Exploring Jingdezhen, the Porcelain Capital

2 May 2019

Just a few hours on a cozy train and we are in Jingdezhen, the Chinese 'Porcelain Capital'. 1.5 Million inhabitants, and it feels just like a small town. On the way to the hotel, we pass by streetlamps decorated with porcelain tiles and cross an antiquity market full of porcelain ware. If porcelain were to smell, the air would be heavy with it.

 

3 May 2019

Before getting out of bed, I tell myself: “Today, don’t buy anything, just window shop!”

This city is filled with art and I know how keen I am for crazy teaware shopping (see Yixing blog). Today, I just want to look around; for purchasing, there will be time during the next days.

We start the day strolling along Sanbao’s main road, one of the most artistic neighbourhoods of the city. Most of the shops are closed—artists get up late—but it’s good for us to have a slow start. We have brief exchanges with some artists while visiting their beautiful ateliers and homestays. Caroline starts purchasing, while I keep the promise made to myself.

A few hours later, we are in Liu’s messy office. About ten employees are lined up in front of computer’s screens, busy selling teaware on Liu’s Taobao shop. A few years back, when we first met him, Liu was a potter. You can still find an item made by him on our shop , the drip-catcher pitcher. Now he is a reseller, buying from fellow’s Jingdezhen artists to resell all over China. I end up buying a gaiwan and a leaf strainer for Nannuoshan; these purchases do not affect my promise—I tell myself, they are for Nannuoshan, not for myself. 

Tea porcelain in Jingdezhen

Teaware shop in Jingdezhen  

Teaware shops in Jingdezhen’s Sanbao neighborhood. The hidden garden of a 4-room homestay.

 

blue jingdezhen gaiwan large button  leaf tea filter strainer

 The first items purchased for Nannuoshan in Jingdezhen, a fish-mouth gaiwan in a fading-blue tinge and a golden leaf strainer.

 

Of the many porcelain venues in town, one is very special: Today is the opening of the largest teaware fair in Jingdezhen; an event occurring twice a year and lasting three days. Hundreds of potters expose their creations on tiny booths lined up along narrow streets. There we spend the whole afternoon till dusk; simply overwhelming! At the end of the day my eyes are tired, maybe more than my feet. Quite a few items tempted me; but I just took pictures and will come back tomorrow for shopping.

Rustical Gaiwan from Jingdezhen

Rough gaiwan from jingdezhen  jingdezhen tea pitcher

Jingdezhen tea bowl  jingdezhen bamboo gaiwan  jingdezhen fantasy water gaiwan

A few handmade gaiwans that I will end up buying tomorrow for Nannuoshan.

I’ll take home a piece each in my luggage, while the rest will be custom made for us in the next weeks and available to you in a few months… Alternatively, if you fall in love and don’t want to wait, you can contact us by email to order the sample articles.

 

The day is not over; after dinner we have an appointment at Mr. Lin’s shop. Mr. Lin and I have two things in common: we love Dancong and simple shapes. He treats us with amazing leaves from Wudong, masterly brewed in a thin Celadon gaiwan, soft and smooth like a cloud. Tomorrow we will visit his factory and experience his cooking skills: we are invited for dinner!

Celadon teaware

celadon cloud gaiwan from jingdezhen  Celadon cloud gaiwan and bowl

carving a tea cup in jingdezhen

Mr. Lin steeping a very rare Ginger Flower Dancong (Jiang Hua).
Views of his Celadon teaware collections, as soft as clouds. The gaiwan and the bowls will be available in our shop next fall.
Mr. Lin's employee engraving clouds in a Celadon tea bowl, just minutes before rushing to the kitchen to prepare fresh, hand-pulled pasta.

 

4 May 2019

New day, same place. We are again in Sanbao. This morning, instead of erratically walking up and down the main road, we head straight to Ryan’s studio. I am excited and impatient; Ryan is The Artist I wanted to meet during this trip.

Shy and self-confident at the same time, extravagant and reserved, and innovative; extremely so. We had a tea bowl from Ryan in our shop years back, when his talent was about to emerge.

As Caroline and I enter his tea room we both are amazed and fascinated at once. Ryan, now as in the early years of his career, plays with nature and metals. During his studies he spent some time in Europe, an experience that modernized is style; he merges Chinese tradition with Western flair. His works are not firm, they are alive: the painting applied on the ware is made to change over time, with use. Heat, water, and even gravity will change colors, texture and shape. And yes, as you may be already speculating, Ryan’s art comes at a price; and the recent introduction of silver and gold in his decorations doesn’t make his crafts cheaper.

Caroline and I don’t need to speak to each other. We both know we will spend a fortune here. Not many tea lovers in Europe are as crazy as we are; and actually we are well aware that we should spend most of our budget in tea, not in teaware. But we cannot help it!

Usually I avoid buying extremely expensive articles for Nannuoshan; I know from experience that they will remain unsold on the shelves of our warehouse. But when I buy for myself, the criteria are different.

Last year we broke the rule, sourcing tea for Nannuoshan worth more than a Euro per gram. Well, this year teaware is breaking the rules: in the pictures below a few items of Ryan’s collection that will be available soon on our online shop.

  collection of tea trays teatrays from Jingdezhen

Ryan explains his art. Tea trays exposed in his show room.

 

tea tray teatray with mountains

tea tray teatray with mountains  tea pitcher silver coated

Some of Ryan’s creations. The leftmost gaiwan decorated with bamboo leaves, the six-sided pitcher and the mountain tray will be available in Nannuoshan’s shop. They are all single pieces. If you fall in love, drop us an email before they are gone.

 

In the evening, we drive to the factory of Mr. Lin. He is busy running in and out of the factory. Outside, he prepares dinner in a self-made caldron; inside, he gets everything ready to fire the kiln; it will be firing the whole night long. Dinner is exquisite; chicken, potatoes, and fresh noodles homemade by one of his employees.

  

Mr. Lin prepares dinner in a self-made caldron and we all enjoy it.

 

Cups and gaiwans in Mr. Lin’s factory, waiting to be fired.

 

5 May 2019

The past two days were intense. So we decide to spend the last hours in Jingdezhen visiting Jackson Li’s Sanbao art village. The friend guiding us through the village lives here, together with other artists. Access is limited and a code needed to enter. Several wooden buildings are homes of selected artists and their ateliers. We enjoy the peaceful atmosphere and relax at a gongfu cha table were our friend steeps a twenty-year-old Shupu for us. You would expect it to be earthy, but, far from being so, it feels as smooth as silk on the palate. The taste reminds me of sticky rice.

Sanbao village Jackson Li  Gongfu cha in Sanbao village Jackson Li

Sanbao village Jackson Li

Buildings, interior design, and Gongfu Cha session at Jackson Li’s Sanbao village.

 

Time to leave. We take a train back to Shanghai and from there we will fly back home. China, this year, has been kind to us. The first Nannuoshan Tea Tour exceeded our expectations. Spencer, Benjamin, and I were delighted to guide our customers through China; their enthusiasm, astonishment, and gratitude are rewards that will remain in our hearts and memories.

Now the big question is: “What shall we organize next year for you?” There is time to think about it, but we are already planning a Tea Weekend in the Alps this summer, to share tea moments, tea knowledge, and ideas with all of you.

 

Written by Gabriele