The present pair of covered bowls are very rare and only one other pair, complete with their covers is known and was sold at Sotheby's London, 10 November 2010, lot 297. A related single covered bowl in the Shanghai Wenwu Shangdian is illustrated in Qingdai Ciqi Shangjian, Shanghai kexue jishu chubanshe, 1994, p. 202, no. 259. The pattern of the Shanghai bowl and cover varies very slightly in that it lacks the kui dragons on the famille rose bands, and as such would suggest it comes from a different set of tea bowls. It is interesting to note that the additional horizontal stroke on the character zhi, 'made', of the reign mark; it has been mentioned that this is typical of Jiaqing imperial wares, ibid, p. 202.
Tea drinking was a pastime enjoyed by Qing emperors. It is known that the Qianlong Emperor was particularly fond of tea-drinking and on his return from visiting Mount Wutai, Shanxi province, in 1746, his entourage sojourned to make tea using freshly fallen snow. In the brew, as well as Longjing tea leaves, were the additions of prunus blossoms, pine nut kernels and finger citrus. Qianlong was so impressed with the concoction that he composed a eulogy in its praise under the title of the San Qing Cha, 'Tea of the Three Purities', See Empty Vessels, Replenished Minds: the Culture, Practice and Art of Tea, National Palace Museum, 2001, p. 152. The present bowl was Emperor Jiaqing's attempt to emulate similarly inscribed tea bowls that were made during his father's reign. Compare with bowls inscribed with the San Qing Cha poem and both dated to 1746, illustrated op. cit., National Palace Museum, 2002, p. 152, no. 129, enamelled in iron-red; and p. 153, no. 129, a blue and white bowl (figs. 1 and 2).
The inscription on the present bowl would suggest that Emperor Jiaqing was also an avid tea-drinker. From the text the Emperor mentions that the first growth of tea leaves tributed to the Court in the Spring was of the best quality and ideal as a beverage being drunk on Spring mornings to warm away the winter chill. The poem is also found on related tea wares that were probably produced at the same time as the present bowls such as the lime-green ground famille rose tea pot and a floral-lobed tray; and a ruby-ground famille rose floral-lobed tray, all from the National Palace Museum Collection, illustrated, op. cit, 2002, pp. 190-191, nos. 169-171.
The dating of the present bowls suggests that these bowls were made in the 2nd year of the Jiaqing reign, and two years before the death of the retired Emperor Qianlong who was the then styled, Emperor Emeritus. It is not suprising, therefore, that the quality is very closely related to that found on pieces of the preceding Qianlong period.