China, being the homeland of tea, is known to be the origin of world-renowned teapots that are decorative and highly functional. There are many different styles of teapots used for different occasions in different regions of China.
For example, the large teapots are most popular in northern China while the tiny ones are more popular in the south. And although most of the teapots are made in China, there are others made in other parts of the world, having borrowed their unique designs from China.
The Chinese drink tea on a regular basis, and how tea is served is an integral part of any tea ceremony or culture. Drinking tea is a cultural practice that is observed in weddings and family gatherings in China.
In fact, in traditional wedding ceremonies, the Chinese bride and groom kneel before their parents when serving them tea.
Also, the Chinese serve tea when making a serious apology to those they have wronged. All these are facilitated by teaware, with teapots taking center stage.
Related Article: Gongfu Tea Ceremony: The Complete Guide
Chinese Teapots / Yixing Teapots
A Yixing teapot is a special tea vessel that is used to brew tea. This teapot, which is typically made from special clay and normally unglazed, features a self-effacing structure. Clay for making these teapots is sourced from Yixing region in Jiangsu province of China. These include red clay and purple clay deposits.
Although simple and unique, these teapots are extremely helpful, especially if you want to prepare Chinese tea the right way. They were first made as an alternative to porcelain teapots that were used in ceremonies for many years in China. Today, these pots are in high demand and are renowned virtually everywhere in the world by tea lovers.
They feature breathable clay construction that absorbs natural flavors and aroma in tea, which means that they gradually absorb the hues and tones of brewed tea.
By using Yixing teapots, you will be returning to the humble roots of tea-drinking experiences. These teapots are entirely made by hand and are perfect for brewing tea.
Our guide will open your eyes regarding the history of these teapots, how they are made, and how to pick the right one.
But before then, read these 9 facts about Yixing teapots;
- Yixing teapot not only preserves its original color but also enhances the taste of your tea thanks to its porous nature that enables it to absorb the flavor and aroma of the tea. This makes each brew mellower and richer
- The longer a Yixing teapot is used, the glossier it gets. This is because the teapot absorbs flavors and aroma of the tea brewed in them. With time, it develops a shiny coating on its inside.
- Yixing teapots have excellent resistance to cold and heat and can be used in the microwave to certain temperatures without cracking
- After some time of brewing the same type of tea, you can just pour in plain water, and the water will taste and smell like tea
- The typical color of Yixing teapot is reddish-brown although other colors are also available. As you use your teapot, its color will change depending on the tea you brew in it. For instance, black tea will change the color of your teapot to mahogany; green tea will change it to brown, etc.
- Yixing teapots are made using unique clay called “Zisha” and have been made since 960-1279 during the Sung Dynasty (We will learn about their history later)
- These teapots can last for decades if taken care of- we will talk about caring for Yixing teapot later on
- Yixing teapots are known for their deep purple color. They are not glazed as this would mask their natural color. Besides, by being unglazed, they are able to maintain their porous nature
- These teapots are small as they are designed for individual use.
Yixing teapot is regarded as the finest of all Chinese tea vessels because of its ability to as absorb flavors, aroma, and color of the tea steeped in them. Also, the ability of the pot to retain heat and bring deep flavors of tea brewed in them also make them valued.
With that brief description of Yixing teapots, we can talk about its history now.
Related Article: Choosing the Right Chinese Teapot
A Brief History of Yixing Teaware or Purple Sand Pot
Yixing tea pot, or as many Chinese calls them, purple sand pot, are also called Zisha Hu because of their deep purple color.
It was around 5-6 thousand years ago that ceramic was first discovered in the city of Yixing, located in the southern Jiangsu province. The city became one of the major producers of ceramic pottery in the east.
During the Ming Dynasty, the popularity of pottery made from Yixing clay increased and it slowly replaced other ceramic teaware, thereby becoming the most preferred tea accessory.
Commonly, Yixing teapots are used to brew black, Pu-erh, and oolong teas. In some cases, they are also used to brew green tea, although this is not recommended since clay teapots retain high temperatures for longer periods and thus your green tea can get over-steeped.
Purple Sand Tea Pot, a unique Chinese art, was developed during in 960-1279 during the Song dynasty. Its popularity grew more during the early Ming Dynasty which ruled from 960-1644.
The popularity of this teapot continued to dominate the market up to 1911. However, this doesn’t mean the popularity of Zisha Hu ended there. Usage of this teapot continued as tea preparation method continued to be simplified.
Prior to the invention of Yixing teapot, the process of preparing tea involved grinding tea leaves and adding incense. However, with the invention of Yixing teapot, people began using whole tea leaves and tea buds to prepare tea.
They later discovered that the unglazed purple clay teapot could absorb the fragrance and color of tea brewed in them. This made people appreciate the discovery even more.
In the mid-19th century, these teapots were shipped to Europe with the reddish-brown ones becoming the most popular.
Related Article: Jianshui Teapot Complete Guide
How Yixing Teapots Are Made
Before we talk about the process of making Yixing teapots, let’s about the clay used to make these pots.
