Throughout history, Yixing teapots have been used as effective and magnificent tools in which to brew tea. Dating all the way back to the time of the Chinese Sung Dynasty in the year 960, these pots have maintained their superior status when it comes to the art of tea making.
A Bit of History
Pottery during the Sung Dynasty was being produced from purple (zisha) clay found in the Yixing (pronounced yeeshing) region of China. Before yixing pots came along, the Chinese were accustomed to drinking tea out of bowls. People started using zisha clay to make the teapots during the Ming Dynasty, from 1368-1644.
“The dissemination of YiXing teapots greatly influenced not only the forms of teapots found throughout the world, but also prompted the invention of hard-paste porcelain in the western world.” Source: TeaPots.net
Yixing pots are so revered because they’re perfect for brewing. What makes them so great is the porous material, which is excellent for absorbing the flavor of the tea. If used for numerous years, one could brew tea just by pouring boiling water into the empty pot (although, it may be a bit weak). Other features of the Yixing teapot include “a fine and solid texture, a four percent water absorption rate, a very low thermal conductivity, and a double air hole design which enhances the pot’s brewing properties.” (source: Holy Mountain Trading Company).
The zisha clay can manufacture light buff, purplish brown, and cinnabar red colors on its own, and other colors are created by mixing these three or adding mineral pigments. Yixing pots are made one at a time, by hand.
The Chinese take their tea very seriously, which is reflected in the tradition of using the yixing pots. “The artist creating a new teapot attempts to express serenity, long life, beauty, luck, happiness and often an appreciation for the natural world.” SensationalTeas.com
Caring for Your Yixing Teapot
Since the teapots are delicate, they require special care. After purchasing a Yixing pot, it’s not recommended to brew in it right away. The first thing you’ll want to do is make sure that the air holes are functioning properly. It’s also recommended to boil the teapot itself in hot water to remove any stray bits of clay or glazing (since these are artisan teapots). And, although not required, some people prefer to soak it in tea for a few days to “break it in.”
Another step-by-step method recommended by YixingTeaPotSale.com first says to fill the pot with boiling water and let it sit for five to 10 minutes. After draining that water, it should be filled a second time, but with one teaspoon of tea leaves. This should also sit for the same amount of time and then drained.
The final step/s before you can actually drink your tea of choice from your new Yixing gets a bit complicated. Here you go:
- Fill your teapot with freshly boiled water to heat up the pot
- Drain the water
- Put one teaspoon of tealeaves into your pot
- Again, fill the teapot with freshly boiled water
- Drain the water quickly to rinse the tealeaves
- Fill the teapot a third time with boiling water, allow it to steep for at least [one] minute and enjoy your tea
After sipping the high quality tea, you should avoid rinsing your Yixing teapot with detergents or soap. In fact, this would damage the vessel. It can be rinsed with hot water or wiped with a soft cloth and then air-dried. What you’ll want is to end up with a fully “seasoned” teapot. Cleaning solvents such as dish soaps and detergents will prevent this seasoning and will likely be absorbed into the teapot itself. Remember, if stains begin to appear overtime, it’s normal and part of the yixing aging process.
Getting the Most from Your Yixing Teapot
The Yixing teapot is best for teas that are steeped at higher temperatures – such as oolong teas or black teas. For example, to make oolong teas in the yixing pot, it’s recommended that you fill the teapot one-third of the way with water that’s between 185 and 205 degrees Fahrenheit combined with two to three teaspoons the loose leaf tea. Steep for one to two minutes (depending on the type of oolong and your tasting palette).
Prices for yixing pots vary…anywhere from $40 to collectable ones which can cost thousands of dollars. To determine if a pot is the real deal, it may sometimes come with a certificate of authenticity and include the artist’s signature, writes Lynn Flewelling of Teaviews. One of the most important aspects to consider is that the lid should fit well. “Fill the pot with water, put on the lid, and start pouring” to investigate this, says Flewelling. “If, when you cover the air hole in the lid knob with a fingertip, the water stops, that’s a perfect fit and perhaps one of the best tests of a pot’s quality of workmanship.”
Yixing pots may be pricey and require delicate care, but for a tea enthusiastic, they’re worth it, and can last for many years. In fact, they only mature and get better with age (just like many pu-erh teas and fine wines).