The Shui Ping – 水平 teapot, also known as the “Horizontal Teapot,” has an interesting origin closely associated with the Gongfu tea culture in southern China. When brewing Gongfu tea, a small teapot is filled with a generous amount of tea leaves and hot water. Due to the limited water volume and the abundance of tea leaves, it can be challenging to extract the full flavor of the tea.
Clever tea enthusiasts from the Fujian and Guangdong regions devised a method to expedite the infusion process. They would place the teapot in a tea sea or tea bowl, and then repeatedly pour hot water over the teapot’s surface. This technique, known as “hot water rinsing,” helped to warm up the teapot and accelerate the extraction of flavors from the tea leaves. Interestingly, during this process, they noticed that certain teapots would float gracefully and steadily in the hot water without tilting or tipping, appearing perfectly level like a flat surface.
This observation led to the name “Shui Ping,” meaning “Horizontal Teapot,” as these teapots displayed exceptional stability and balance. Over time, the term “Shui Ping” became synonymous with this specific teapot shape. The Shui Ping teapot embodies the ingenuity of tea connoisseurs in maximizing the tea’s flavors and represents a unique and sought-after style within the world of Yixing teapots.
The Shui Ping teapot has a history that dates back to the Ming and Qing dynasties. However, at that time it was only occasionally crafted by artisans, and its styles and designs were relatively limited. Among them, the representative works were the “Zhuni Xiaopin” created by Huimengchen, a master potter from the late Ming and early Qing periods. These teapots featured a simple and understated design, exquisite craftsmanship, meticulous attention to detail, and carefully selected clay, but their overall shape remained relatively unchanged.
Huimengchen was known for his rustic large teapots and exquisite small teapots. In the southern Fujian region, where tea utensils were highly valued. A saying circulated: “For teapots, go for Mengchen, for cups, go for Ruoshen”. As a result, the Shui Ping teapot was also referred to as the Mengchen teapot.
During the Republican era, there is a master potter specializing in Shui Ping teapots named Wang Yinchun. Born into a poor family in Zhenjiang, Wang Yinchun became an apprentice to Jin A’shou at the age of 13. After completing his apprenticeship, he worked as an assistant at Zhao Songting’s pottery workshop. Later, when kiln owners placed orders for Shui Ping teapots, Wang Yinchun dedicated himself to honing his skills in teapot making. His perseverance paid off, as he not only mastered the art of making teapots quickly and skillfully but also developed a unique technique of inserting his little finger into the teapot to polish the interior.
Impressed by Wang Yinchun’s dedication and hard work, Zhao Songting generously taught him the techniques of teapot making. Wang Yinchun lived up to his master’s expectations, creating teapots with thin bodies, pure clay, and smooth pouring, which garnered a large number of custom orders and brought him fame both domestically and internationally.
Design of the Shui Ping Teapot
The Shui Ping teapot features a circular foot, an oval body, looped handle, straight spout, and a spherical knob. The lid is designed with a joint line, with a thicker upper part and a thinner lower part, creating a snug fit when closed.
The distinctive feature of the Shui Ping teapot lies in its design: the spout of the teapot faces upwards, with the plane of the spout, the mouth of the teapot, and the top of the handle all aligning on a horizontal line. This ensures that the water outside the teapot does not flow back into the pot, and when the teapot is immersed in a tea tray or a bowl, it remains upright and stable, without tilting or tipping over.