Why You Would Want To Use a Yixing Tea Pot
The right yixing tea pot can make a hard to brew puer or oolong tea perform to its peak potential. Good Yixing teaware is some of the most effective and specialized Purple clay or zisha 紫沙 mined from Huanglongshan is the key component. Zisha clay has grown in popularity among tea experts since the Ming dynasty. Enthusiasts stress that no other material can match how Zisha elevates complicated tea brewing. Artisans near Yixing once had prime access to zisha ore mined from Huanglongshan and the name stuck. Sadly Huanglongshan mining ceased in the 1980’s. While the mines may be closed there has still been enough unprocessed ore to sustain an elite group of artisans and buyers.
The appeal of yixing teaware is tied to the peculiar nature of tea connoisseurship. Fine tea is sold as the primary ingredient in the process of making tea. If you are a tea connoisseur you necessarily need to be invested in tea making tools and processes. Its only a matter of time before investing in a specialty pot for specific teas seems urgent. Before diving into the first clay pot that crosses your screen here are a couple things to keep in mind.
General Buying Advice
In an ideal world we would all buy a yixing tea pot in person from the artisan themselves. With the world is in the grip of COVID-19 access to a specialty store of any kind is limited. Much less traveling to China to buy tea pots. This leaves most of us with no choice but to buy online. Sadly most of the best tips I’ve learned for spotting well made pots involve touching, smelling, and hearing. Here is a quick rundown.
Tiny white spots and tiny sand sized craters is a sign of authenticity. A strong chemical smell is a very bad sign. A rough inside means the pot is pretty new. If you can feel the handle from the inside that shows its handmade as a single piece. Lids should have a tight seal. If you hold the pot in your hand like a bell and lightly tap the side with the lid the sound should be a high tone.
Shape and Volume
There are a lot of yixing pots that look either conspicuously ornate or too large. The best yixing pots are small and have plain looking shapes. This is not to say that there isn’t a rich tradition of yixing teaware with finely detailed relief work and odd shapes, because there is. Beautiful decorative pots don’t need to use expensive high quality material or pour tea well. Pots made from high quality ore for the tea specialists fall into a set of named shapes. Shuiping, Shipiao, Dezhong, Pear, Dragon’s Egg. There can be ornate decorations on these pots, but they are often plain or have some calligraphy on the side.
The rabbit hole goes pretty deep and each artisan is going to put their spin on a classic shape. What you should be aware of is how compressed is the body of the pot. Shipiao pots, especially small ones, are very wide on the bottom and will keep the heat in more than a taller shape. Aromatic oolongs and young sheng puer do well in vertical pots. Save your aged shou puer for a wider pot with a smaller opening.
Zisha Clay Types and Attributes
Even though its all supposed to be zisha clay, there are in fact a growing list of zisha sub types. Specific mines or layers contain ore that produce special zisha. They are distinguished by color, density, and porosity. Some of the preferences people have for pairing tea with clay type is subjective, but some have consensus based on how dense or porous it is. Its such a big topic I think a chart might make this easier to understand.
|Zhuni 朱泥||Red Orange Clay
||Dense red clay made from soft mudstone. Performs well with fragrant oolongs and black tea.|
|Hongni 红泥||Red Clay
||Red clay made from sedimentary rock.|
|Duanni 缎泥||Yellow Clay||Porous and softer clay. Used for young sheng puer or green tea.|
|Zini 紫泥||Purple Clay||Medium density and porousness. Can do well with many tea types.|
|Luni 绿泥||Green Clay||Close relative of duanni. Clay turns a brighter pale yellow. Good for young sheng and green tea.|
|Baini 白泥||White Clay
||Not often used to make tea pots.|
|Heini 黑泥||Black Clay
||Zini clay with an added pigment or fired in a low oxygen environment.|
Barry Donnelly, Mad Monk Tea
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