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A perfect alignment of form and function.

October 08, 2010

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The incredible diversity of objects used in the preparation and consumption of tea is vast, with objects ranging from the most humble, like a cream-colored Buffalo china mug, to to the exquisite, such as a fabulously detailed ivory-handled silver Meiji era kyusu. For me, amid that vast richness of design and functionality there are a few very special pieces that stand apart as being close to perfection. One particular piece of recently acquired teaware is one of these special ones.

The teaware in the above photograph may look like a teapot, but it is not. It is a Bofura (ボーフラ), which is a type of Japanese ceramic kettle used over a Ryoro (りょうろ), a specific kind of ceramic tea stove to heat water for tea. These implements are traditionally used in Sencha-do, the Japanese tea ceremony used for preparing loose leaf teas, such as Gyokuro. A large number of people (including myself) were presented with the rare opportunity to observe a Sencha-do ceremony at the Rishi Tea booth at World Tea Expo this past June. Surrounded by a chaos of people and tea stuff, the lesser known of Japan’s two most practiced ceremonial forms was demonstrated by Master Tadao Yoshikura of the Obaku Kofu Ryu school.

This particular Bofura is not an antique or a signed artisan piece. It is a contemporary item, although it is in a style and form that is seen often in teaware for sencha-do. It has a pure simple design that I find profoundly beautiful, and I have to be exceptionally careful not to mar its pure white surface by accidentally scuffing it on a piece of charcoal or anything else. It is unglazed, so the surface has a nice texture, and the shape of the entire object feels really nice to hold, at least when it’s at rest, not filled with just-boiled water on the way to the yuzamashi.

There are kyusu (teapots) made in a very similar form and design, and also pure white, but they are typically glazed on the outside, which changes the aesthetic considerably. There are undoubtedly some differences in the physical properties of the clay as well, since a kettle must withstand a tremendous amount of heat over a coal fire, while a teapot doesn’t have to endure such punishment.

A couple of things to note about the details of this wonderful utensil: the knob handle on the top keeps fingers further away from the hotter part of the lid. Also, the handle, while completely enclosed, is hollow, which keeps it from getting as hot as it would if it were solid clay. And the gently tapering shape of the bottom allows it to nestle safely into the top inner part of the Ryoro.

(Note: the Bofura shown in use on top of the Ryoro in the photograph in this article is not the same object as the one discussed, obviously. It’s a different, but also typical, style of Bofura.)

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