An Ode to Czech Potters

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karma
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Fri Feb 28, 2020 2:24 pm

I originally had posted this on reddit, but some people on the tea discord recommended I post here for more/better feedback. Please let me know if I'm breaking any rules.
Hello everyone!

Recently there was a question posed talking about the lack of quality discussion on this subreddit. I agree and have decided to be the change I wish to see, instead of a whiny brat as I usually am. So, I'm going to talk about my favorite part of tea right now: Czech potters.

History

I don't have too much information on why there is such a large Czech gung fu/pottery scene, but here's a brief rundown of what I know. Any or all of this could be wrong, and some of it is unsourced things I remember, so if someone can correct me please do.

Best I can tell, the Czech tea movement starts with Ales Jurina when he opened up Dobra Cajovna , the first Czech tearoom after the Soviets were gone. Also at some point a large and high quality teashop selling puer and quality oolongs opened in Prague, and I'm unclear if they are the same people. Either way, the Czech tearoom scene became massive -- having a denser concentration of tearooms than even China.

This naturally lead to some of the people in the (relatively large and active) Czech pottery scene overlapping and they started to produce their own form of yixing/gung fu ware -- the first potter who seems to have done so was Petr Novák, but its unclear if he was the first to be making teaware in general, or if he was the first to be making gungfu ware. As this movement spilled out of the Czech republic, it became colloquially referred to as “euro ware” by the western/American online tea scene.

My understanding is that a lot of this movement is self taught, or at least follows from a Czech tradition. Much like modern Japanese pottery, it incorporates some lessons from contemporary Chinese pottery but is also heavily influenced by its cultural roots.

Edit: /u/SuaveMiltonWaddams gave us a great link! https://www.radio.cz/en/section/panoram ... phenomenon

The Pots

Onto the pots themselves! While there doesn’t seem to be as much uniformity as with, say, yixing pots, there’s still a lot of commonality between them. Most if not all of the main potters use a “glazed outside, raw clay inside” model and the glazes themselves are often visually similar to the wabisabi nature of some Japanese glazes. (https://www.artisticnippon.com/product/ ... eindex.htm)

There isn’t much info on the clay used, and it doesn’t seem like many euro potters work with the same clay. Often time they have private mines or caves that they guard as theirs, or share with friends, and there isn't any mythically defined clay region like with China. However, the euro clay seems pretty consistently good at heat retention and most potters prioritize getting porous clay, which often makes euro clay is quite muting. How this clay stacks up to 'authentic' yixing clay is debated, but it is overall considered good. If anyone has any more detailed links to euro clay sources it would be much appreciated.

The design and craftsmanship of most euro pots is impeccable. Contemporary pots tend to have tight fitting lids, excellent pours, and well designed clay filters. Notably, these pots are almost all wheel thrown and not slab built like Chinese pots are. And, while beauty is in the eye of the beholder, I don’t think many would deny that the glazes and form of the pots I’ve linked below are breathtaking.

My Pot

Now, for some more anecdotal reporting: this is my experience with this Jan Pavek pot. (http://www.janpavekpottery.com/teapot-008.html)

My main issue, and something I’d appreciate people weighing in on, is whether it is the design or the clay that makes it particularly suited for roasted oolongs in my experience. If anyone else has bought a Jan pot, please let me know!

Here are my thoughts:

- The lid is seated tighter/more precisely than any Chinese pot I’ve used, though I've never really held any of those $10k pots. It’s a tight enough fit that heat expansion can make it stay in when turned upside down. Sometimes this is actually a problem, as the lid will get stuck in the cooled pot and needs to be heated in order to take the lid off!

- You'll notice that the spout has a really tiny "drip catcher" on the opening. It isn't super exaggerated like some (which i think often ruins the silhouette), but it still prevents drips from running down the pot.

- The clay is a light sandy color, quite a lot like a mix of duani and luni, and quite rough and noticeably porous on the inside. It is comparable to some “rustic” yixing, but very different from most modern ones, and especially slip cast pots which tend to be smoother.

