Imagine you just recently entered the world of tea, you have already managed to collect quite an assortment of black, green, Oolong, and even white, and yellow teas, you have only started digging a little deeper into the old Chinese tea tradition, and now, you’ve learnt that what you need to prepare your tea the proper way is a clay teapot. Apart from drinking tea, you are a modern person, so what would be more obvious than going to look for buying one online? And this is where you’re going to hit the Yixing craze.
It’s not only that everybody seems to tell you that a Yixing teapot is the best you can get, it’s rather that nearly every clay teapot you can find there, at least those with a certain set of design characteristics, those roughly corresponding with your basic idea of a Chinese teapot, supposedly is a Yixing teapot. You are confused: what is a Yixing teapot, really, and are they really better than others, and are there any other clay teapots at all that would be worth considering?
First of all, yes, you do need a clay pot to properly prepare green and Oolong teas. These teas need to “breathe” while steeping, and among the materials generally considered as suitable for teapots, clay is the one that provides the relevant properties for this breathing best.
As for Yixing teapots in particular: Yixing is a town in the Chinese Jiangsu province, which made itself a name for its good quality clay starting from the times of the Song dynasty (960-1279). This paved the way for the region becoming home of a lively pottery industry, whose products, teapots and other tea ware among others, were also exported to Europe starting from the 17th century on. Generally, Yixing teapots will have a typical shape, where the opening of the nozzle is in one horizontal line with the cover of the teapot and the top end of the handle.
However, the clay deposits in Yixing have been liberally exploited during the centuries, with the remaining really precious layers hard to find in a budget price class, or an affordable one, for that matter, seen from a common’s perspective. Other good sources of clay are definitely available, in China as well as other parts of the world, e.g. potters from Yingko, Taiwan, another place famous for its tea pottery, will hardly go all the way to Yixing to procure their clay. So, definitely, a teapot that is not made from Yixing clay can possibly be as good or better as a “real” Yixing teapot.
Then, how will you be able to tell that what you buy really is a Yixing teapot? It has become quite common to refer to any clay teapot with the above mentioned design characteristics as a Yixing teapot, regardless of the actual origin of the clay used for it, especially in online trade, where keywords make the potential buyers. To be honest, unless you are able to properly identify and assign the stamps embossed in the bottoms of any reputed Chinese or Taiwanese pottery, a trustworthy relevant certificate would be the only safe assurance. And again… reputed pottery… trustworthy certificate.. any bells ringing? This is not going to be cheap!
Hey, maybe better you just buy simply a clay teapot for the start. Choose one that you like by appearance and that you trust for its performance. You might be able to catch a nice piece in your nearest brick and mortar tea shop, where you can actually touch it, or even put water in it and try how it performs. When buying tea pottery online, be aware that pictures and words, and the price, may lie, or maybe you have a trusted online dealer, who won’t sell you second class Mississippi sand as Yixing clay.
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