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Tea Sets

In China, there are various kinds of exquisite tea sets of both practical and artistic values. Chinese tea sets are well known at home and abroad and favored by tea lovers through the ages. Over the long developing history of tea drinking in China, both the customs and the processes have gone through great changes. As for special tools for drinking tea, tea sets have also undergone an evolution.

Major types of tea sets include:

1. Fictile Tea Sets

Among the fictile tea sets, the purple clay tea set made in Yixing is regarded as the best one. The purple clay teapot is made of unglazed clay, which is baked with purple and red mud specially found in the local area. Since it is densely agglomerated and finely molded at a high temperature, such a teapot not only can hold water without leakage but also can absorb liquid and retain some of the flavor of the tea due to its porous nature unperceivable by naked eye. The purple clay teapot is slow in heat transfer, preventing one from scalding one's hand. It can also keep tealeaves from spoiling in hot days. More over, such kind of teapot can stand sharp changes in temperature and even be put directly on fire to stew tea if required. The purple clay tea set also features simple design and unsophisticated color and takes various shapes, such as bamboo knot, lotus root, pine tree knot and bronze ware imitating that of the Shang (17th- 11th century BC) and Zhou (11th century BC - 256BC) Dynasties.

2. Porcelain Tea Sets

1) White-porcelain tea sets: the most famous white-porcelain producing area is Jingdezhen, and other areas include Liling of Hunan Province, Tangshan of Hebei Province and Qimen of Anhui Province. In the Yuan Dynasty, Jingdezhen was well known for its celadon that enjoyed a hot sale overseas.

2) Celadon tea sets: celadon tea sets began to enjoy popularity from the Jin Dynasty, and reached its height of splendor in the Song Dynasty when Longquange Kiln of Zhejiang Province, one of the five famous kilns at the time, produced various kinds of celadon products, including teapots, tea bowls, cups and trays, etc.

3) Black-porcelain tea sets: In the Song Dynasty (960-1279), tea contest was prevalent in Fujian. Contestants believed that black-porcelain tea cup made in Jian'an was the most suitable ware to improve tea quality, thus such tea sets gradually gained a high reputation far and near. As described in the Record of Tea by Cai Xiang of the Song Dynasty, To make the water appear limpid, better use black-porcelain cups. Cups made in Jian'an are dark purple in color, with fine lines like rabbit hair. The most notable advantage of these cups is that they are hard to cool down if heated for a long time due to their thick base. Cups made in other places, either thin or of purple color, cannot compare to such cups. Contestants don not use celadon cups.

3. Lacquer Tea Sets: Lacquer tea sets were put into use in the Qing Dynasty and mainly made in Fuzhou area of Fujian Province. Various kinds of lacquer tea sets were produced in Fuzhou, such as shining treasure sands, glazed spun gold, archaized porcelain, carved and paint and silver-embedded. After the adoption of new techniques, such as red gold dust and carved pattern of flowers, the tea sets became more colorful and lovable.

4. Glass Tea Sets: In modern times, glass tea sets have gone through great development. Glass, transparent and with dazzling luster, is a plastic material used widely. Using glass cup to make tea, one can enjoy a good view of the bright color of the water and the tender tealeaves that are pushed up and down when water is poured in and then slowly stretch. Watching such a process is like appreciating a kind of dynamic art, especially when one makes top-grade tea. Mist rises from green water in the crystal-clear glass cup, with tender tea buds and leaves lying at the bottom. Glass tea sets have some disadvantages, such as breakable and easier to transfer heat than porcelain.

5. Metal Tea Sets: Metal has great advantage over other materials in tea storage, and tin is the best one compared to all other metals such as gold, silver and copper. Tin pot is mostly made with small mouth and long neck together with a tube-shaped body. Such kind of airproof tin pot can guard tea against moisture, oxidation, light and peculiar smell. In the Tang Dynasty, imperial family drank Guzhu tea which should be made with water from the Jinsha Spring. The spring water was sent directly to Chang'an in unbreakable tin pots. But ordinary people could not afford such pots because they were too expensive.

6. Bamboo and Wooden Tea Sets: In past days, large rural areas, including tea-producing areas, used bamboo or wooden tea sets to make tea because they were cheap but with good quality. But such tea sets are seldom used nowadays, except some bamboo and wooden pots that are used to store tea, especially teapots made of boxwood and reed-bamboo. These two kinds of pots are artworks, both precious presents to friends and practical articles for one's own use.

In Chinese history, there were also tea sets made of jade, crystal and agate, but they did not play an important role in the evolution of tea sets because they were expensive, hard to make and of little practical value. These tea sets were mainly regarded as a luxury, boasting of their owners' wealth. 

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