- The pour is very very smooth, but also a little finicky. The airhole is not on the knob, but offset. If the hole is on the spout-ward side the pour glugs air and does not run smooth, but if it is handle side it is perfectly smooth. While I prefer my airhole be on the knob so I can stop the flow, this is totally acceptable, and I suspect that to pot is too small for that.

- The heat retention of the pot is very good for it’s size, although I’ve never done any scientific measurements. The walls are reasonably thick, but I suspect the clay is doing a lot of the work.

Links to Potters and other Sites

Klasek Tea
Best I can tell, this czech language site seem to be the online hub for these potters to sell their ware. There are many talented potters here, some of which I’m more familiar with than others. Almost every potter here has a page on the site - http://www.darjeeling.cz/cz/autorska-tvorba


Petr Novák

I believe Petr was the first Czech potter to really blow up in the American tea scene and he's been doing it for around 20 years. Several notable tea figures (like Paul of white2tea) have pots made by him. His ware is available on his keramlk studio page, a website he founded with another potter — https://keramikstudio.artkeramika.cz/en ... k/teaware/

I also found this interview with him: https://www.stitcher.com/podcast/adam-y ... e/66873425

Miroslava Randová

I don’t know much about her besides that she and Petr work together closely, and founded Keramik Studio together. I think they may be ex-partners? - https://keramikstudio.artkeramika.cz/e ... lable-now/

Jan Pávek

His website has most of his work, and gives a good selection, although he also sells a more limited selection on Klasek - http://www.janpavekpottery.com/

Here's a link to an interview with him: https://www.pekoeandimp.com/photo-blog/ ... -jan-pavek

Jiří Duchek

I know relatively little about Jiri, although his tea ware is very exciting. He seems to make many saucers which the Czech gung fu ceremony seems to prefer to trays. I've heard his pots described as "noticeably handmade" and have a much more rustic feel than the precise nature of Jan's pottery.

Best I can tell, this is his main site - http://www.keramikaduchek.cz/

here's this great GREAT video of him harvesting clay: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xzuuiPSljSc

pu-erh.sk
Another site that hosts a variety of artists - https://www.pu-erh.sk/product-category/artists/

If anyone else has more notable potters or links or history please let me know!

Thanks
Last edited by pedant on Fri Feb 28, 2020 8:06 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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pedant
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Fri Feb 28, 2020 8:08 pm

hi @karma,

welcome to TF! :mrgreen:

thanks for an awesome first post.
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aet
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Sat Feb 29, 2020 2:21 am

