Yixing teapots have been married to tea for hundreds of years. But why are they so sought after? Why is Yixing clay such a good material to use for teapots? Is there anything you should look out for when buying? In this article I will explain all the ins and outs so you can safely buy your own Yixing teapot.
As a real tea lover, you probably want a real zisha Yixing pot made from original clay. Teapots made from Yixing clay have been used for hundreds of years because they influence the tea in a positive way. Your first priority should be to make sure the clay of your teapot is from original Yixing mines clay. If you want to make the best tea, get teaware made of the best clay. At the end of the day, clay quality trumps the style or shape of the pot. If you like the way your pot looks, but it has inferior clay, it will make inferior tea.
When searching for an Yixing teapot, you will encounter fake or false Yixing teapots. By fake, I don't suggest that the vendor is trying to scam you. If you ask me, any Yixing teapot not made from original mines clay, is (probably) not worth the money. In China, all clay teapots from the city of Yixing are Yixing teapot , even if the clay was imported from other regions. As a tea lover, we want to use the clay that created the hype for these pots. Clay from other regions is chosen mostly for looks, not for compatibility with tea. We will start with a history of the original clay and its types.
The origin of Yixing clay
Let's start with the origin of Yixing clay. Yixing is a stone-like rock that was mined near the city of Yixing. To make a clay from this rock, people have to grind it down and add water. They usually made large pots from this ore to store food or to urse as plant pots. Around 500 years ago, they found out the clay was great for teaware, as the clay has a positive effect on your tea. Because they were used to make bigger items, they didnt use a pottery wheel, but built their pots out of slabs. They adjusted their technique to make small teapots. Over the following centuries, popularity increased for Yixing teapots. A teapot that makes your tea better. Who wouldn't want one?
What clay is used today and why?
The old original Yixing mines were very old and dangerous, too many people died in mining accidents. In the 90's the authorities decided to close the mines. At the tim, this wasn't a big problem as there were great stockpiles of Yixing ore. But as the years progressed, the stockpiles became smaller, prices went up and people started to source external (cheaper) clays.
These externally sourced clays are mostly selected for apperance and not for synergy with tea. It is totally possible that the pot you buy online actually makes your tea worse. As a tealover, it is a good idea to put extra effort into sourcing Yixing clay from original Yixing mines. Because of the dwindeling stocks of original clay, this means you'll have to pay more and it will it will be more difficult to find a teapot. Studies show that 90% of sold Yixing pots are from externally sourced clays. That is a lot!
Kinds of Yixing clay
Even original clay has many different varieties and subgenres. It will be easy to dedicate decades of study on the different types and their subtleties. To make life a little easier we'll boil them down into five categories. But beware, this is a huge oversimplification.
- Zisha: the original dark brown/purple variant of clay. This kind has many minerals and is the most versatile of the bunch. If you've heared that Yixing teapots make tea better, they were probably talking about zisha. It is pretty allround but really shines with darker teas. Note that zisha is sometimes used as an umbrella term for all Yixing pots.
- Hongni: a red clay with less minerals than zisha. Has less influence on water and is therefore more suitable for lighter teas.
- Zuhni: teapots made from red clay with an orange tint. Some people claim this is better for more fragrant teas.
- Duanni: in the olden days this referred to light yellow/gray clay. These days all other colours are called duanni. Blue, yellow, green and more.
- Bright coloured clay: these days you can get Yixing clay in any colour you want. Bright blue or green are not out of the question. To make these colours they'll have to add other substances to the clay. While they can make a pretty teapot, they are most definately influencing the tea the pot creates negatively. I advise to steer clear of using coloured teapots for tea.
A zisha teapot with duanni "stars"
What should a Yixing teapot cost?
Most good things are not cheap. This applies to Yixing teapots as well. While it can be big an upfront investment, it will positively influnce every teasession you'll ever have. It is actually a smarter idea to start investing in better teaware sooner in your tea journey than to splurge on expensive tea:
- Bad tea + bad teaware = horrible tea
- Mediocre tea + bad teaware = bad tea
- Good tea+ bad teaware= bad tea
- Bad tea + good teaware = mediocre tea
- Mediocre tea + good teaware = good tea
- Good tea + good teaware= exceptional tea
And if you take care of the pot it could become a family heirloom. A rough guide for pricing of good clay Yixing is that it is difficult to get one under 100 euro's.
