yixing theepotjes
Brewing tea, Drinking tea

Yixing teapots: a special kind of clay from China

You may have come across them before, very small teapots with a reddish-brown color. There was a good chance it was a Yixing teapot. These are teapots made from a special kind of clay from China. Yixing clay has many good properties that make it very suitable for brewing tea. In this blog, you will discover all about it!

A piece of historygeschiedenis yixing tea pots

In the distant past, around the Han dynasty (206 BC to 220 AD), objects were already being formed from clay. However, it was not until the middle of the Ming dynasty (1368-1644), around the year 1500, that a remarkable increase in production occurred. By the end of the 17th century, Yixing teapots reached Europe. Still today, Yixing produces teapots that enjoy a solid reputation both in China and abroad.

Yixing teapots come from the Yixing region in China, which is very well known for clay with ‘unique’ properties. Thanks to the porous nature of the clay they are made from, they can ‘remember’ the tea that is brewed in them, hence they are also known as ‘memory’ teapots.

Yixing is a city in Jiangsu province, west of Shanghai. It is known not just for the quality of its clay, but also for the incredible creativity and craftsmanship of its potters. There are small artisan workshops that work entirely by hand, as well as large manufacturers that produce teapots on a large scale. Yixing is sometimes also called China’s Pottery Capital.

Properties of Yixing Clay

Yixing clay is a type of ground clay made from stone. It is created from rocks that are mined, crushed, cleaned, kneaded, sieved, and then mixed. The colors of Yixing clay vary depending on where and from what depth the rocks are extracted, as well as the firing method used by the potter.

There are 3 types of Yixing:

  1. Purple Yixing (Zishani / Zisha)
  2. Red Yixing (Hongni)
  3. Yellow Yixing (Duanni)

The following natural properties make Yixing clay so special:

  • It is very rich in minerals. There are many different minerals in the clay that interact and react with the tea leaves during brewing, subtly altering the taste and adding a certain softness to the tea. This allows you to brew the tea stronger and it will taste softer when using a Yixing teapot.
  • It has a slow heat conduction. It loses heat very slowly, which provides a very constant brewing temperature. This allows for better control over the brewing process, brewing at high temperatures for longer times, and extracting more from the tea leaves.
  • The porosity. Yixing is an unglazed clay. This means that the essential oils from the tea are absorbed into the clay’s pores. This means you can start ‘seasoning’ your teapot to build up flavors. Each subsequent brewing with the teapot will develop a stronger flavor as the pot becomes more ‘seasoned’. This is how the ‘memory teapot’ gets its coating. However, this is a very slow process. It takes hundreds of brews before you start to notice a difference and the built-in taste is also rather subtle.
  • The malleability, which makes it easy to work with and allowed artisans to develop a technique to make the teapots entirely by hand.

Yixing Teapot Production Methods

  1. Fully handmade: A Yixing teapot can be completely handmade. The entire shape is then made by hand, with no mold or machine involved. This requires many years of experience and craftsmanship to learn… up to 20 years. Such teapots are very expensive and cost on average 200 to 250 euros, partly because of the many hours it takes to obtain a finished teapot.
  2. Partially handmade: For partly handmade teapots, a mold is used to shape the teapot, but the teapot is finished entirely by hand. It’s an affordable way to get a good quality Yixing pot.
  3. Fully machine-made: These teapots are made by pouring liquid clay into a mold. They are completely machine-made pots. The entire teapot is cast and very little handwork is involved. Often the clay used is also of lower quality.

Recognizing a quality Yixing teapot

The primary consideration should be ensuring that the material is of high quality. Authentic Yixing clay is derived from stone, and such stone-ground clay is quite expensive. Consequently, there are cheaper imitations made from low-quality clay or synthetic materials that are colored to mimic the appearance of Yixing clay. Therefore, it’s important to look beyond color and assess the quality of the clay.

The sound the teapot makes when gently tapped with the lid is indicative of quality. It should produce a clear, metallic ring. Dull or thudding sounds may suggest lower quality material or construction.

The design of the pot is also a hallmark of its quality. The tip of the spout and the top of the handle should align with the rim of the teapot. You should be able to draw almost a straight line across them. If the spout is lower, it could indicate that the tea might leak from the lid before pouring properly. Furthermore, the lid should fit as snugly as possible within the opening of the teapot. A tight-fitting lid helps to retain heat more effectively.

A final important feature of quality is the presence of the maker’s seal, which can be found on the bottom of the teapot and sometimes on the inside of the lid or under the handle. It is an imprint in the clay that serves as the potter’s signature.