Well in Czech we have long history of the pottery it self. I use to work for company making the kilns for firing as an electrician so I had an opportunity to visit many of the masters when repairing their kiln. That time not much teaware around was made, so I believe this had emerged just recently ( 10 years or so ) .
Speak of the high quality puerh....I wasn't that lucky to see / drink any in my last visit in Prague , I also visited few other tea shops around the country to offer our supply. I have learned about the problems which tea shop owners are facing , those unfortunately have a big impact on stuff being imported ( quality / price range ) .
Overall tea culture in Czech is quite poor , compare other countries around , like Rus, Poland. We are still beer nation and for most of us the tea is tea bag with honey / sugar and you can add lemon if have a cold / flu. The Rum works well with that as well ;-)
Most of the tea houses / shops stuck in back year 2000 concept . Water pipes , kuskus, mate rancho and carpets on the ground where you chill out for hours not spending much money ( that's the one of the problem of teashops economy in CZ ) . Add to that hot summer , when people prefer sit outside on terrace and having cold drink , rather in basement, were many of the teashops are situated coz cheaper rent ( another issue ) .
Yes Prague is different , in certain way and for somebody only. The knowledge of puerh tea is 0 to none , as far as I have occur , and so the appreciation , therefore buying ability...so the equivalent stuff is sold. They don't know how to brew it , usually making too strong infusions and being put off by earthiness of shu or excessive bitterness by sheng without understanding anything like hui gan...well those cheap puerhs do not offer much anyway ;-)
Generally we talking about cheap 20-40CNY cakes from GZ sold of course for much different price and that's because the salaries in Prague are much higher than other places in CZ ( and so the rent..etc. )
Few years I had a presentation in Prague city near to Vltava about China on big projection screen , 100+ people there , and I had some puerh tea with me as well which I've offered. Only 1 guy had approached with words " I'd like to buy the cheapest one please ;-) "
There are few enthusiasts ( backpackers ...we call them plastic bagers ...coz going around tea shops with plastic bag and offer what they have brought from their trip to China...I was counted as one of them, coz nobody believed me we have a teashop in KM;- ) who import some good stuff in small amount and it's sold between rather private circles.
The big players...I'm not going to name them ...have a problems with customs ( pesticides ) , that has been much more strict recently , so they started to buy from big German companies ( tea importers ) which deliver mediocre to cheap tea from Fujian mostly , or GZ for puerh.
I'm surprised that you have got excited by Czech tea culture because I've got very disappointed ( I haven't spot any big change from 20 years ago ) ...maybe my expectations were much higher.
If you ask in some dedicated Czech tea forums , the most people will tel you that they don't go to tea shops / houses coz quality low for high price. Yet it's a Czech tendency to compare with tea they can buy online , without considering the fact of the concept that you go to tea shop sit down with friend and have a chat with tea.
We are very bad on paying for service. Some even compare to the beer . Can not get head around why tea is so expensive , coz it's just a tea ;-) ( comparing with tea bag prices ) .
To those links. Yes , it very pleasant to see that there is some movement. There are some people who also make wooden cha ban , unfortunately price is much higher than if import from China...but for now, I believe. There is a festival each year called Cajomir ...it is bit ...I don't know how to express it, but ok for for beginners I suppose. Many people presenting their tea / company talk lots of bs , but at least opportunity to try some different tea alright.
There are also some enthusiast who organize tasting parties..these are good , coz usually some good tea is presented there.
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Bok
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Sat Feb 29, 2020 3:09 am

Thanks for both very interesting posts! I learned something. I think it’s quite similar in most European countries...
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Shine Magical
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Sat Feb 29, 2020 7:17 am

I’m Czech, I wonder if appreciating tea is in my genes. :D
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hopeofdawn
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Tue Mar 03, 2020 4:52 am

Thank you for the write up--it's always very interesting to see different POVs on local tea scenes, esp. from countries that don't have a lot of members frequenting our English-speaking boards. :) I'm a huge Petr Novak fan (seriously, nearly half my collection is his work), and it's really interesting to hear he's considered the top ceramic artist in CZ! I always thought there were others that we just never had an opportunity to hear about ... but Petr's work has a refinement and beauty in a class all its own, I will admit.
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lUKAV28
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Tue Mar 03, 2020 9:07 am

aet wrote:
Sat Feb 29, 2020 2:21 am
Some even compare to the beer . Can not get head around why tea is so expensive , coz it's just a tea ;-)
If I am right, Czech treat beer as food. That is why they have lower taxes on it and could sell it cheaper. Or to correct myself lower taxes make it cheaper. It is similar to wine here in Slovenia.

But I would agree with @Bok that the situation is similar throughout Europe. We drink a lot of tea but mostly tisanes. Maybe Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic are more infected with tea because of relative closeness to Russia. As a kid born in Yugoslavia, for us Italy was synonymous to smuggle coffee and jeans and the culture of drinking coffee stuck with us.

But it does beat me why the Czech Republic has such a strong pottery scene. Maybe the success of Petr Novak put a spotlight on other potters like Pavek and Duchek and now even younger potters are building its names like Sklenicka. And the scene is even broader if you put woodworks by Ondrej (Samorost).

I would say this could also be the obvious reason why younger Czech potters decide to try themselves in tea pottery as they instantly become a part of one relatively popular community (like Czech tea potters are). And it helps that many online tea shops in Europe came from that region too (pu-erh.sk, thetea.pl, klasektea.cz) who could put the spotlight on these artists and sell their items — don’t know how successfully. But there indeed must be the hard work of a generation of Czech potters who paved the road and popularized Czech teaware.

