By most accounts, China is the place where tea production, drinking and culture first came into being. So it probably should come as no surprise that some of the world’s prized teapots are made there. Jiangsu province, in the region in and around Yixing, is well known for being home to a type of clay used to make these pots, many of which are ranked among the world’s most prized.

The history of Yixing teapots probably began in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), though they may have started appearing as early as the Sung Dynasty (960-1279). When Chinese tea began be shipped to Europe many centuries later these distinctive teapots also started making their way to the West and it’s likely that they were an influence on teapots that were later created there.

Though Yixing clay is known as zisha, or purple clay, the pots that are made from it are not always purple in coloring. Some of the qualities of this clay that make Yixing pots so desirable are the ability to retain heat and – due to its porous nature – the ability to absorb the flavor of the tea. It’s because of this latter quality that it’s often recommended that each Yixing pot be devoted a specific type of tea.

After it’s been used for a while, the tea brewed in a Yixing teapot tends to gradually work its way into the clay and the outer surface of the pot begins to develop a distinctive sheen. According to some legends, a well-used Yixing pot eventually absorbs enough tea flavor that you can make a cup of tea in it simply by adding boiling water.

It’s important to maintain a Yixing teapot properly, which includes curing it before the first use and cleaning it every time you use it. A teapot may come with specific instructions for each operation, but here are some instructions for curing a Yixing teapot. When cleaning a Yixing pot, it’s a simple matter of rinsing it after each use and thoroughly drying it. Avoid soap and other cleansers. Refer to this video for more cleaning tips.

For more on Yixing teapots, refer to The Beauty of Chinese Yixing Teapots and The Artful Teapot.

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