TeaGuide: Reviews and Ramblings

February 6, 2015

Ramblings: Tea ware from Occupied Japan

Filed under: exotic tea,food,history,tea,teacups — by teaguide @ 2:45 pm
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Teacup and saucer made in occupied JapanDuring the post-World War II years, the USA spent a great deal of money and manpower to help our former enemies rebuild their economies. One of the projects in Japan was the re-establishment of the ceramics industry.

While Japan had a centuries-old tradition of ceramics (stoneware, china, porcelain) ranging from functional to decorative before the war, many factories were damaged during the fighting and skilled workers were in short supply. At war’s end, former factory workers and artisans started finding their way home and began to take up their jobs in the ceramics industry.

Americans back home were, at first, reluctant to buy products from Japan. The main outlet for them was the PX, or post exchange: the store on the base where military personnel and their families shopped. Our GIs felt that helping the Japanese rebuild their economies included being their customers. By about 1948 American ill will against the Japanese people had subsided enough that goods from Japan were once again welcomed in USA markets.

occupied-japan-ware

An Occupied Japan cup and saucer that I found in a local antiques shop several years ago.

Ceramics produced in Japan between 1945 and 1952 were identified as being made in occupied Japan. Most of the pieces bear markings of this period: Made in Occupied Japan, or just Occupied Japan. Because this period lasted less than seven years, many of the pieces created during the occupation have become rare and quite valuable.

Ceramics require two firings (baking in a super-hot oven called a kiln): the first, or bisque, firing that produces a solid, semi-porous object; followed by the glaze firing, in which a combination of minerals applied to the object and then heated become vitreous, thus rendering the object impervious to liquids.

The ceramics created in Occupied Japan were generally made of a white clay, or kaolin, which is used to produce porcelain. Most of the objects, however, were produced as china, which is fired at a lower temperature than porcelain.

While the majority of Occupied Japan china comprised figurines or other figural items (mugs, salt and pepper shakers, vases, and the like), a great number of tea wares were also produced. Many of these took the form of miniature tea sets and children’s tea sets. You can also find a few teapots and full-size tea sets. The majority of tea wares produced in Occupied Japan, however, were teacups – and some very beautiful ones at that.

Occupied Japan china can be found at antiques and collectibles shops, yard sales, and via online sellers, and vary widely in price. Be sure to look for the identifying marks stamped on the bottom. Although there have been some forgeries, most objects carrying the Occupied Japan stamp tend to be genuine. On the other hand, some Occupied Japan china is, unfortunately, not marked as such, and requires a ceramics expert to correctly identify it. There are also some specific factory names you can look for: Ucagco is one of these. Other pieces are signed by the individual artisan.

As with all fine collectibles, it’s up to you to decide whether it’s worth the asking price. Once you find a piece that you love, the answer will be “yes” and you’ll be adding a beautiful piece of history to your tea ware collection.

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January 29, 2015

Ramblings: Intuitive about tea

tea-teaspoonWay back when I first started getting serious about high-end teas, I bought every tool, gizmo, and gadget in order to “properly” prepare the tea. My collection included several kinds of measuring spoons, a gram scale for metric weights, a small postal scale for avoirdupois weights, and an instant-read water thermometer. I’d obsess over exact measurements of water and tea leaf and precise water temperatures, and set both digital and analogue timers to ensure that the tea steeped for just the perfect amount of time.

That, as they say, was then, and this is now. All of those tools are somewhere in my tea room, mostly gathering dust.

Water kettleNowadays when I want a pot of tea, I “measure” the leaf in my hand. Water temperature? My clear electric kettle lets me see when it’s at a rolling boil (for most black teas), forming a string of pearl bubbles (for most oolongs and pouchongs), making crab-eye or fish-eye bubbles (for most green teas), and completely flat (for most white teas). These visual cues encompass various familiar ranges of temperatures.

And I say “most” because sometimes the prescribed water temperature doesn’t seem quite right for a particular tea. So I might pour string-of-pearls temperature water into a pot of Nepal or Darjeeling black tea. Certain teas seem to ask for less, or more, heat. After a while you get to know which ones.

Similarly, not all teas conform to the measuring spoon or weighing method, and these days I simply eyeball it. When it looks and feels more or less like a good amount it goes into the teapot. If it’s not right, I’ll add or subtract a little when making the next potful. Eventually you get the feel for each tea.

