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Yixing Teapots Info

teabranch-co-uk-yixing-classic-shapes-image.jpgYixing clay teapots are traditional style unglazed clay teapots commonly used to infuse tea that originated in China. Their creation and use dates back to either the 8th, 10th, or 15th century, depending on the source you read. They are made from clay produced in the region of the town of Yixing in the eastern Chinese province of Jiangsu.

According to some literary references, the first Yixing teapot was created during the Song Dynasty (10th century) that a monk from Jinsha Temple (Golden Sand Temple) in Yixing handcrafted a teapot from local clay, but it did not flourish until Ming Dynasty (15th century). Others trace these pots back to the 8th century and a book called The Classic of Tea (Chinese: 茶經 or ; pinyin: Chá jīng), written in the 8th century by Lu Yu (Chinese: traditional 陸羽, simplified 陆羽; pinyin: Lù Yǔ; 733–804); it is supposedly the first known treatise on the subject of the gongfu style tea method and preparing tea using whole leaves instead of ones that were ground up or pressed into cakes. Potters in the Yixing Province started using the purple clay in the area to make small teapot suited to this style of steeping tea. The pottery quickly took on an artistic dimension and certain body styles became quite common.

Yixing teapots are not actually made in the regional city of Yixing, but rather in nearby Dingshan, also known as Dingshu, which falls within the administrative area of Yixing. Hundreds of teapot shops line the edges of the town's crowded streets and it is a popular tourist destination for many Chinese. While Dingshan is home to dozens of ceramics factories, Yixing Zisha Factory Number 1, which opened in 1958, processes a large part of the clay used in the region, produces fine pottery ware, and has a large commercial showroom. In addition to the better known teapots, other items are manufactured in the community, including frescoes, oil and grain jars, flower vases, figurines, glazed tiling, tables, ornamental rocks, and ornamental garbage bins.

Judging the Quality of Yixing

When judging the quality of Yíxing teapots the following can be done:

  • Tap the pots lightly together – the ceramic should make a distinctly metallic sound.
  • Look at the fit of the lid into the pot – it should be flush and appear seamless.
  • Fill the pot with water, place the lid on, and begin pouring the water – it should pour smoothly
  • While pouring, place your finger over the hole on the lid – this action should stop the flow of water immediately and completely if the lid is well fitted.

Five Yixing Clay Teapots - showing
a variety of styles from formal to
whimsical.

Yixing teapots are meant for use with black and oolong teas, as well as aged pu-erh tea. They can also be used for green or white tea, but the water must be allowed to cool to around 85°C before pouring the water into the pot. With "Zisha" (a purple-sand clay found only in Yixing) teapots, a tiny amount of tea is absorbed into the pot during brewing. After prolonged use, the pot will develop a coating that retains the flavor and color of the tea. It is for this reason that soap should not be used to clean Yixing teapots. Instead, it should be rinsed with fresh water and allowed to air-dry.

The physical size of these fine teapots are smaller than Western counterparts because they are designed for individual use. Traditionally, some Chinese would pour the tea from the spout directly into their mouths.

Yixing teacups meant for steeping tea directly in the cup are also available.

References

  • K.S. Lo, et al., The Stonewares of Yixing: from the Ming period to the Present Day, (London, 1986).
  • Wain, Peter, "A Taste of Transition: The Teapots of Yixing", Ceramic Review, 153, May/June 1995, pp. 42–45p
  • Pan Chunfang, Yixing Pottery: the World of Chinese Tea Culture, (San Francisco: Long River Press, 2004).

See also “Seasoning Your Yixing Teapot” on this site.

See “Some Classic Yixing Teapot Shapes” on our blog Fine Tea Focus.