How Do Tenmoku Teacups Get Their Distinctive Glaze?

Tenmoku are tea bowls with a distinctive shape that flares upwards, creating an ergonomically designed shape that’s both easy and pleasing to hold. Tenmoku pottery takes its name from the Tianmu Mountain, which is situated to the west of Hangzhou in Eastern China. These teacups are highly prized and highly collectible. But what makes then particularly interesting is the glaze that they are coated with, and the stunning patterns that it creates. With that in mind, here’s everything you need to know about the distinctive glazed used on Tenmoku teacups:

A Lengthy Process

Just like the clay used to create Tenmoku tea bowls, the glaze that is used has an incredibly high iron content. But first the crafted and shaped pots are placed in the kiln unglazed: this serves two purposes. Firstly, it strengthens the clay and secondly, it removes any weakened, cracked or fragile parts from the rim of the cup before the glaze is applied.

Now it’s time to glaze; And the glaze is as distinctive as every other part of the Tenmoku teacup: no ordinary glaze will do! Instead, the glazed used is a unique blend of natural iron ore glaze and plant ash.

Once you’ve secured the right glaze blend, applying it is the most skillful and tricky part of the process, and it is what will make your teacup look so stunning. Just the right amount of glaze needs to be applied: a glaze that is applied too thinly will not allow enough room for crystal growth, meaning the glaze won’t have its distinctive pattern. If the glaze is applied too thickly then it will stick and pool at the bottom of the teacup. 

Firing Your Teacup

The glaze is applied: your teacup is almost ready, right? Well not quite! Another key element in achieving that distinctive Tenmoku glaze is the way that the cup is fired in the kiln. If the cup is not fired at the right temperature, and then the temperature reduced at exactly the right moment, then the glaze will not achieve its desired colour or distinctive pattern. The more quickly the piece is cooled, the blacker the glaze will be. When it comes to choosing the colour of your tenmoku teacup, the only real limit is your imagination: it is possible to create these cups in shades of orange, red, yellow, white and green, though the most popular colour for Tenmoku teacups is shades of blue.

It is important to note that there is an exact science to creating Tenmoku pottery, and it is very tricky to get right. As a result, the failure rate is very high, and many pots are either damaged during the creation process or rejected because their glaze is not up to the required standard.

The Work of Highly Skilled Craftsman

The craftsman that create these incredible and highly prized teacups have trained for years to ensure that they are truly beautiful, collectible, and desirable works of art. They are artisans who take pride in the high quality of the work they produce, which is why those pieces of work are so sought after. A collection of Tenmoku teacups will make an ideal centrepiece for any tea party or china display cabinet.

Because of how difficult it is to both create the right glaze, apply it, and then fire it at the right temperature, creating Tenmoku pottery is a skill best left to the professionals. Once you have admired its glaze close-up, you won’t be able to resist adding new pieces of this stunning pottery to your collection.

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