In Pursuit of Tea has an excellent article on drinking tea in the Gongfu style and another good one on tea preparation using a gaiwan. I have not purchased anything from their site for a while, but one of the nicest teas I’ve risked ordering through mail order – a crooked horse oolong – was purchased from them. Their site has a respectable amount of useful information on it also.
The real danger of getting seriously involved in specific preparations and techniques for tea service is the rate at which cabinets will fill with new teaware: cups, pots, tools, gaiwans, tea trays, aroma cups. I could go on. I love all of the specificity of the right vessels and utensils for the right teas, but I might need my own teahouse soon, with rows of shelves to house and organize more effectively!
A particularly curious item found on many traditional Chinese tea tables is pictured in the lower right part of the photograph of the table above. This one is in the form of a foot with two spiders on the top. These objects are used to invite good luck to the server and drinkers. As part of the tea ceremony, they frequently have tea poured over them, allowing them to mature and acquire a nice patina just like well-used and broken-in yixing pots. The clay on this one is a little coarser than most zisha clay I have seen, so I am not certain what variety of clay it is made of. It has an intentionally loose piece on the inside so that it rattles when shaken. I have been so far unable to find a lot of information about these interesting objects, although I have seen a lot of them in tea shops. They are often made in the form of money frogs or people, and sometimes mythological creatures. I do not know what their name is in Chinese, which inhibits finding out more about them online or even finding sources for purchasing them online.
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