Tea leaves and water. A cup for bringing them together.
This is all you need to obtain a cup of brewed tea. And yet, for a number of amateurs, it is rather far away from this simplicity. And I know what I'm talking about, being part of the "materialistic" category, in the literal sense of the term, owning numerous teapots, gaiwan (Chinese covered cups), cups, jars, tetsubin (Japanese cast iron kettles), chataku (tea cup saucers, also of japanese origin) and a lot of other more or less essential teaware.
To ask the question differently, why is this tetsubin necessary? If one needs to heat water, the first (clean) pan should be sufficient. A very simple kettle would also do the trick. When one adds the fact that these tetsubin, especially if they are old and of a good quality, are quite difficult to find and most of the time expensive, how can one explain the acquisition of one (or more...) of these?
From the useful to the pleasant...
I have been drinking tea for more than fifteen years. Chinese, Taiwanese or Japanese, usually quality loose leaf teas, prepared with care and a profound pleasure. My first teas of quality were prepared in a simple mug; just by adding pan-boiled water over leaves, and then pouring in a second mug through a small strainer in order to filter the leaves. Basic but effective. With time and the discovery of a world that widely exceeded the simple beverage, I started to increasingly appreciate the Asian Tea culture where teaware but also architecture, music, painting are associated with tea. From readings to people I met, from travels to discussions, direcly related to tea or completely unrelated to it, I got more and more attracted by the thinness of a porcelain cup, the grain of a Yixing teapot or the craftmanship of tin or iron...
And beyond those "technical" aspects and the care for details found in these objects, other completely subjective criterias like beauty, balance and harmony, or tactile sensations, sounds (the water gently whispering in a tetsubin...) became increasingly important for me in the pleasure of preparing and sharing tea. Another point of interest that I think deserves to be highlighted is the craftsmen's know-how, often ancient. The sum of these intangible considerations makes, in my opinion, the strong added value , not easily measurable, that makes me appreciate so much that sago, a simple old tea scoop made of pine wood. I found it on a well-known auction website and I had to struggle a bit, at least financialy!
Of course, it is first of all a matter of buying something. But, my resources are limited, and it is actually aesthetic, almost emotional, criterias which make me choose a particular object. Through this passion for tea, I have accumulated a number of things that spans from the "not absolutely necessary" (jars, chataku) to the "obviously not essential" (kakejiku, postcards, woodblock prints). Yet, every one of them participates in the pleasure of sharing a serene moment, of transmitting this passion to others.
I limit my acquisitions to objects which I will actually use. Even if some teaware is less often at the tea-table than others, none of my teapots is decorative, all my jars are filled with tea and the cups are regularly changed, depending on my mood, the tea that I choose or the guests gathered around the table.
Finally, it gives me the opportunity to make photos to illustrate this quite long article. I hope I managed to express the idea that when an object has a "soul", it can bring us much more than its simple useful aspect or than its market value.
P.S. : it was difficult for me to express in english exactly what I wanted to say, so please feel free to correct me if you think I got it wrong or if it is not understandable. Thanks!