Posts tagged: china teapot

How to Buy Yixing Teapot and Cups

A Yixing tea set is often considered the ultimate prize of a Chinese tea lover. It is a rare fusion of practical and artistic, aesthetic and health, a flowing experience involving all five senses.

Tip #1:
Which type of clay?

 Generally speaking, there are two types of clay you have to be aware of: purple clay and red clay.

Purple clay is the most common and versatile type.

Because it is located at the bottom of the mine, it is also known as the “rock within the rock”, or the “clay within the clay”. High pressure causes it to acquire an iron-like solidity.

I highly recommend a purple for your first tea pot.

Red clay is also known as hongni or zhuni. It is found at the bottom of the mine, so it is very hard. Higher frequency, it is especially suitable for brewing an aromatic tea.

Red clay from the original Yixing mine is scarce, so only buy from a trustworthy source.

Tip #2:
How does it feel?

 Getting a Chinese tea set is not just about brewing tea, it is also an intensely tactile experience.

If the tea pot comes from Yixing, it doesn’t feel sticky. The clay is pleasant to touch. Although the surface appears grainy, the clay feels smooth.

If the tea pot is made from clay produced elsewhere, it feels sticky, a bit like touching glass.

If the tea pot has been mass-produced, the clay feels rough.

Tip #3:
How do you feel?

The third aspect relates to the style of the Chinese tea set. A Yixing tea pot is a brewing vessel, it is also a work of art.

The style it embodies captures the essence of the artist. Does the style speak to you in the same way? How do you feel about it?

If you feel connected, then it is the right vessel.

Tip #4:
Is it functional?

Here we are talking about craftsmanship and practicality.

Is the sprout aligned to the handle? Are they balanced?

Does the lid fit snugly to the mouth? Would the lid fall inside the pot? Would the water spill when you are pouring?

Does water flow easily? Could the leaves get struck at the sprout?

Capacity

Compared to Western pots, Yixing tea pots and cups are tiny. When brewing tea gongfu style, you steep leaves in boiling water for a short period of time, then quickly pour to 2 to 12 cups to drink.

(The tea cups are small, so the tea does cool quickly.)

If you are brewing for yourself, you may want to get a small pot – about 150 to 200 millimeters.

If you are brewing for you and your guests, you may want to get a larger pot – say 350 millimeters.

Remember, the amount of tea leaves increase with the size of the pot. If you are brewing a high quality tea for yourself, a smaller pot would do.

Tea Cups

For Yixing Chinese tea set, it is not important to have matching tea cups.

Many people use ceramic or ceramic coated tea cups. This is because the white color allow you to admire the color of the tea liquor more easily.

However, if having yixing tea cup is important to you, simply ask your tea shop. The quality of the clay is unlikely to be as high as the pot. So they tend to be available at much lower price.

Tea cups come in pairs, usually 2,4,6,8 and 12.

Shape

A Chinese tea set may be attractive, but it may not be usable.

In general, I recommend you get a round-base tea pot of a suitable height.

Taller tea pot has smaller sprout. They are suitable for black tea as they are more heat tolerant. But you have to make sure the water flows smoothly and tea does not over-steep.

Shorter tea pot has larger sprout. They are suitable for green tea. But beware the water does not spill from the lid.

Tip #5:
What does it say?

A Chinese tea set is not just about the raw materials and craftsmanship. It is also about the culture contains within the calligraphy and seal.

What does the Chinese words say? Who is the engraver?

You can also find the potter’s seal at the bottom of tea pot. Who is he? What’s the design of the seal?

Tip #6:
Does it pass the test?

  • Touch the body of the tea pot. Does it feel solid and hard?
  • Look at the surface. Is it shiny?
  • Hit the lid against the tea pot body. Does it sound good? (High frequency should be used to brew aromatic oolongs, low frequency should be used to brew roasted oolongs.)
  • Smell it. If it smells earth, it is okay. If it smells burnt or oily or chemical, then something is not right.
  • Fill in water. Press the lid and sprout against your fingers. Invert the pot. Can the pot hold the water without any leakage?
  • Fill in water. Invert the pot to drain. Does every single drop of water drain out?
  • Fill in water three-quarters full. Pour out slowly. Does you find it easy to pour?

