Yixing PaoDee Interview with Bok
Bok is the person behind Paodee, also known for his knowledge about Yixing teapots in certain circles of tea ware aficionados. We are delighted to be able to share some of his thoughts with you here in this interview.
[Photo above]: Paodee x Anmo collection
Anna: Tell us about the moment you became a hopeless teapot addict, especially concerning antique Yixing?
Bok: I have been a bystander in terms of Yixing teapots for the longest time, doubting very much that they would make such a big difference to the tea experience. Which has kind of been my luck, as I only got my feet wet when I had already gathered a lot information. So the amount of tuition teapots as collectors call it, for me has been almost zero. I started with a modest 80s Factory out of curiosity. It has all been down hill from there… chasing ever and ever rarer and older clays. My main issue with Yixing in general had always been the perceived soullessness, compared to Japanese and Taiwanese wood fired pottery: too shiny, too perfect, not enough character. With vintage Yixing that already started to change, imperfections, crude workmanship, but the clay did improve the tea markedly! But the real revelation came with antiques. Handmade, beautiful craftsmanship, but with the hands of the artisan visible, sometimes more, sometimes less, the traces of the fire. But most importantly the clay itself! It is kind of difficult to explain, if you do not have access to real antiques, but the clay feels more alive (which is a completely non-scientific, subjective observation on my part).
A: In your experience, what is the biggest misconception most tea drinkers have about good Yixing pots nowadays? What is your advice to getting rid of insecurities a newcomer faces when first approaching the topic of Yixing?
B: The biggest misconception is the expectation that it will fundamentally change the tea drinking experience. It can, but not necessarily so. The differences can be minute and it takes a lot of experience with tea and tea preparation to notice and take advantage of what the teapot and clay can offer. The other thing many regard as signs of good quality Yixing is a tight lid fit and dribble free pour.
Those are of course nice to have, but in no way important for the brewing results. This is mostly a marketing gimmick contemporary Yixing artisans use. Antiques almost never have air-tight fitting lids.
For someone new to Yixing, I would advise to first watch and learn more, buy less. It is easy to accumulate a lot of worthless and possibly unhealthy tea ware if one does not have enough knowledge. When acquiring a piece, test it side by side with a plain, thin walled Gaiwan as control unit. Once you have more clays available, do the same, compare them to each other. Like this, slowly certain patterns will appear. And don’t believe everything that is written on the internet, a lot of people just repeat what others said, without questioning or investigating themselves. You are the judge of how you like your tea.
[Photo above]: A Yixing pot from Boks colletion
A: Tell us a bit about the history of Yixing pots and the area/ shapes/ clay that fascinate you the most. What kind of clay do you personally prefer for Oolongs?
B: I wouldn’t dare to start with the history of Yixing, it is far too complex and confusing to describe in short, I’ll leave that to the scholars… I am a firm believer in “the teapot chooses the tea”, as such there is no best clay or shape per se. There is the best pot for a specific tea and occasion. That said I have a thing for flat-shaped teapots and Julunzhu. The thing with antique teapots is that they all have their own character, each new pot will be a journey of learning and discovery. For greener Oolongs like Gaoshan I do like old Duanni, it accentuates the body over aromatics which I prefer. Roasted or aged Oolongs I usually prefer in Zhuni or Zini, depends on the individual tea.
A: What is your advice to everyone out there who seriously wants to purchase a good teapot and what budget should they calculate with?
B: Same as above, watch more, buy less. Only buy what you understand. Seek guidance of people who know more than you. The question of budget is a tricky one. There are very good, but very cheap teapots and then there are also very expensive, but useless teapots… Always spend as much as you are comfortable with, but do not expect to find something excellent for cheap. Mostly, there still is a relation of price and quality as for most other things. If people ask for the best, but for an unrealistic price, they are asking to be cheated. In the world of Yixing, if something sounds too good to be true, it probably isn’t.
A:We did launch our cooperation tea series PaoDee x Anmo last week. Can you give us some insight into what the customers can expect?
B: I can tell you what not to expect: No fancy stories about old farmers and what is their family name and how they preserve old hand-made processing techniques. I do believe that the proof is always in the cup. The rest is marketing and should matter little. Hand-made for example means nothing, one can do things badly using hands… Even more so as it tends only to confuse people with no real means to verify that information in the first place. So I like to keep it simple. That way one can approach the tea without preconceived notions. I have tried to source an educational selection of what I consider good and representative quality tea from Taiwan. Separated in beginner and more advanced ranges, one can compare how one kind of tea tastes in different price ranges.
A: Can you name the best three teas you ever had?
B: There have been so many over the years, some very good teas become just normal when you keep having them everyday… Memorable teas have been a Gaoshan which a fruit farmer prepared absent minded in a very ugly, large off-the-rack Yixing, while standing! The aftertaste seemed to last forever, the butteriness of high mountain Lishan, simply wonderful. Asking afterwards what it was, it had been highest quality Lishan exchanged between farmers. Gaoshan has been my first big favourite tea and although it has been neglected over the years, I still come back to it.
The second has been a so called farmer’s Fenghuang Dancong, sourced from a dear friend. Full of flavours, which keep going on for a whole evening. Almost annoying to only have the time for one tea in the evening…
Third is a Laocong Shuixian Yancha I had a while ago. The maturity of the flavour profile was impressive. The price as well, which is why it remains a rare treat and treasured little stash for special occasions. I wish good Yancha were more accessible…
[Photo above]: Paodee x Anmo collection
A: Any shout-outs to people who guided or influenced you on your tea way?
B: Biggest shout-out goes to Taiwan, I think one would be hard pressed to find a place with more variety in high quality teas and tea culture than here. The others know who they are and how grateful I am for their guidance. Without seasoned collectors sharing their knowledge – and most importantly, letting me investigate the real items in my hands it would have been a much longer and substantially more expensive learning curve. My pottery teacher has been essential in starting me off the basics and understanding not only of teaware but also tea preparation.
A: Thank you so much for the interview!
B: Thanks for having me.