This is the continuation and finale of this little series in which we have placed in parallel (and not in competition) teapots by Banko-yaki and Tokoname-yaki artists.
This time, we will be experimenting with two kyûsus that are smaller than the preceding ones (though they are not really tiny since they each contain around 180 ml (2/3 cup)).
I have already introduced the Tokoname teapot on the right: it is a work by Shôryû 昭龍 in red clay fired in smoke 燻し焼成, in other words, in reduction, which gives it its black colour. Very fine and light, this teapot has mat “skin” that is velvety, and very pleasant to the touch.
The Banko teapot, on the left, is a work by Mori Iroku 森伊呂久. Its distinguishing features are its precision shaping, fine cord markings and “diamond” cuts: Iroku’s trademarks. This design gives it a texture that also delights the fingertips, to the point that one may find one’s hands lingering on it. I have to say that at first, aesthetically, this teapot was not the one that caught my eye, but as soon as I picked it up, and then even more once I had used it, I fell under its spell.
The tea used for the test was the (handpicked) Kôshun cultivar tea from Fuji by Mr. Akiyama. Kôshun is a very classical variety, astringent with a very special, original, spicy floral fragrance.
The parameters were the same: 80 ml (1/4 cup) of water at around 80°C (176°F), 5 g (1.5 tsp) of leaves, 1 minute of infusion.
It is only my opinion, but after trying the six teapots and three types of tea, it seemed to me that the Banko ware gave the liquor volume, body. The flavours were unified and rounded, more mellow and light, with little astringency. The Tokoname ware brought out the details; the flavours appeared one after the next. It was like the liquor had been placed under a magnifying glass. Everything was easy to see, both qualities and also defects. The tea was stronger, and astringency appeared more easily. (However, I am NOT saying that brewing tea in Tokoname ware will necessarily make it astringent.)
Thus, it is impossible to say which is better than the other. The effects, or rather the nuances, are different. It is a question of the mood at the time. It might also be the case that, owing to its tendency to make teas more round, Banko ware would be very good with astringent teas, or, inversely, with very mellow teas, such as gyokuro, to bring out the sweetness even more.
Nonetheless, it is important not to fall into a kind of mysticism with respect to teapots. Their contributions remain on the level of nuances. Even though such nuances can be decisive in the end, the best teapot in the world will never replace high-quality tea, the right water and a minimum of brewing technique. As I am writing this article, I am tasting the Kôshun infused in the teapot by Iroku again, made this time with a little less leaves and water at around 70°C (158°F), but brewed for the same length of time: 1 minute. It is a real treat, one that the testing conditions could not produce.
The great charm of these teapots, which are made one by one by skilled artisans, lies above all in their aesthetic qualities. Their finishing is inimitable, their texture fine, and this beauty has a direct effect on the pleasure produced by the tea.
Moreover, it is important to fall under the spell of an object like one of these because I am convinced that a poor teapot cannot make one fall in love with its beauty.
Whether Tokoname or Banko, all of the teapots that charmed me and produced immense satisfaction when I used them had one thing in common: the texture. Touching them gives great pleasure.
Finally, I will go slightly off topic to clarify one point: having been turned on a wheel is not necessarily synonymous with being of better quality than having been made using a mold (ikomi 鋳込み). There are excellent molded kyûsus and mediocre turned teapots. Moreover, the mold is used only to make the body, whereas the spout, filter, handle and cover all remain handmade.
Perhaps there is only a difference in status between the two types of methods: an art vs. craft difference.