Clay and Its Value

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ShuShu
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Wed May 16, 2018 9:26 am

A knowledgeable vendor recently made this following comment, and I wonder what people here think:
“Nowadays, if one wants to spend less than $200 on a pot, one either buys a decent factory pot, a well-made modern “Yixing”, or one of those beautiful wood-fired iron-rich pots very popular now in eastern Europe. However, the clay of factory pots is really superior to most of what one can find in this price, and most of the price one pays for modern pots (whether Yixing or not) is usually for the craftsmanship and aesthetics, rather than the tea.”
Do you agree? I know it sounds like criticism, but it really isn’t. He just responded to my question regarding the way different clays affect the tea.

(I also asked about Japanese pottery, but he said that high-quality Japanese pottery is usually considerably more expensive)
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Bok
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Wed May 16, 2018 10:01 am

Mostly clay matters much less than what people believe or want to admit.

Craftsmanship and most importantly, pot geometry and things like thickness matter most.

I do still care and enjoy a nice vintage Yixing pot very much, but more for its story and style, rather that it has that magical effect on it...

Older clay from factory pot is also safer in terms of containing contamination. So for clay from China definitely old only for me.

Another point to be made for old teapots is that is reducing waste of resources and emissions. After all, a kiln is also blowing lots of nasty stuff into the atmosphere, something we sometimes forget with those romantic old school woodfirings...
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steanze
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Thu May 17, 2018 3:58 pm

Bok wrote:
Wed May 16, 2018 10:01 am
Mostly clay matters much less than what people believe or want to admit.

Craftsmanship and most importantly, pot geometry and things like thickness matter most.
Out of curiosity, Bok, did you try side by side comparison of porcelain, zhuni, hongni, zini, and duanni?

Clay matters a lot :) The fact that it matters less for the teas Bok likes to drink (Taiwanese oolong) does not mean it does not matter in general. And actually, it also matters for Taiwanese oolong, it is just that the yixing clay that works for Taiwanese oolong is the one more similar to porcelain and porcelain also does a good job. But try brewing Taiwanese oolong with duanni and you'll loose a huge amount of nuances. I would recommend the following comparisons:

1) taiwanese oolong, in porcelain vs duanni
2) a bitter puerh, in porcelain vs duanni

After that, it should become quite clear that clay matters.

Thickness and pour speed are also important. Geometry is important mostly in relation to heat retention and unfurling of leaves.

I also disagree in part with the vendor's statement. I would agree that the right yixing clay for a tea will be hard to beat. But whether it is "really superior" will depend on what kind of tea one plans to make with the pot. For some teas, yixing clay can be far superior to the alternatives, for other teas, it is easier to find closer alternatives. Taiwanese oolong is a good example in which you can find reasonable alternatives to yixing (porcelain) fairly easily. 60s-70s F1 hongni is still a bit better imo, but in the absence of considerations about aesthetics and with a limited budget one might do better spending more on tea. In fact, I have discouraged several people who pm'd me from getting a yixing for greener oolongs, and recommended they get a porcelain gaiwan instead. For aged sheng, on the contrary, it's harder to find similar alternatives to a good zini/qingshuini.

With respect to high-quality Japanese pottery, I would disagree that it is in general more expensive. One can find a Konishi Yohei and sometimes even a Yamada Jozan III for under $1k. For something at a similar level in modern Yixing (say a He Daohong) you'd have to pay easily $5k, and possibly above $20k. That's in part due to the fact that in Japan the really expensive stuff is chawans. The impression that high-quality Japanese pottery is expensive might be further due to the fact that yixing of a comparable level does not make it to the western market.

Japanese clays however are different from yixing, tokoname for example is a bit "muddier" so that it can be thrown on wheels (it's not bad, just different).
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ShuShu
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Thu May 17, 2018 5:32 pm

steanze wrote:
Thu May 17, 2018 3:58 pm
Bok wrote:
Wed May 16, 2018 10:01 am
Mostly clay matters much less than what people believe or want to admit.

Craftsmanship and most importantly, pot geometry and things like thickness matter most.
. The impression that high-quality Japanese pottery is expensive might be further due to the fact that yixing of a comparable level does not make it to the western market.

Thanks steanze!
I’ll just say that our conversation was strictly about the western market and the price range of $150-200.
Though I would be happy to hear what do you think about those clays that potters like Novak use in their unglazed teaware? The hype is that it greatly emphasizes the body due to its porosity and iron richness.
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Bok
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Thu May 17, 2018 6:49 pm

Steanze, you are right to put my comment into relation! My view is indeed limited by my preference for Taiwanese teas and Oolongs in general.

