When it comes to the evolution of teaware over hundreds of generations,
one material above any others has ‘stuck’ or ‘resonated’ like no other: porcelain
For hundreds of years, this almost alchemical material science was kept a secret from the world, often imitated, never perfected. What made porcelain so spectacular for tea that the whole world wanted in?
Porcelain is a unique material because it has the smoothness (and non-reactivity) of glass, but the heat resistance of stoneware. It is the smooth - a perfectly even surface that can handle the shock of boiling water without cracking.
What is the value of smooth surfaces in tea? Well, a lot of tea’s aromatics can get tied up at “nucleation points,” or little pores on a brewing surface. The more aromatics get tied up, the less flavorful and aromatic a tea is when you sip it. Porcelain is talked about as “reflective” because it turns those volatile aromatic molecules right back around to you and shows a “true” portrait of the tea by stepping back and out of the way.
In terms of brewing and evaluation, porcelain gets its value and quality from how non-reactive it is. For this reason, thinner, harder, more glass-like porcelain is more difficult to achieve and more coveted than thicker, more porous porcelain and stoneware.
The best value in porcelain teaware comes from De Hua, the site of dozens of ancient kilns that rivaled Jingdezhen. While Jingdezhen porcelain’s firing process and hand-shaping make it often incredibly costly, Dehua kilns have mastered a firing process over hundreds of years that make their work more reliable to produce consistently, keeping costs lower.
We are lucky to work with the Peng Yuan Qing Hua studio in Dehua to bring in paper-thin, lustrous and beautifully non-reactive porcelain that rivals Jingdezhen at a fraction of the cost.
When we met with the owners of the Peng Yuan Qing Hua studio, they walked us through their unique process that yields such beautiful work at such a reasonable price. While Jingdezhen artists hand-throw their pieces in a meticulous and painstakingly slow technique of whittling down thicker pieces, our friends in Dehua use a modern lathe. They start with a block of their hard-paste porcelain clay, and using a mechanical lathe combined with hand-finishing and inspection, they turn the clay out into unbelievably-thin cups and gaiwans.
These pieces are high-fired to be fully non-reactive (vitrified), and then individual artists hand paint finishing details like golden bands, blue flowers, or landscape scenes before firing the pieces again to set the glaze work permanently. These artists are mostly young career painters getting a firm foundation in material science through painting work at the studio, supported by technical masters who oversee forming, finishing, glazing, firing, and more.
The whole process is very true to the form - the mechanical lathe mimics the way a potter throws on the wheel with stunning precision, while individual painters meditate on a single form for multiple firings of cups or gaiwans until they can produce it effortlessly.
This creative process allows for hand-made elegant pieces at a price that can hold its own even against the typical “export” porcelain flooding the market: mold-cast clumsy pieces with stickered printed patterns.
Interested in exploring the studio’s work?
We've just brought back several of their most beloved full sets at an 18% discount - no need to use a coupon code. Here are those beautiful tea sets, ready to brew ‘true’ accurate tea with precision and beauty (available with just the tea tools, or with a beautiful tea board for a full gongfu experience).
- Traditional Gongfu Tea Tasting Set
This tea set is inspired by the professional tea setups used at fine teahouses in Xiamen, one of the biggest cultural centers for oolong tea in the world, and central to all of Fujian’s abundant tea- from Tieguanyin to white tea and Big Red Robe. A high-fired, hand-painted porcelain gaiwan brings out deep and true aromatics in your tea, while aroma cups allow you to enjoy those aromatics to the fullest. A beautiful, carved, hardwood draining tea board is there to catch any drips or rinses during long tea sessions, and provides a beautiful contrast with the glowing and nearly translucent porcelain.Regular Price $182.00 $149.24
- Spring Bamboo Tea Set
This full tea set includes a gaiwan, pitcher, and two cups. The Pine Bough style draws on the Song Dynasty tradition of objects of scholarly contemplation with a subtle gnarled piece of wood in relief on the cups and gaiwan, a nod to the curious natural objects that were inspirational in the Song Dynasty studio. It is no small feat to achieve porcelain this thin while still featuring a relief that glows translucent in the light, accented with a fully hand-painted bamboo motif fired in both blue and green, fluid and expressive against the white porcelain. Each piece is fully vitrified and non-reactive, meaning they fully amplify the tea’s natural aromatics, making the set perfect for serious and contemplative tasting.
- Scholarly Amusements Full Gongfu Set
This unique set comes with a solid wood tea board, a gaiwan, a pitcher and a full set of six tea cups depicting scenes from an ancient scholar’s tea studio. The Lone Deer Tea Tray has a unique warm metal cover to contrast against the wood, perfect for the thin bright, lustrous porcelain. Each porcelain piece shows off natural objects of contemplation and tea-brewing scenes inspired by Song Dynasty tea traditions.Regular Price $134.00 $109.88
- Pine Bough Tea Set
This full tea set includes a gaiwan, pitcher, and two cups. The Pine Bough style draws on the Song Dynasty tradition of objects of scholarly contemplation with a subtle gnarled piece of wood in relief on the cups and gaiwan, a nod to the curious natural objects that were inspirational in the Song Dynasty studio. It is no small feat to achieve porcelain this thin while still featuring a relief that glows translucent in the light, accented with a fully hand-painted pine bough motif, fluid and expressive against the white porcelain. Each piece is fully vitrified and non-reactive, meaning they fully amplify the tea’s natural aromatics, making the set perfect for serious and contemplative tasting.
- Foundational Full Gongfu Tea Set
This unique set comes with a solid wood tea board, a gaiwan, a pitcher and a full set of six tea cups depicting scenes from an ancient scholar’s tea studio. The Lone Deer Tea Tray has a unique warm metal cover to contrast against the wood, perfect for the thin bright, lustrous porcelain. Each porcelain piece shows off natural objects of contemplation and tea-brewing scenes inspired by Song Dynasty tea traditions.
- Essentials Gongfu Tea Set
This tea set is everything you need to brew fine tea at home, or to kickstart friends and family in gongfu tea brewing. This essentials collection includes a white porcelain gaiwan that is fully non-reactive for true clean flavor and aroma. The cups are high fired porcelain from Qing Yuan Peng Hua studio in Dehua. The tempered glass pitcher and stainless steel strainer make it easy to brew for a group.
- Crimson Bamboo Porcelain Tea Set
This full set is a celebration of Pengyuan Qinghua studio’s incredible work with hand painting and fine thin porcelain, including a gaiwan, a pitcher and two cups. The striking motif features a hand-painted motif of delicate bamboo swaying in the wind. Pengyuan Qinghua Studio turns all of their own ultra-thin porcelain, vitrified at an extremely high firing temperature for teaware fine enough to amplify tea’s aromatics and allow light to pass through, giving each piece a glowing quality. The red brushwork is an elegant contrast to the white, and an evocative reference to the bamboo groves that grow alongside tea in the mountains of Fujian.Regular Price $79.75 $65.40