiate the firing methods and see how they impact the taste of tea. (I've also used them in my Cha Xi for aesthetic purpose).

Nowadays, almost all modern tea accessories one can find are gas fired. Wood is a much more expensive heat source. It's very difficult to control. Is it just a gimmick to be different or to follow the traditional methods for nostalgic reasons? Or does wood firing have an impact on the taste of tea?

Here, I'm testing all three bowls with my 2009 Spring 'lily' Baozhong. 5 gram per bowl and 3 gram for the smaller white competition bowl that I use as a reference. (It's important to preheat these big bowls well when brewing directly in them.)

1. Gas fired bow:

I taste more sweetness than with the porcelain, but also some astringency and bitterness after several seconds. The aftertaste somewhat feels stuck at the back of the mouth. But it has a nice power.
The tea also tastes more 'qing' or raw, not so easy on the stomach.

2. Glazed and wood fired

The tea tastes finer, more natural and lighter. The porcelain competition cup tastes rougher, more immediate. This one takes a second or 2 more to appear and does so with more grace. Sweet.

3. Unglazed and wood fired.

The tea tastes fine, light and like filtered. No 'qing', raw taste from this bowl. The tea slides easily down the mouth and throat. No astringency or bitterness. The tea is one and pure. This was already quite a pleasant surprise. Even better is the long mellow aftertaste. It fills the whole mouth again with recurring tastes and fragrances.

I have repeated this test with Qizhong Oolong and even with a potter in Yingge. Each time, this unglazed wood fired would perform better than the gas fired bowls. No wonder then that antique accessories (all wood fired) have something that modern pieces lack. It's not just aesthetics. The natural wood fire and clay remain true and close to nature. Tea interacts better with such material.

(Thank you David! Continue to amaze us and follow the traditional way to make accessories that will fit well with tea.)


Matt said...


Interesting experiment with the bowls.

Each bowl offers a very different taste to the tea in question. There are so many elements that could possibly affect the taste of a tea (i.e. shape of shallow, thickness of sidewall, density and composition of the clay, the thickness of the glaze, dispersion of the glaze in the shallow, the shape of the rim of the bowl, ect.). Your experiment really outlines this point.

Thanks for another thought provoking post.

David, good job on the tea bowls.

Ohh yeah,

One has really been enjoying your posts on tea storage lately. Very interesting subject.

Left a comment on this article ( ) that should shed some light on why the foil spoils tea. Have been meaning on chipping in on this topic for a while.


TeaMasters said...

Thank you very much Matt for this comment and the information you provided on your blog (and which I quoted).

Each bowl is somewhat different, but their weight and shape are very close. Also, they all come from the same maker. Therefore, the main difference is in the firing and glazing.

louveaudlg said...

thank you to show my Al Gu Dae teabols

I realy thank, Al Gu Dae teabols it is like curving a sculture more than throwing a bol, it's a very contemporary way of making bol.
we can mix influance of Brancusi,Noguchi and for sure Sell Young Jin who have teach me the way to do it.

And sure I like drinking matcha on those kind of bols

Thank you very much for your post, Stephane.
And thank you Matt also.


TeaMasters said...

Thank you for your additional comments David.
I felt this 'sculpture' approach especially with the first gas fired bowl. It is very powerful.

The second one is almost closer to melting, as if it were metallic.

The third one seems so natural. It less a conscious sculpture and more the unconscious shaping of how the clay was originally intended. It found back to its root.

Any of these bowls would look great when exhibited. However, as I manipulate them, I grow more and more attached to them. I have already pulled 2 from the selection!