Friday, August 28, 2009

Rain and Phoenix

I do love a flared rim on a porcelain cup. Filled to the top, the edges of the tea lighten and disappear into the porcelain's glaze. There is no demarcation of tea and vessel, just softness and a beautiful blurring of elements. I take a sip and the world seems to lose its hard edges. Rain on a weekday afternoon also gives me that same fuzzy feeling. Sheets of water slap against the windows and the city skyline fades into the clouds. It's dark and cozy and I happily abandon the computer and join Winnie at the tea table.

She's brewing the Phoenix oolong, a tea that loves the wet weather. Hard to explain, maybe it's the humidity or the change in atmospheric pressure... whatever it is, a rainy day just seems to bring out the best in teas, especially teas from Phoenix Mt. My mouth starts to water as she scoops out the dark, slender leaves. I can already taste the notes of peach and wild almonds. I know the aroma will not disappear and instead wait for me at the bottom of my cup
The afternoon seems even more special as Winnie pulls out her cherished Yixing teapot for Phoenix tea. Since the move, so much of what used to be on display has been carefully packed and shelved to keep our new, smaller space organized and clutter-free.
It's been months since I've seen this beautiful teapot:
Understandably, Winnie stopped using her phoenix pot at tea gatherings as she hated to disappoint everyone who wanted to purchase it from her. It's not for sale but I can see the desire to add this beauty to one's collection. Even without the hand-painted artwork, the teapot is a well balanced Yixing ware with a classic shape. The dark purple clay feels supple to the touch and darkens considerably once it's fed water and tea.

More like a kingfisher than a phoenix, the bird theme is fitting for the Phoenix oolong without having to be too literal. The delicate colors and expressive line work is a lively contrast to the dark clay. Bold and sweet at the same time. There's skill in decorating teapots with this much color and keeping it all in the realm of good taste. Sadly, teapots of this caliber are much harder to come by in this day and age. No wonder everyone wants Winnie's.

Even in Winnie's dainty hands, her teapot looks tiny. In fact, I've never seen Michael use this teapot.I don't know that it would look right. It's not about the size, Michael's used smaller teapots for his ChiuJao GongFu Cha. I really think this is about the matching the teapot to the appropriate personality. There's a feminine beauty to Phoenix pot that seems to come alive with Winnie's graceful movements.

If there's a ever a reason to choose fine, porcelain for your tea, this is it. To see the effect of the light as it tumbles about in the cup, transforming tea into a glimmering treasure. And perhaps it was all in my mind, but the Phoenix seemed to taste richer for the company, the rain, the clay and the porcelain. A sweet, floral fragrance hovered over the table. I tasted hints of lychee and a rich, mellow honey that lingered after the fruitiness evaporated off the palate. A touch of astringence led to a cooling finish. Even as the rain let up and I shuffled back to my work, I could still taste the ghost of the tea getting sweeter and sweeter.