Yixing Clay Teapot: A Guide for Newcomers

Have you ever noticed unglazed teapots like this on the shelf of a tea store? They can go unnoticed between all the gorgeous porcelain or gold glided Chinese tea tools. This Yixing clay teapot, however, has created zealous enthusiasm worldwide as an object of daily use, a collector’s item or an investment. There are even some clay teapots that could be worth more than their weight in gold! What’s so special about it and why does it charm so many people all around the world? Keep on reading and you will find out!

So first, what is a Yixing clay teapot?

The Yixing clay teapot – also called purple sand teapot in Chinese – is made from clay found in Yixing, Jiangsu Province. It’s a time-honored traditional craftwork of China. While the first proper Yixing is said to be crafted during the reign of Ming Xuande Emperor (1426-35), historical evidence has shown that as early as the Song Dynasty (960-1279), people living around the Yixing area had already started to make utensils functioning as teapots with local clays.

The origin of the teapot accounts for its modest appearance. Legend has it that as Song aristocrats were exiled from the territory of Yuan, they sought something to announce their separation from and rebellion against Yuan. While the Yuan imperial court was filled with tea utensils made of jade, gems, and gold, Song people were inspired by unglazed clays and made them into teapots of simple shape to distinguish a tea tradition of their own.

Today, the craft still follows the style of simplicity and attracts lots of tea lovers that prefer a minimalistic look. While the teapots were mostly made in line with the classic minimalist style, some Yixing masters however put much time and effort into giving the teapots artistic details. Even though the development of the Chinese industry makes it possible to mass-produce almost everything, the Yixing teapots remain hand-made only and made in a way that takes years to master.

What else is special about this tea pot?

The long-lasting popularity of the tea-pot is not solely due to its minimalistic appearance. What makes this teapot special is the way it can accent flavors and create a rich texture to your tea!

The porous structure of the unglazed clay allows Yixing teapots to absorb tea oils as it steeps your tea. It is, however, by no means a one-way street. As aromatics and flavors accumulate in the teapot over time, new tea brewed later will take on greater depth and texture, and become more pleasing to your mouth. The longer you use the teapot to steep your tea, the greater you can notice this subtle effect. A teapot that has been used for years could even be able to flavor hot water by itself, without the need for new tea!

It should be noted that – to ensure that the flavor of the tea you make will not contradict that of the previous steeping – we recommend you to brew the same kind of teas in the same pot. Every pot should have its own category which is also emphasized by many masters of tea and of Yixing teapot.

I’ve bought a Yixing and brought it back home. What do I do next?

Hold on! Before you use the pot to brew yourself some tea, you first have to season it!

To season your teapot put the teapot into a larger pot of boiling filtered water for ten minutes. You can rest it in a ladle while boiling it, or lower it into the water with wooden spoons or chopsticks. Then remove the teapot from the water carefully and let it dry completely.

Next, choose a tea whose flavor you want the pot to absorb. Steep tea in the pot for 10-15 seconds, and then pour it into a different larger bowl. Continue the process until the larger bowl is full. Remove the tea leaves from the pot and soak the pot in the other bowl of tea. As the tea has cooled, remove the pot and let it dry.

Now the teapot is ready for use. You might find the first several infusions a bit light, which is a sign that the clay is still soaking in the tea flavor. But after a few more infusions, the aromas and flavors will return to your tea will have more depth and complexity – your hard work has paid off!