A Quick Guide to Yixing Teapots
Yixing teapots are simple and unadorned, but they're also extremely useful. They were first developed as an alternative to the elaborately ornate porcelain tea pots used in ceremonial celebrations centuries ago in China. Today, these clay teapots are among the most beloved tools for tea lovers.
Yixing teapots feature porous clay construction that absorbs the natural oils in tea. That means that over time, these teapots gradually absorb the flavor and hue of brewed tea.
Yixing teapots symbolize a return to humble, natural roots of tea. The teapot is made entirely of natural materials and artfully crafted by hand. Often passed down as family heirlooms, these teapots are stunning works of art and perfect for brewing tea with a cultural flair. Discover the simple elegance of a yixing teapot with this quick guide.
What Is A Yixing Teapot?
A yixing teapot is a specialty tea vessel made for brewing tea. This teapot is typically made of unglazed clay and features an unassuming structure. The teapots are made from clay found near Yixing in the Jiangsu province of China. These include purple clay and red clay deposits.
Yixing clay was first mined during the Song Dynasty around China's Lake Tai. According to Chinese legend, the first yixing teapot was crafted by a monk from the Golden Sand Temple. The teapot became popular among scholars before it became famous among everyday individuals.
The teapots were shipped to Europe and used for fine teawares including teapots and tea cups. The finished products were typically reddish brown in color. Yixing teapots were also commonly known as zisha teapots. They are also called Qing Shui Ni when the clay is not mixed or colored.
Today zisha teapots are characterized by the use of purple sand clay. These Yixing purple clay teapots and other stoneware feature a purple-red brown color. Other popular yixing teapots include Zhu sha and Duan ni. Zhu sha—sometimes called zhu ni—is a cinnabar sand clay. This clay boasts vibrant red colors and is still being mined today. Duan ni is a fortified clay that contains stones and minerals in addition to zhu ni or zi ni clay. The colors can range from green and blue to black and beige.
Rocks are mined from the Yixing region and ground into a fine powder. The powder is combined with water in troughs to make large amounts of clay. The clay rests for several days before it is molded into the yixing teapot.
Many artisans source their own clay and create elaborate mixtures to create unique teapots. Minerals and other clays are often combined to elicit certain temperature properties or to add stylistic elements to the teapot.
As with most mining, the majority of the original clay deposits in Yixing have been extracted. Today, it is still possible to find vintage yixing teapots made with original deposits. These teapots are considered among the most expensive and illustrious yixing clay teapots.
How is The Yixing Teapot Made?
Once the artisan has sourced the yixing clay, the true artistry begins. The artisan must first begin to map out proper dimensions through mathematical calculations. This ensures the teapot is formed completely without any cracked seams or short edges. The clay is then cut, smoothed, and molded into shape.
The teapots are molded entirely by hand, without the use of machines including clay wheels. The clay is repeatedly pounded, smoothed, rolled, and plied until it reaches its desired shape. There are round pots, square teapots, and even geometric shapes.
There are dozens of classical yixing shapes. These include the hé pán hú, which has a narrow bottom and wide middle as well as the liùfang hú, which is shaped more like a metal French press. The styles have been perfected over centuries of Chinese influence and add a cultural dimension to classical tea drinking.
The clay is first rolled out and then cut into top and bottom pieces. Next the artisan uses the purple clay to cut out side pieces that are rolled into a band. The sides are then carved and shaped into the desired shape. The top is placed on first followed by the bottom. The artist then smooths and shapes the teapot to eliminate cracks and holes. The lid opening is shaped and reshaped to ensure the lid fits properly. The entire shaping process can take several days to weeks depending on the design of the pot.
The teapot is then filled with sand and placed into a firing kiln. The sand helps prevent the teapot from cracking under the pressure of high heat. Artisans must also take into account the pressure and humidity to prevent cracks.
How to Pick A Yixing Teapot
Fake yixing teapots can be found in Chinatowns across the world. These low quality versions are often made using artificial clay that is contaminated with chemicals and colorings. Since these clay pots are unglazed, these chemicals and additives can leach into your tea.
To pick a high quality yixing teapot, look to see that the pot is made from purple clay from the Yixing area. Next, check the price. Yixing teapots are inherently pricey because they are so labor intensive to make. Most yixing teapots made by entry-level artists and students run anywhere from $80 to $120. Yixing teapots made by masters in the industry can command price tags of more than $500. If you're buying a yixing teapot for $10, it's likely a fake.
Also look for proper lid fit. Many machine produced yixing teapots will have lids that are loose and rattle. That's because they aren't made to perfection like handmade alternatives. Also look for lines inside the teapot that show where the pots were casted using a machine. Handmade yixing pots don't have any casting lines since they are made by hand.
How to Use a Yixing Zisha Teapot
Yixing teapots are used to brew teas including black tea, oolong tea, pu-erh tea, green tea, and white tea. They were initially designed to brew oxidized and semi-oxidized teas. If using to brew green or white tea, you must allow the water to cool before adding the tea leaves.
Since yixing teapots absorb the flavor of the tea they brew, they should only be used to brew one type of tea. Mixing teas will alter the flavor and ruin future brews.
The first thing you need to do after you buy a yixing teapot is season it. Start by bringing filtered water to a boil in a pot on the stove. Gently place the yixing teapot inside the boiling water. Use a wire ladle or a white towel to create a barrier between the yixing pot and the bottom of the pan to prevent burning. Allow the yixing pot to boil gently in the hot water for 10 minutes.
The next step in seasoning is to soak the pot in a strong brew of tea. Brew a strong infusion of your desired tea in the pot. Empty the infusion into a large bowl. Keep brewing infusions until the bowl has enough tea in it to submerge the yixing teapot. Place the yixing teapot in the brewed tea and let sit until the mixture reaches room temperature. Remove, pat dry and use as usual to brew tea.
How to Care For A Yixing Teapot
Wash the teapot using only hot water. Never use soaps or detergents as the porous clay will absorb these flavors. Don't use metal utensils or other abrasive metals on the yixing pot as these can cause scratches. Store the teapot upside down with the lid off to prevent buildup of moisture or mold.
Brew With A Taste of Artistry
If you're looking for a new teapot for your tea brewing needs, check out yixing teapots. Yixing pottery is a stunning creation of Chinese culture. These beautiful Chinese tea sets trace their lineage from the Song dynasty through the Ming dynasty and Qing Dynasty. They have historically been used in ceremonial presentations in China. These are stunning handmade teapots that feature high quality materials and simple, yet elegant styling. Add the yixing teapot to your wishlist and discover exquisite flavor and artisanal performance.