Last Updated on 08/10/2021 by Desmond
Teaware is praised as the father of tea. A set of excellent teaware not only improves the tea-drinking experience but also becomes valuable collectibles; Jianzhan is one of the most popular. Compare with the old-fashion and humdrum Zisha teapot, the charming Jianzhan looks more like a high-tech thing. Actually, it has a longer history than the teapot.
What Is Jianzhan
Jianzhan is also called Jian ware or Cha Zhan, famous for its Japanese name Tenmoku, a kind of black porcelain ware. “Jian” refers to its origin Jian Yang, China, and “Zhan” is for describing its shape, and you can interpret it as a bowl. But in ancient China, the poets thought to call it a bowl seems too vulgar, and “Zhan” will be more elegant and poetic.
The glaze for making Jianzhan will turn black after a high-temperature firing. With some special crafts, it will form abstract style, beautiful patterns, such as “hare’s fur,” “oil-spot,” and “partridge feather.” These patterns are not created by human control but natural; it can say every one of them is unique, and this is the charms and precious feature of Jianzhan.
In the article about Chinese green tea and Japanese tea, we’ve talked about that in the Tang and Song Dynasties of China, people changed their drinking way from cooking to whisking, which was called Dian Cha and similar to the Matcha making method in Japan. The green tea cake is the only choice. People smash it into powder first, add a little hot water, stir it soupy, and then keep adding hot water and whisking until some foam.
At that time, the high-society people also like organizing the tea battle to see who can make the most beautiful tea infusions and foams. That needs a dark color teaware to improve contrast and reach a better visual effect. Thus, the black porcelain Cha Zhan became people’s favorite. The ones from Jian Yang are the best because the local clay and ore glaze have excellent properties. The products are solid and good at keeping warm, which helps make more beautiful foams easier.
Due to the demands of Cha Zhan were primarily from the high-society and royal, so it was expensive. It also made Cha Zhan production became the main industry of Jian Yang and developed fast. Later the masters found that raising the firing temperature can create interesting patterns on the glaze’s surface. These patterns are primary filiform and spot shapes, showing a metallic of gold, silver, and blue. And they can bring out a more beautiful vision of the tea by the light refraction.
But the productivity was very backward at that time; people didn’t know the relative theory, so the rejection rate was high, and the less Jianzhan can get the patterns successfully. Those Jianzhans with patterns were the exclusive products for the rich man and royal. It is said in the Song dynasty, a hare fur style Jianzhan was equivalent to 3000 bolts of cloth; it was not a teaware that the ordinary citizen can afford to.
One thing worth knowing, there is a pattern style name flare eruptions, which called Yohen Tenmoku in Japanese, was the most beautiful and rare. It has a fantastic looking, like the shiny planets in the galaxy, with a flowing and changing light color. Those 3 Cha Zhan in Japan now regarded as national treasures are all Tenmoku; only one is survived in China, but it is broken.
Later, the tea-processing and tea-drinking ways changed; teapot, teacups, and six gentlemen took over the mainstream. Most of the time, Cha Zhan only took as an antique for collecting and trading. However, Japan has an intensive exchange with China in Tang and Song dynasties. They inherit both Dian Cha and Cha Zhan and develop them into their own style Sado.
Now, Jianzhan is re-popular in China, but the styles or processing methods are far from the past. Because Dian Cha is no longer popular in China, people just take Jianzhan as a teacup for use most of the time. And with the modern technologies help, to produce a patterned Jianzhan is no longer a problem too. Of course, the ones made in the traditional firing way are still at high prices.
Traditionally, to produce a Jianzhan needs to use the Jian Yang local clay. The clay contains over 7-10% iron and is red. After firing, it becomes very hard, and can make a metal-like sound when knocking, so that aka “iron preform.” The clay will be through precipitation and clean to remove the impurity after exploit, then filter the water to make the raw material for making Jianzhan. In a handmade way, the masters shape the clay into a Jianzhan preform. For a better effect in the following glazing step, these preforms will get firing under 500℃ for one time first.
The glaze material is also from the local ore, smash, and blends with plant ash to be processed into glaze liquid. This kind of glaze has great liquidity so that typically does not paint at the bottom; most of the common Jianzhans have a naked and original base.
The ancients certainly didn’t know the theory about how the patterns form. It is the result of a series of physical and chemical reactions. During firing, the temperature in the kiln is up to 1300℃, and the iron contained in the preform will separate out to the glaze layer. The glaze is still flowing, and the iron element will be stretch into filaments or gather into spots, forming patterns after cooling down.
There are too many influence factors. It is still hard to get an ideal pattern in the traditional way even though people are clear about the theory. Nowadays, most Jianzhans are produced by machines; they can get what pattern style they want easily. But compare with the traditional ones, they lost some philosophical sense and collection value.
