Yixing Clay Teapot 101
Teapots remain one of the essential elements of Chinese tea making. Amongst the finest Chinese teapots, those produced from Yixing clay are considered to be the best. It was the first type of vessel that was explicitly crafted to brew tea during the Ming dynasty.
How is Yixing clay different?
The clay used for the first Yixing teapots came from west of Taihu, the great lake in the Jiangsu province, where the hills produce rich clay deposits. Pronounced E-Shing or Yi-shing, Yixing clay is often referred to as purple clay, or Zisha, from China’s Yixing region.
It’s made of kaolin, quartz, mica, and high in iron oxide. This type of clay is preferred for crafting teapots and tea makers because it has excellent porosity and handles heat well. Both characteristics improve the flavor of the tea.
In my recent post, I discussed one recent scientific study. It solved the mystery that has been around for thousands of years: just as to why the ancient Chinese decided Yixing clay is superior to any other type of clay, and why it’s still favored by people worldwide.
In the article, I also talked about tea’s main component and what makes tea taste the way it does. For example, catechins make the tea taste bitter and astringent. EGC and EC make the tea taste sweet, caffeine makes the tea bitter, and heavy metal such as potassium gives the tea a metallic bitterness.
How Porous Clay Enhance the Taste
Chinese Yixing clay teapots do not come with glazing but are left porous so that the tea oils will build up inside over time - This is what makes Yixing clay unique. Over time, the teapot will add its taste from the accumulated oils. After a while, people claim that they don’t even need to add the tea leaves to have flavor.
It turns out that Yixing clay not only breaths better than any other type of material, it also “absorbs” contents that make the tea taste unpleasant, such as caffeine and heavy metal. The clay retains tea oil and gives tea teapot a beautiful glow over the years.
Why Yixing Teapots Have to Be Handmade
All Yixing clay teapots are handmade as opposed to being thrown on a pottery wheel.
Here is how the teapot is made:
Before the process begins, raw clay is left outdoor under the shade for a minimum of six months. After nature has done its job, the tough clay is pounded with a heavy wooden mallet and then formed into a teapot by using three essential techniques.
One way is called press-molded - this is practically “cheating” because to use a mold, the clay must be processed and grounded. It also needs extra chemicals to help form the shape. It is the preferred method for anyone who wants to make hundreds of teapot in a matter of days. It’s not only harmful to consume tea with chemical-enhanced teapots; it also defeats the purpose and artistry of Yixing teapot.
Another method is to procure pieces of the teapot molded and then hand-assembled. We call this a half-handmade process because it requires molds and handmade skills.
The preferred method, which requires an enormous amount of skill and artistry, is to create the teapot entirely by hand. Round pots are paddled, and square ones are made by the slab method. Tools made from wood, bamboo, metal, or horn are used during the hand-crafted process.
If you were to ask me which method is better: half-handmade or fully handmade, I wrote an article explaining the differences between them.
Finding Authentic Teapots on the Internet
For most people, when it comes to purchasing Yixing teapot, Google is their go-to place. But just how sure are you that the teapot you are about to purchase is an authentic one?
In this comprehensive guide, I listed all the things you can look out for when purchasing Yixing teapots online. With pictures and examples, it will sure arm you on your next online purchase!
Collector or Practical use
While collecting decorative, interesting looking teapots is an enjoyable hobby, when it comes to functionality and getting the best flavor from the tea, a plain-looking, well-crafted teapot made from quality Yixing clay is a better choice for everyday use. When a pot is heavily ornate, it will create heat fluctuations of cold spots and hot spots for steeping tea. The heat needs to be evenly distributed to get the best flavor like it is with a plain, Yixing teapot.
If you start to dabble with Yixing teapot, why not start with a simple quality teapot then work your way up from there? If you don’t know how much you should pay for a Yixing teapot, check out my post here.
What types of tea to brew
There are some things to know about Yixing clay teapots before you begin brewing. The most important is that each clay teapot should be utilized to steep only one type of tea. The pot will take on the flavor of tea - This is part of Yixing clay pots’ charm.
Purple clay pots can be used with black, Taiwan Oolong, and Pu-erh teas. The purple clay is porous, making it perfect for muting the bitter qualities found in these types of teas.
Purple clay is not best with green tea or white teas because it is more satisfactory to bring out their delicate flavors and aromas. Red clay or a gaiwan works best for these types of tea. If you use the purple clay teapot for these aromatic, delicate flavors, use one that has been high fired with thinner walls. Save the low-fired, thick walls for dark teas. The high-fired teapots will have a thinner, more delicate makeup making them perfect for green or white. The low-fired teapots will have a thicker, more porous clay makeup that is good for black or Pu-erh teas. Side note: In China, black tea is considered red tea.
Two basic teapot shapes include high profile and low profile. Determine the form based on what types of tea leaves you want to use. A varied form will allow certain leaves to expand. For instance, if you are brewing Taiwan Oolong, green or white tea, you will likely want a high-profile pot. Whereas, if you are steeping Chinese Oolong or Da Hong Pau, a low-profile pot will be more fitting.
Size of opening
Broader openings at the top will allow the tea leaves’ fragrance to drift into the air, while smaller openings will keep the tea’s aroma inside the teapot. A broader opening is excellent for aromatic green, white, or Oolong teas, while a smaller opening works better with black or Pu-erh teas that tend to have low aromatic elements.
Seasoning the pot
Yixing clay teapots are going first to require that you season it properly before use. Since Yixing absorbs specific flavors and textures, you will need to decide what kind of tea will be brewed in the pot before this can be undertaken. The pot must be handled for only one type of tea. Otherwise, the flavors will become muddled.
When you purchase a Yixing clay teapot, there may be a shiny wax coating on it that will need to be removed before brewing begins. Prepare a large, clean pot by filling it with water and bringing the water to a boil. Lower the teapot into the boiling water using a clean slotted spoon. Allow the teapot to rest on the utensil and not on the bottom of the pot filled with boiling water. Some use a towel to pad and line the bottom of the boiling pot. This is to prevent it from vibrating excessively. Boil for about 5 minutes, and remove the Yixing clay teapot from the boiling water. Allow it to dry entirely before brewing tea inside of it. Select the type of tea you will be using in the pot and begin pouring a little bit out every 15 seconds into a larger bowl. Remove the tea leaves and let the pot soak in the bowl of tea with the lid soaking separately. When the tea has completely cooled, remove the teapot and allow it thoroughly dries. Now it is ready for use.
To clean a Yixing pot, never use anything except water. Soap or other scents will be absorbed into the clay to produce a soapy flavor that will last forever whenever you steep tea inside it. Between uses, allow the pot to always completely dry before putting the lid on it. If the teapot is wet with the lid on it, it could begin to mold. If this happens, you will need to conduct the seasoning process repeatedly to try to save the pot.
A Book to Help You Understand Yixing Teapot
There are many great books written about Yixing teapots that are not available in English. Therefore, I highly recommend this book summary I have written called Alternative Ways to Appreciate Yixing Teapots for anyone who enjoys studying about Yixing teapot.
In it, you will learn about not only the pots, but also many world-renowned artists in this field. You will peak into their world and discover what inspired them. You will learn the history behind Yixing teapots that you have never heard anywhere before. You will learn names that you never know before. And you will discover Yixing teapots are not only about perfection but also the imperfection.
Ultimately, the Yixing teapot you choose will either be put on display as a work of art or used as a cherished part of your tea-drinking routine. The latter will seem as if the teapot has become a loyal friend. Some even see their Yixing teapots as a priceless addition to their family. Leave your comment below and tell me your adventures with Yixing teapots!