Importance of Shape

Beyond the material, Yixing clay pots also have beautifully considered shapes. There are many different forms and sizes available. For example, the Xi Shi pot is a very classic, wide shape that allows a large quantity of leaves to expand and move, which is crucial for brewing tea according to the Gong Fu style.

Aesthetically, Yixing teapots are a beautiful display of craftsmanship. They are pleasing to hold, and the aesthetics add a new dimension to the brewing process.

Other Types of Clay

While Yixing is a very well-renowned and tested area known for clay with many unique properties, it is not the only type of clay used for Chinese teapots. There are many other kinds, such as Chaozhou, Jianshui, Nixing, and Tokoname clays, each with their unique colors and properties.

thee zetten met yixing theepot

Brewing Tea with a Yixing Teapot

Yixing teapots are particularly well-suited for brewing black, oolong, and post-fermented teas. Generally, it is not necessary to use a Yixing pot for green, yellow, or white teas. This is because Yixing pots are especially good for brewing tea at high temperatures for an extended period.

Since the pot absorbs the essential oils and flavors of the tea, many people choose to dedicate a pot to a specific type of tea. Each tea or tea category would then have its own pot. For example, you might have a specific pot for raw puerh, cooked puerh, or dark oolongs. On the other hand, this limits the use of the pot, which is a shame for such a beautiful and expensive item. An alternative is to choose a type of tea that you drink often or to use it for all types (oolong, black, and post-fermented). Combining tea types can work perfectly since the absorption of flavors takes a very long time.

The traditional way of brewing tea with a Yixing pot is according to the Gong Fu Cha method:

  1. Preheat the Teapot: First, take freshly boiled hot water and pour it into and over the teapot. Yixing clay is a poor heat conductor, which makes it excellent for brewing tea because it retains heat well. However, it also means the teapot needs time to warm up. After about 10 to 20 seconds, discard the water.
  2. Add the Tea: After warming the pot, add the tea leaves (oolong, black, or post-fermented) to the pot. Use enough leaves to fill about one-third to one-half of the pot, depending on the type of tea.
  3. Aromatic awakening: Now that the tea is in the warm teapot, put the lid on briefly, then remove and smell the tea leaves. The warmth from the pot will release the aroma of the tea. Smelling is an essential part of a Gong Fu Cha session.
  4. Rinsing the leaves: Pour hot water over the leaves from a reasonable height to agitate them slightly. Fill it to the top just until it begins to overflow, then place the lid on. Pour a little more water over the pot to maintain temperature (if you have a tea table, you can spill water freely!). After a few seconds, pour the rinse into a pitcher or a gong dao bei (fairness cup). Make sure you pour out every drop of water. Then pour the rinse from your pitcher over your cups and your teapet if you have one. This ‘washes’ the tea, and now the pot is warm and ready for the actual brewing.
  5. Infusion: Refill the teapot with hot water and cover with the lid. Pour extra water over the pot to keep the temperature steady. Allow the tea to infuse for the necessary time (depends on the type of tea), and then pour it into a pitcher or directly into your cups. Enjoy the taste! Tip: Do not replace the lid between infusions; otherwise, the leaves cannot release steam and will begin to cook inside the teapot.
  6. Subsequent infusions: Quality tea can be re-infused several times. Repeat the infusion step as many times as the tea supports.
  7. Cleaning the Yixing teapot: Clean the Yixing teapot and cups immediately after use with warm water. Avoid using soap or detergent, as these can harm the clay. Do not put the lid back on the teapot after washing, as the clay inside will still be moist. To dry, place the teapot upside down next to the lid on a towel and let it dry naturally. This prevents the formation of unpleasant odors or mold.

Yixing pots add a whole new dimension to the tea brewing experience. Thee.be has recently added an assortment of Yixing products, including a beautiful Yixing tea set, Yixing Gaiwans, storage boxes, cups, teapets, and much more. Discover it all here!

The products featured in this blog post

  • This storage box can hold approximately 110 grams of tea, depending on the volume of the tea leaves. Ideal for storing Post-fermented tea. Details Material: Yixing, fabric Dimensions: diameter 10.6 cm - height 9.5 cm Stamp on the bottom

  • This beautiful set includes an authentic Yixing teapot and two matching Yixing teacups. The teapot has a capacity of 100 ml, making it ideal for Gong Fu Cha. Both the teapot and the two cups bear a maker's stamp on the bottom, confirming their authenticity....

  • Experience tea like a true tea master or tea sommelier with this set of aroma and tasting cups. The tall cups are for smelling, and the low cups are for drinking the tea. One set includes 6 aroma cups and 6 tasting cups. Method Brew...

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