Rocks mined from Yixing region are ground into a fine powder, which is then combined with water to make clay. The clay is left to breathe for a few days before molded into a Yixing pot.
Many potters source their own clay and blend it nicely to create unique teapots. Other minerals can be added to clay to make the teapots stylish.
As with most mines, the majority of clay deposits in Yixing have been exhausted, but there are still original deposits that continue to produce clay. Vintage Yixing teapots made from clay from the original deposits in Yixing are considered the most expensive teaware.
After the potters make the clay, this is when the artistry work begins. The artisan start by mapping out the dimensions of the pot. This ensures that the teapot is made to precision to avoid cracks and unequal edges.
Before being molded into teapots, the clay is repeatedly pounded and smoothed to eliminate any hardened parts. It is later molded into square teapots, round pots, and even geometric shapes.
The process of making teapot is quite straightforward. Yixing clay is first rolled out and cut into the top and bottom parts. The artisan then cuts out the sides of the teapot. The sides are carved and shaped according to the planned shaped. The top is placed on the carved body first, followed by the bottom.
The pot is then smoothened to eliminate holes and cracks. After some time, the lid opening is shaped and smoothened to ensure the lid fits properly. This process can take several days or even weeks, depending on the complexity of the pot design.
After the shaping and designing work is over, the teapot is then filled with sand and placed in a firing kiln. The sand prevents the pot from cracking due to high heat. Humidity and pressure must be controlled to prevent cracking.
The teapots are molded solely by hand – no machines are used, not even a clay wheel. You can find different classical Yixing teapots shapes. The different shapes and styles show cultural dimensions in Chinese culture.
How to Buy a Yixing Pot
A Yixing teapot is considered the ultimate prize of any tea lover. The rare fusion of artistic structure and functionality of the pot enhances the tea drinking experience. To ensure that you choose the right Yixing teapot for your needs, keep the following factors in mind;
- Consider the type of clay used
There are three kinds of clay used to make Yixing teapot, including purple clay, red clay, and green clay. Each material can make teapots on their own or two can be mixed for diversity. Most teapots are made from purple clay. It is rare to see a teapot solely made from green clay. In most cases, green clay is used for decorations and adding accents.
Red and purple clay teapot are the most common types. Red clay teapots from original Yixing mines are scarce- therefore, only buy from trustworthy dealers.
- Style of the pot
A Yixing tea pot should be a work of art. Its style should captivate you, and you need to feel connected to it. The teapot that strikes your eyes the most is the right vessel for you.
- Check its functionalities
In this case, we are talking about the practicality and craftsmanship of the teapot. Is the spout well-aligned to the handle and are they balanced out? Does the lid fit perfectly on the opening of the pot? You should consider the functionalities of the pot to ensure tea flows easily from it, and that tea leaves don’t get stuck in the spout.
- Consider the capacity of the pot
Yixing teapots are tiny, especially when you compare them to western pots. This is because the Chinese people value quality over quantity when it comes to tea.
If you intend to buy a teapot for brewing tea for yourself, you should get a small pot of about 200ml. To serve guests, you may need to get a larger teapot with over 350ml capacity.
Related Article: Why Chinese Yixing Teapots Are So Small?
- Shape of the teapot
Yixing teapots come in different shapes. Keep in mind that different teas are best brewed in different teapots. For instance, black tea is more heat tolerant and thus can be brewed in a teapot with a smaller spout. Green tea brews best in a shorter teapot.
By keeping these considerations in mind, you will easily be able to buy the best Yixing teapot for your needs.
How to Clean and Care for Yixing Teapot
Chosen for their practicality, endurance, and beauty, Yixing teapot is the preferred choice of many tea connoisseurs. However, for them to last and serve you for many years, you need to learn how to take care of them.
Before you brew your favorite tea in your new teapot, you will need to clean it fast because it may contain a layer of wax that is sometimes applied during manufacturing. After cleaning it, season it with your preferred tea and pour out the tea. Ensure that the first tea you brew is strong enough- you can even double your tea measurement.
After that, rinse with water and repeat this procedure severally until you feel the pot is clean enough.
After every use, rinse the pot with water and allow it to air dry without the lid. You should never use dish soap to clean your unglazed Yixing pot or place it in a dishwasher as it may absorb soap flavors or get chipped in a dishwasher.
By following these simple cleaning and caring guidelines, your Yixing teapot can serve you a lifetime.
As this guide has shown, besides the mineral composition and exceptional structure of Yixing teapot, the most outstanding characteristic about the teapot is the vintage way of designing it. Unlike common clay which comes from mud, Yixing clay comes from rock and is converted to clay after several processes. For this reason, the true Yixing clay cannot be molded using a pottery wheel.
Making a fine Yixing teapot takes great skills- the potter has to follow a unique process to ensure that there are no inconsistencies and roughness. This is the reason most of these pots are pricey and valuable.
Get yours today, if you want to brew tea the right way!
Related Article: The Yixing Teapot; Small Vessel, Dynamic Brews