I was curious enough to ask Jiri Duchek about this topic and he generally agrees. He says it has been the hard work of the pioneers of tea and ceramics and philosophy in Czech Republic for 30 years ... This is fruits of this.
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Shine Magical
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Tue Mar 03, 2020 12:29 pm

Are there certain teas that are more popular than others in the Czech Republic?

My parents grew up there drinking red tea and I was wondering if that was common.
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Bok
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Tue Mar 03, 2020 5:22 pm

Shine Magical wrote:
Tue Mar 03, 2020 12:29 pm
Are there certain teas that are more popular than others in the Czech Republic?

My parents grew up there drinking red tea and I was wondering if that was common.
The whole of Europe of that generation will - if, they drank tea only had black tea of some kind, with sugar or milk or lemon usually.

CZ artisans in general are highly regarded since old times, think of Bohemian glass for example.

CZ illustration artists and kids movies are another export hit during Cold War times.

You could say there is a long-standing tradition and environment, conductive for creating nice things.
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Bok
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Tue Mar 03, 2020 10:41 pm

lUKAV28 wrote:
Tue Mar 03, 2020 9:07 am
But it does beat me why the Czech Republic has such a strong pottery scene. Maybe the success of Petr Novak put a spotlight on other potters like Pavek and Duchek and now even younger potters are building its names like Sklenicka. And the scene is even broader if you put woodworks by Ondrej (Samorost).
Is it really strong though? Seems to me it's those three and that's it. Not forgetting Novak's female partner Mirka Randova. Pavek to me is still a novice potter, not up to the level of Novak, still some learning and improvement to do.

In regards to clay, I remember reading Novaks blog, where he mentioned getting the majority of his clay from Germany, where it is prepared industrially. My favourite pots and background story of his are the ones he made from clay taken from Sun Moon lake in Taiwan. That was also the occasion that I met Petr and his tea ware while he was having an exhibition in Taichung. I was surprised how small some of his pieces are, difficult to guess from his images...
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Bok
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Tue Mar 03, 2020 10:46 pm

Historically, Bohemia, which is now part of CZ, used to be a cultural hot spot for centuries while belonging to changing empires.
AozoraE
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Tue Mar 03, 2020 11:13 pm

I don't know very much about Czech( or European potters for that matter) but from a lot of the tea ware of seen made by Czech potters, much of it tends to be woodfired. Does anyone know where the preference for woodfired pots/teaware came from?
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Bok
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Tue Mar 03, 2020 11:15 pm

AozoraE wrote:
Tue Mar 03, 2020 11:13 pm
I don't know very much about Czech( or European potters for that matter) but from a lot of the tea ware of seen made by Czech potters, much of it tends to be woodfired. Does anyone know where the preference for woodfired pots/teaware came from?
Japan. Anagama kilns. And they all seem to know and influence each other :)
AozoraE
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Tue Mar 03, 2020 11:27 pm

Bok wrote:
Tue Mar 03, 2020 11:15 pm
Japan. Anagama kilns. And they all seem to know and influence each other :)
Simple enough :D
It's just somewhat surprising given the amount of time and effort it takes to fire anything in a Anagama(let alone build one), that it would just be bit easier to start off using a more conventional kiln. Especially since making tea pottery seems to still be in its infancy over there.

I guess that goes to show how passionate they are for the craft :)
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Bok
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Tue Mar 03, 2020 11:50 pm

AozoraE wrote:
Tue Mar 03, 2020 11:27 pm
Bok wrote:
Tue Mar 03, 2020 11:15 pm
Japan. Anagama kilns. And they all seem to know and influence each other :)
Simple enough :D
It's just somewhat surprising given the amount of time and effort it takes to fire anything in a Anagama(let alone build one), that it would just be bit easier to start off using a more conventional kiln. Especially since making tea pottery seems to still be in its infancy over there.

I guess that goes to show how passionate they are for the craft :)
That people further West only now recognise them, doesn't mean they haven't been doing it for ages already ;)
I am sure they did not start out with wood fired kilns.
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