In a narrow sense, Jianzhan just refers to the ones produced in Jian Yang China. It is typically called Tenmoku in Taiwan and Japan. They are in the same vein but a little different on the clay and glaze materials. Besides, the different cultures make unique aesthetics standards, and people also have diverse evaluation criteria on the patterns and styles of Jianzhan.
Is That Safe To Drink Tea With A Jianzhan?
When you see the Jianzhan first time, you may be shocked by its fantastic appearance and get confused at the same time: is it safe to use it drinking tea?
All the beautiful patterns are created from iron, with no harm to human health. And they all already become crystallization glaze, also will not absorb by the human body. Of course, it is just a conclusion based on the conventional Jianzhan.
Some porcelain manufacturers also produce Jianzhan, not as a teaware but as a decoration. For a better ornamental value, they may get some drawing on(it’s easy to distinguish;) but even more, they may with some Plumbum in the paint. Those Jianzhans are not safe and will cause heavy metal poisoning if used for drinking tea.
Besides, you may see some Jianzhan with colorful light in your tea lover friend’s home. Even though they look strange, they are safe. Because it is a result of teawares “raising.”
The patterns style determines Jianzhan’s price. Even though the traditional Jianzhan patterns are totally formed by nature, they can still broadly be classified into 6 types.
Flare Eruptions (Tenmoku)
The flare eruption style Jianzhan (Tenmoku) is the rarest. They look like the eyes shining strange blue light or planets with a halo in the galaxy. By the light changing or adding water, the teaware also changes its color, mysterious and fascinating. Only 4 antique Tenmoku are existing. 3 in Japan and a broken one in China. They are all regarded as national treasures. Even though with a modern craft, it is still hard to get the flare eruption style naturally.
During firing, the iron separated from the preform flowing in the glaze stretched into filaments patterns, look like a hare’s fur. The firing temperature has a big influence on the hare’s fur style forming. If too hot, the iron will separate over much and cover the base glaze color, making it looks unobvious. And a too low temperature will make the filaments being not bushy. Besides, the iron will get a redox reaction when cool down, forming different colors according to different results; typically is gold, silver, and brown.
It’s named after the feather pattern on the back of the partridge. The iron separated from the preform will gather into spots during firing because of the gravity and surface tension. Check with a magnifying glass, and you can see the gaps created while they were gathering. The partridge feather style Jianzhan has a lower finished rate than the hare’s fur style, and it also can get different colors by the temperature.
People often confuse partridge feather style and oil spot style. They look too similar, but the spots of the oil-spot style are smaller. During firing, the iron was not reaching the surface at all, just gather inside the glaze. So the spots were not showing a flowing view, and they obviously stay under the glaze surface.
The Jianzhan didn’t get an ideal style, and with chaotic color and patterns. For professional tea lovers, the variegated color style Jianzhans are defectives. But the relatively low prices still attract many fans; after all, everyone has their own aesthetics.
The Jianzhan got a large area of black color because of the low firing temperature. This type is also regarded as defective by the masters but still popular with ordinary people. Because it has a reasonable price. The brown Jianzhan has a similar reason, but it is caused by the over-high temperature during firing.
How To Pick A Jianzhan
Without talking about the antique Jianzhan, the ordinary ones are also at high prices. Their price range is extensive, from dozens to thousands of dollars. The production way, pattern styles, and whether made by famous masters are the factors that influence the prices.
Classified into 3 types according to the production ways, price from low to high:
- The preform made by machines, then firing by the electric kiln;
- The preform made by hands, then firing by the electric kiln;
- The preform made by hands, then firing by a traditional firewood kiln;
Typically, all the famous masters will take the most traditional way to make a Jianzhan. Their productions will be sold with the certificates and numbers, can be assured to buy.
The pattern style is the most significant factor that influences the price. In the traditional producing way, a kiln can produce thousands of Jianzhan one time, but only dozens can get the ideal patterns, even though they are made by famous masters. So they are certainly at a high price. For the Jianzhan made by the modern craft, their patterns have another beauty, and the prices are much lower. Of course, all it is depends on your budget and aesthetics.
How To Raise A Jianzhan
Jianzhan can be “raised” the same as Zisha teapot, but with a different theory and cost less time.
After you buy a new Jianzhan home, it’s better to rinse it with hot water, then dry it with a soft cloth, to remove the storage smell. If you take the Jianzhan as a teacup, just do the above steps again after using it. Never use cold water; that will cause expansion and makes the glaze break.
The patterns of Jianzhan are formed from iron, and the mineral elements in tea will react with it slowly. After a period, a compact oxidation film will form inside the Jianzhan and reflect colorful metal light. The tea rich in minerals like rock tea will be easier to “raise” the colorful light.
Worth know is, the partridge feather style Jianzhan is easier to get the colorful film because its patterns are on the surface. And to the hare’s fur style, that will be harder more.
You can also take the Jianzhan as a Matcha bowl for use, even though it is not so convenient. After a long-term rubbing by the bamboo brush and steeping by tea infusion, the Jianzhan can also get a unique “raising” effect.