My tea stove for Chaozhou style Gongfu tea arrived by courier this Friday. I was so happy when it finally arrived that I fired it up right away, and made a huge mess in my mother in law's kitchen. I remember a thread on Teachat where someone asked if you could use one of these things inside. The answer is certainly not. They don't burn very well without lots of fanning which blows ashes everywhere. (Below is a picture of my stove in the process of covering my mother in law's kitchen in a thick coat of ash.)
One thing I did not realize about these thing is how hard they these stoves are to get going. Perhaps mine has a bad draught, but it took me over an hour to get water boiling. This is hard for me to admit because I pride myself at being good at burning things. The second time I got the fire going faster by making a tool to get the charcoal started. I put a wire handle on a can and poked big holes in the bottom. The olive pit charcoal goes into the can which is then held over a gas stove burner.
This stove was originally sold as an alcohol lamp setup with the option to add a clay center which holds the charcoal which can be seen behind the dollar bill in the first picture. Unfortunately the outer stove cracked because of the high heat. I considered trying to get a replacement, but I think I will find a proper charcoal stove or just wait until I go to Chaozhou where they should be plentiful and cheap. (Cracked stove pictured below)
The kettle is small, about 500 ml, but it is enough when doing Gongfucha with a very small pot. If you go above 100 ml pot, you can only get about 2 infusions and then you have to wait another half an hour for the water to boil. I used cold water for the first kettle, and then used pre-boiled water from an insulated bottle for subsequent kettles. The mouth of spout is very small which I didn't like at first, but it allows for very accurate pouring. The name of the designer is stamped between the spout and handle.
I like the side handle on this kettle, it seems well designed and allows for comfortable pouring. The knob on the lid is very thin and stays cool enough to touch even when the kettle has been boiling for awhile. The lid is very thin and flat and seems very delicate. I am afraid it would fall off when pouring if not held on. Besides the lid, my only other problem with the kettle is that it seems to have some sort of light glaze. The bottom of the outside of the kettle seems to be glaze free, but there is some glaze on the inside of the kettle. In the picture below, the line where the glaze ends on the inside is visible. It looks like part of the bottom is wet, and part is dry. It is actually all wet, the darker area is the 'glaze.' The glaze is very thin and does not really look like most glazes, so it may be something else as I am not familiar with pottery and ceramics. Glaze is mostly an issue because the olive pit charcoal smoke supposedly imparts some of it's characteristics on the water in the kettle. Perhaps this is just sales pitch to move Olive pit charcoal at 10 USD per pound.
Of course the most important question is how much difference all this equipment makes on the final product. Despite all the bother and mess, I was not disappointed. I brewed my GuShuCha, or Ancient tree tea which I bought from Mrs. Yu in Wuyishan, and was well pleased. This tea had a better mouth feel, was significantly sweeter and the Yanyun (岩韵）was more pronounced. I especially noticed a difference in the Chaqi, both in the head and stomach. I have consumed about a half pound of this tea in the past few months, and tried it with water from a spring, bottled waters, filtered waters and water boiled with bamboo charcoal; but the tea was far more enjoyable steeped in untreated tap water boiled in this stove. I also used a brand new unseasoned (Dahongpao)Zhuni pot.
I also tried the April 2008 Fenghuang Dongding Classic from Teamasters. This tea was also more enjoyable when brewed in a gaiwan with water heated on the stove. Unfortunately I had previously ruined this delightful tea by not sealing it properly. It was quite nice before I let it absorb moisture.
In conclusion, these stoves seem to make a difference in the quality of the water. They are quite fun to play with, and the patient will enjoy brewing tea with these. I now fully understand why according to the traditional Chaozhou gongfu rules, a stove is placed seven steps from the tea set. With overenthusiastic fanning, guests would be covered in ash. I also read that when a gentleman constructs a tea house, he ought to hire a servant boy to clean up and help make tea. I fully endorse this suggestion. I don't see myself a gracious enough host to entertain guests with erudite references to the classics while sweating over a tiny stove seven steps away slowly becoming coated in ash. I shall hire a servant boy immediately.