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The Art of the Yixing Teapot

Updated on February 7, 2013
Marye Audet profile image

Marye Audet-White is an internationally known food writer, food editor for Texas Living, cookbook author, and food blogger.

Image:http://www.imperialtea.com
Image:http://www.imperialtea.com

What is a Yixing Teapot?

Yixing teapots are collectible teapots made in Yixing, China. They are created from a special clay that is found only in the area around Lake Taihu in China. The clay, because it is made up of iron, quartz, and mica, is naturally a purple color. The clay, called zisha, retains heat extremely well, absorbs the flavors of the tea brewed in it, and, over a period of time, the pot is literally infused with the tea flavor. There is a saying that after many years you can brew a cup of good tea in a Yixing teapot just by adding boiling water! For this reason you should only brew one type of tea in the teapot, and have another pot for other teas.

The History of the Yixing Teapot

The history of the Yixing teapot is fascinating. During the Sung Dynasty (960-1279) the unique purple clay was discovered, and mined, around Lake Taihu. The beautiful tones of the fired pots became more distinctive with age and increased in popularity for the next four hundred years! Traditionally the pots were kept small so that each person could have their own. They would pour the tea from the spout into their mouths to drink it. When tea began to be shipped to Europe, the little teapots went with it, and were highly praised there as well for the superior brewing capabilities, as well as the beauty of the pots. Later, the Brown Betty teapots were manufactured in the same way using a special red clay found in the Stoke-on-Trent area of Britain, in 1695.

Making Tea in a Yixing Teapot

How the Teapot is Crafted

The Yixing pots are handcrafted today, just as they were centuries ago. The clay is shaped by hand on a potter's wheel. Each teapot is created according to the individual artist's whim and imagination making these beautiful teapots collectible, as well as unique. The pots are left unglazed. This allows the beauty of the clay to show through and it actually becomes more beautiful as it ages. This is also why the tea flavor is infused into the pot. The zisha contains no toxins so it is perfectly safe to use unglazed.

The clay comes in three colors, naturally. There is a light buff, a rusty red, and the unique purple tone. Other colors are created by the potters by mixing these colors, or adding mineral pigments. It is the amount of iron in the clay is the primary factor in the depth of color in the finished pot. The most popular of the Yixing pots is the zishayo, the purple sandware.

The clay is extracted from large rocks which are allowed to weather for a year. Once the clay is extracted, it is pounded into fine particles and then passed through a bamboo sieve to remove stones and impurities.

The zisha is then placed in a deep tank filled with fresh water. After three days it is taken to another tank and allowed to sun dry. The clay is cut into large blocks, then have the excess moisture extracted, and finally are ready for sale to the artisans.

Once at the potter's, the blocks are pounded with a wooden mallet. The artist adds water now and then in order to work the clay into the proper consistency. This step takes two to three days. When a knife can be cut through the clay without any air pockets showing, the artist begins to create the beautiful Yixing teapot of his imagination. Every piece of the teapot is handmade by the skilled artisan. The students serve long apprenticeships under experienced masters. The modern masters are creating unique motifs and designs, totally different from any other, at any time in history. There is no set pattern to the Yixing teapot!

How to Season a New Yixing Teapot

Caring for Your Collectible Yixing Teapot

Because the pot is unglazed, and fired at lower temperatures than porcelain, it can withstand extreme temperature changes. The pots should not be washed, however, but rinsed carefully with boiling water and put away carefully. Keep your pot away from strong odors because it will absorb them and infuse them into the tea. Forever. Before you use your teapot for the first time you should do the following: Wash the teapot in a clean pot of water. Heat the pot gently in the water. When the water just begins to boil, put a handful of tea into the water. Allow to boil gently for about five minutes Remove the tea leaves in the Yixing teapot. Boil the teapot slowly for another 30 minutes. Take your Yixing teapot out and dry naturally away from harsh sunlight

By carefully caring for the collectible teapot, it will last for many pots of tea down through the years, and be passed on, as some of them have, for generations.

Tour a Yixing Factory

Comments

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    • Christopher Price profile image

      Christopher Price 

      7 years ago from Vermont, USA

      I am so happy to have stumbled upon this hub. Thank you bringing these to my attention.

      CP

    • Write On! profile image

      Write On! 

      10 years ago from United States

      A well deserved recognition... This is done very well.

      WriteOn!

    • Marye Audet profile imageAUTHOR

      Marye Audet 

      10 years ago from Lancaster, Texas

      Steph..I love these and brown betty teapots. I find the Yixing pots fascinating because of the color and artistic variations.

    • stephhicks68 profile image

      Stephanie Hicks 

      10 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Fascinating! And boy, that was quick! I'm very interested in acquiring one of these teapots now.

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