Maybe rephrase that in general that’s it is more likely a different clay might take away something from a tea, make it worse. The opposite of making it a lot better is harder to find. (Still based on my personal tea experience).

I do not own enough pots of similar built, proportions and in different clay to do proper side by side comparisons. Duanni seems to be of no good effect for most teas, no?

Novaks pots seem very porous, I have handled them and not a good match for greener Oolongs, taking away too much of what I would want to preserve. By the looks of it the same goes for the rest of the new wave of east European potters which all seem to use very similar clays and firing methods.
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ShuShu
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Thu May 17, 2018 7:21 pm

Bok wrote:
Thu May 17, 2018 6:49 pm


Novaks pots seem very porous, I have handled them and not a good match for greener Oolongs, taking away too much of what I would want to preserve. By the looks of it the same goes for the rest of the new wave of east European potters which all seem to use very similar clays and firing methods.
But isn’t this also true for many Japanese pots like shiggi, nosaka, banko etc that seem to perform quite well with Japanese greens? Perhaps Japanese greens are less vulnerable to the muting effect of pourus clay?
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Bok
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Thu May 17, 2018 8:08 pm

ShuShu wrote:
Thu May 17, 2018 7:21 pm
Bok wrote:
Thu May 17, 2018 6:49 pm


Novaks pots seem very porous, I have handled them and not a good match for greener Oolongs, taking away too much of what I would want to preserve. By the looks of it the same goes for the rest of the new wave of east European potters which all seem to use very similar clays and firing methods.
But isn’t this also true for many Japanese pots like shiggi, nosaka, banko etc that seem to perform quite well with Japanese greens? Perhaps Japanese greens are less vulnerable to the muting effect of pourus clay?
Exactly why I don’t own any
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steanze
Posts: 292
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Thu May 17, 2018 10:02 pm

Bok wrote:
Thu May 17, 2018 6:49 pm
Steanze, you are right to put my comment into relation! My view is indeed limited by my preference for Taiwanese teas and Oolongs in general.

Maybe rephrase that in general that’s it is more likely a different clay might take away something from a tea, make it worse. The opposite of making it a lot better is harder to find. (Still based on my personal tea experience).

I do not own enough pots of similar built, proportions and in different clay to do proper side by side comparisons. Duanni seems to be of no good effect for most teas, no?

Novaks pots seem very porous, I have handled them and not a good match for greener Oolongs, taking away too much of what I would want to preserve. By the looks of it the same goes for the rest of the new wave of east European potters which all seem to use very similar clays and firing methods.
:) As you say, for Taiwanese oolongs, it is hard to find Yixings that make them a lot better than porcelain. 60s-70s F1 hongni is a bit better imo, but the difference is subtle. Instead, you can find a lot of Yixing clays that make TW oolongs worse - duanni is the clearest case, but I would avoid zini/qingshuini too. For aged sheng, imo zini/qingshuini can make the teas a lot better than porcelain. Thicker and smoother. I think spending $100-200 for a good zini/qingshuini pot for aged sheng is very worthwhile, even leaving aside considerations about aesthetics.

For duanni it depends a bit on the type of duanni, because they can behave a bit differently. Most duanni is very porous, but it also has its uses. For example, I sometimes enjoy drinking some '90s sheng that went through some humid storage at some point of its life. It's nice and thick and comforting but it has a little bit of mustiness (not much). The duanni makes it even thicker and removes all the mustiness. So I have a duanni pot that I use relatively often, for that purpose. Another example is for a sheng that has quite a bit of bitterness, like a lao man'e or a pasha, then a duanni pot could come in handy. I don't drink much of that type of tea though. Duanni is quite nice for aesthetics, calligraphy and carvings can stand out quite beautifully on the lighter-colored yellow clay.

Novak's pots are beautiful. The unglazed ones I have tried are quite porous, I would use them for sheng and dark roast TGY. In terms of outcome, I would still give the edge to Yixing zini/qingshuini, but the more personal aesthetics of Novak's handmade pieces is such that it definitely makes sense to have one or two if the moment calls for something different.

Japanese greens can do well in a porous pot. They are usually quite potent and the rounding makes them nice and thick. TW oolongs, not so much, there is so much in the nuances.
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