It was during the Ming dynasty that the method of allowing the tea leaves to soak (steep) in hot water for a time before drinking became general. This produces a transparent infusion, where powdered tea contains the actual leaves. The Ming aesthetes continued to look for the "true flavour" of tea, as before, by this new method. Writers praised the tea from particular sites, and recommended using the water from specific wells to make them. Every aspect of tea preparation became an object of connoisseurship.
In about 1500 the first teapots as we know them came into being, made at first of unglazed brown or red clay, the tiny, unglazed I-hsing "purple sand" teapots with their equally tiny cups that are still popular in southern China and Taiwan, and that are often used in Korea when Chinese tea is being drunk. The first person to have made teapots from this special clay of I-hsing is said to have been an unnamed monk from the nearby Chin-sha Temple. From him, Kung Ch'un, a young man who was a native of I-hsing, learned the art, at the start of the 16th century. While he was still young, Kung Ch'un became a servant in the household of Wu Lun (1440-1522), also a native of I-hsing and one of the leading tea masters of the age. Wu Lun cultivated a reclusive life among the hills and streams outside of the city, but he had many well-known friends whom he would sometimes visit in Suchou. His son passed the official metropolitan examinations in 1514 and used to prepare for the exams staying at Chin-sha Temple. This would be the time when Kung Ch'un learned the art of teapot making. The first teapots seem to have been rougher and larger than those popular later. During the 17th century the art of clay teapots flourished but at the same time many preferred to use metal pots and cups.
During the later Ming, literati came to prefer
white porcelain for teacups,
since it allowed the colour of the tea to be admired. The art of
by this time virtually complete, and every true connoisseur had
room, located in an attractive spot near his library and study,
with beautiful utensils, often of considerable antiquity, where
offer a variety of exquisite teas to his discerning friends.
Finally, in 1644, the Manchus invaded China and took power as the Quing dynasty, that continued until 1912. It was only near the start of their rule the tea makers discovered the secrets of controlled "fermentation" or oxidation of the leaves before and during the drying process, which gave birth to the immense variety of tastes found in oolong (lightly oxidized) and red (black) teas (much more fully oxidized). The new methods of making tea demanded a cup that would emphasize the delicate colour of the brew. This is why so many more recent tea cups are white.
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