Diving Into the World of Yixing Teapots — Part 1

Some of the most treasured teawares are made from a special clay called “zisha” by artisans who train for years. The clay and the best artisans are from the province of China called “Yixing” (pronounced “Ee-sheeng” or “Yee-sheeng”). I have always been a bit leery of taking the plunge and buying one or more of these little gems, but have finally decided it’s time to dive into the world of Yixing teapots.

Tea lovers have written of their treasured versions of these steeping wonders. Lainie Petersen and many others have waxed rhapsodic about theirs, and so when I saw some for sale online, I couldn’t resist. It was a bit of a gamble to buy such a thing sight unseen. There are, after all, certain things one needs to look for.

Getting the Real Deal — As with anything that achieves a certain status of value and collectability, Yixing teapot fakes abound, so know what you are buying and how to tell if you are getting the “real deal.”

Some ways to determine whether your teapot is authentic or not:

  • There will be a potter’s chop mark on the bottom of the teapot and the lid.
Chop mark on the bottom of the teapot body
Chop mark on the bottom of the teapot body
Chop mark on the bottom of the teapot lid
Chop mark on the bottom of the teapot lid
  • When tapped lightly against another Yixing teapot of the same variety, the ceramic should make a metallic sound.
  • The fit of the teapot’s lid should be seamless, and there should be a little air hole in it; to test the seamlessness, fill the pot with water, put the lid on, place your finger over the hole on the lid, and tip the pot over to see if the flow of water is halted — if it is, the lid is seamless.
  • Avoid the fake clunky looking teapots made of yellow clay that first became available around 2007. These are usually shaped like bamboo shoots/stalks, dragons, or Chinese coins; the clay is rough and crude and has a strong, unpleasant odor that can affect your tea’s flavor.
  • Antique Yixing teapots are a bit trickier to authentic; consult an expert.

Getting a Good Deal — Check the general condition of the teapot, looking for cracks, chips, and other imperfections. How vital these things are depends in part on why you are buying.

Some key reasons people buy a Yixing teapot:

  • Primarily to steep teas — you will probably want teapots with a more simple design and minor chips won’t be an issue.
  • Because it strikes your fancy — your own aesthetic will be your guide here (some snobs calls this type of purchasing “garbage collection”).
  • To have as a collectible (antique and/or master craftsmen’s works) — check out very carefully what makes a teapot collectible and only buy from reputable dealers.
  • For the symbolism of the design — again some study is in order so you know what is being symbolized; for example, the cicada means long life, resurrection, and spirituality while the bamboo stands for nobility and growth and the dragon by itself is beauty and wisdom (when shown with the phoenix, the dragon is the Yin and the phoenix is the Yang, that is, male and female).
Cicada close up with shining black eyes.
Cicada close up with shining black eyes.

If you, too, want to dive into the exciting world of Yixing teapots, you can find hundreds online. Better yet, find someone who has one and see where he/she bought it. Do your homework and be sure to check out the return policy of the online store in case your teapot arrives damaged or turns out not to meet your expectations.

Hubby and I have determined that we want to use the three teapots we acquired. This led us to the next steps in the world of Yixing teapots, as you will see in Part 2.

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      1. A.C. Cargill

        Thanks for the link to the video. I set it up so just the link, not the video, appears in the comment. Readers can cut and past the link into their browser address bar to go to the video. 🙂

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