Yixing Chinese Tea Pot

A Gongfu Tea Drinker’s Complete Guide

The best way to think about it is to use the analogy of a magnifier.

Once seasoned, it amplifies the desirable quality of your favorite tea and rewards you with cup after cup of delicious-tasting beverage.

It requires almost no maintenance, and gets better over time.

Tiny Pores

If you have the eyesight of a superman, you may be able to zoom into Yixing clay’s miraculous molecular structure.

You would see that the clay is porous – the surface area is many times larger than the size of the tea pot.

Each time you steep a tea, the clay absorbs 4% of the water. It becomes “seasoned” when it has absorbed the chief characteristics of your favorite tea.

Flavor Magnifier

When your tea pot becomes seasoned, it tastes good even by itself. I usually drink plain water out of my Yixing cup, because it tastes so good!

The tea pot is recommended for brewing highly oxidized teas (roasted oolong, black tea, old pu-erh) with strong body but light aroma.

But is can also be used to brew green tea, white tea and aromatic oolong. However, you have to take care to use one pot for just one type of tea.

Now imagine again you are a superman again.

Using your fantastic eyesight, you would detect more irregularities in the clay. You would see it contains tiny amount of iron, quartz, mica and other minerals.

When you brew a tea, you automatically enrich the water with minerals. Also, the lid has a small pore on top so that your tea can breathe easily.

The combination of past brewing “memory”, minerals and air makes your tea tastes great.

Not only that, it lasts more infusions – saving you money.

Ideal Brewing Vessel

The clay has low thermal conductivity. This means it retains heat well and is not too hot to touch.

The clay has low shrinkage rate. The lid can be made to fit tightly to the mouth.

What this means is that high temperature brewing is surprisingly effective.

It is for this reason that Yixing pottery sits at the apex of tea world, prized by avid collectors in China, Korea, Japan and Taiwan.

Health Enhancing

Not only is the clay enriching, the manufacturing process is also safe.

The next time you consider buying a handmade ceramic ware directly from China – think again.

A porcelain ware such as a gaiwan (tea bowl) usually contains lead glazing.

Individual artist would not have precise control over the kiln temperature. Your ceramic ware would look nice, but your tea may be poisoned by lead.

(It is safer to buy your ceramic ware from a reputable manufacturer from a first-world country.)

Although Yixing comes from China, it is totally safe. The clay contains naturally occurring iron, which can be mixed and fired to create various color effects. There is no need for glazing.

It does not contain any lead, arsenic, cadmium, and other toxic materials. No chemicals or other additives are added.

Touching Pleasure

Getting a Chinese tea set is not just about brewing tea, it is also an intensely tactile experience.

The clay is pleasant to touch. Although the surface appears grainy, the clay feels smooth.

Admiring Pleasure

When you buy a Yixing, you are not just buying a vessel. You are making a connection to the artist and maker.

When making porcelain ware, division of labor is the norm. Each team specializes in its own processes.

Making clay pottery is different. The same person is involved from start to end. Therefore each item is closely linked to the artist.

There are hundreds of pot designs? Which do you choose one? Practicality considerations aside, the pot’s design should speak to you in the same way.

A well-made pot is beautiful. It is well-proportioned, smooth and gets shinier over time.

Easy Upkeep

Maintenance is simple. Never wash your tea pot with soap or cleanser. After each use, rinse with water and remove the leaves.

Then leave to dry or wipe gently with cloths.

How to Buy

There are six things to consider when you are buying a Yixing:

  • Which type of clay?
  • What does your touch sense tell you?
  • Do you like the style?
  • Is it practical and fit for purpose?
  • What does the calligraphy and seal tell you?
  • What tests can you perform to assess the quality of your ware?
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