Trust your tea intuitionAnd forget about timers; I rarely even look at the clock. Instead, I let the tea steep while getting various little jobs done. I’ll practice my 24-form tai chi while a pot of black tea infuses. Emptying the dryer, folding the laundry, and putting it away gives white teas enough time to do their thing. By the time I’ve peeled a hard-boiled egg and sliced a piece of cheese for our dog’s breakfast my green tea is ready. Are these activities exactly five minutes, twelve minutes, and two-and-a-half minutes long? Don’t know; I’ve never checked them against the clock. And the tea usually comes out right.

The only times I hover over my teas are when they’re being prepared gong-fu style. Even then I can get the dishwasher mostly loaded or unloaded during the several consecutive steeps.

Sure, it’s important to get that initial understanding of how tea works. I imagine, tho’, that after a while most serious tea drinkers dispense with the fuss and bother and just relax about their tea-making. Some may call it sacrilege; I see it as perceptive intuition. Give it a try – you might be surprised at how in tune you are with your tea.

We’re pleased to announce that our posts are now included in the Tea Blog Posts at World of Tea!

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January 22, 2015

Ramblings: My own private tea room

Filed under: books,exotic tea,food,tea,tea rooms,Tea sites — by teaguide @ 3:05 pm
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All ready to serve the morning’s tea.

All ready to serve the morning’s tea.

Almost ten years ago, in mid-2005, we relocated from the NYC area to South Carolina, and started shopping for a house. We saw a style we loved, and found a contractor to custom-build it on our land.

DH and I each made a list of the must-have features we wanted in our new house. On his list were a balcony and lots of land. On my list were separate bathrooms, and a room dedicated to tea: my own private tea room.

The model we chose had an option for a “bonus room” – what used to be called a study or den: an extra room off the living room with a door but no closet. For about as long as I can remember I had also wanted a library, a whole room filled with books. Rather than having them in separate rooms, we combined the two into a library/tea room. It seemed natural to put tea and books together.

Shelves overflowing with tea and tea ware.

Shelves overflowing with tea and tea ware.

We visited the site frequently during construction. One day I walked into the partially-built house – essentially just the foundation and the frame – and realized that for the first time I was standing in my very own tea room.

A few weeks after we moved in we built cherry wood bookshelves around half the room. These hold books as well as tea and tea “things.” A local shop carries beautiful sea grass baskets in a wide assortment of sizes and shapes; about a dozen of these are now filled with teas, tablecloths, and various other items. And a large floor basket is stuffed with tea cozies.

Windows on three sides look out on our front, side, and back yards – well, actually our woods. Ottomans at two of the windows serve as window seats. Thermal draperies in a sage and burgundy cabbage rose pattern, along with the bookcases lining the walls, keep the room cool in summer and toasty warm in winter.

The kitties like to sit atop these boxes and keep us company. Today we’re hosting Tiffy.

The kitties like to sit atop these boxes and keep us company. Today we’re hosting Tiffy.

A sofa, a few serving tables, a teapot “tuffet,” stacking wooden storage boxes embellished with hand-painted cabbage roses – the smallest of which holds oolongs, white teas, and the occasional kitty — and a chair that converts to a library step complete the furnishings.

Over the years that we’ve been here, my collection of tea “things” has expanded beyond the tea room to fill a couple of floor cabinets and a wall cabinet in the adjacent living room. One of these days I’ll give away a few books to make room for more tea ware. Maybe.

My tea room is a refuge for solitary teatimes, for sharing “girlfriend” tea, and for weekend mornings to enjoy tea with my dear husband. Where we can look out at birds, squirrels, rabbits, deer, our fruit trees and our flower gardens. Or curl up with a good book. On pleasant spring or autumn days we might go outside on the balcony with our afternoon cups, but mornings are reserved at our own private tea room. (We got all our other “must-haves” too!)

We’re pleased to announce that our posts will now be included in the Tea Blog Posts at World of Tea!

Follow TeaGuide on Twitter @TeaGuide1

Friend TeaGuide on Facebook

Contact us by email about reviewing your tea or tea-related product, or to be interviewed.

If you’d like to leave a comment about this blog post for publication, please scroll down to the link that says “Leave a comment.”

All content Copyright 2014/2015 JP Badarau; all rights reserved.

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