A while back I made a Youtube video testing an Aliexpress teapot here.
Buy a Yixing teapot from someone you trust
It is a good idea to get a teapot from a trusted vendor. Someone that has been around for a while, mentions the pots being from original clay and know what they are talking about. I am constantly looking for teapots at an afforadable price but around 75% of the pots I get, are not suitable for reselling. If you want to take a look at what I offer, check out our Yixing teapots.
Vintage and antique Yixing teapots
When buying an old Yixing teapot, chances are much higher to get original clay. The mines were closed in the 90's so everything before that should be good right? Yes and no.
In the 80's, they sometimes started to add additives to the clay for looks. These additives might influence the tea in a bad way. And the worst thing, teapots from the big factory in the 70's 80's and 90's have become collectables. A pot I bought only 5 years ago has doubled in price now. Hundreds of euros is not wierd for pots of this era. Antique teapots can set you back thousands!
Teapots that look old but are not
During the 90's especially, there was this fase where people made teapots that looked like they were very old, but are in fact new pots. They included alot of additives to make the clay look like antique pots. This wasn't done to scam people, but to let 'normal' people have the option of a antique teapot above their fireplace. And you can guess what the additives do to the tea these pots make? Yes! Not suited for tea!
A 90's Yixing teapot that looks like an antique pot. This pot makes horrible tea!
Old teapots make better tea
When buying an antique teapot, you get original clay, it was mined in an era when there was no or little pollution and the pot was totally handmade. It was cared for or stored by multiple people who had to really love this pot, otherwise it would have been lost or broken a long time ago. Maybe someone used it every day to make tea with their loved ones. We don't know if this influences the tea the pot makes but it seems antique pots make better tea than their new counterparts. It can also be that the clay is further away from when it was fired and the clay has settled down more. Don't take our word for it, try it yourself!
Evaluating Yixing teapots online
To see if the clay of the teapot is good from pictures on the internet is nigh impossible. Even experts with tens of years of experience prefer to get handle the teapot in real life before they make their final verdict. As any person on Instagram can tell you, pictures can be altered, favorable angles can be chosen and the real deal can be totally different. While it can be tempting to get teapots from online auctions or local trade websites, know it is very difficult. The changes of getting an empty wallet with fireplace grade teapots is high.
Fake teapot. Notice the dullness of the pot. Hard to see on the picture, easy to see in real life.
Real 80's Factory 2 teapot. It has been used so it has a nice shine and calcium deposits.
How many Yixing teapots do I need?
It is often cited that it is good to have one dedicated Yixing teapot for every genre of tea. This advice is given because Yixing clay is unglazed, so the tea is touching the rough clay. The clay absorbs a little of tea each session and gives it back in the next.
There is truth to dedicating teapots but that would mean you'll have to buy alot of teapots! It probably is better to have one car for driving to work, a bigger car to bring your kids and friends to a party, another one for mountain hikes etc. This doesn't mean you can't do all of these things with one car. With Yixing it is sort of the same. You can use one pot for all teas. Just clean it really good every couple of months and don't ever leave standing with leaves in it after a session. Yes there will be a little bit if taste of the last tea to go into your next session but not much. This way you can take your time and if you wish, build up your collection without fuss.
I realise that I am a vendor of teaware, writing a blog about the correct clay of Yixing teapots and (surprise, surprise) I have a salespage with Yixing teapots that all have good clay. And all other Yixing on the internet is probably fake and you should buy mine. This is not my intention at all. I'm not a Yixing teapot master. I am simply a tea lover that has made many mistakes. I try to get more information out there about good Yixing pots and their influence on tea. I sometimes meet people that got a cheap Yixing pot online and are discouraged with it. Then they revert back to their porcelain or glass teapots and never bother with them again. I think this is a real shame.
One of the things about brewing tea that hooked me early on was the breath of things that have a real influence on the tea. Water, teapot, kettle, heatsource, pre warming cups, tea brewer etc. (yes I'll try to write about these things as well) It saddens me people are discouraged with Yixing and waste their hard earned money.
If you have a shop/auction with a teapot you like, send me an email and i'll give you an honest awnser if I would trust it. I love to talk about teapots but I am no master at all. Know the awnsers I'll give you from pictures will be 12% no, 3% yes and 85% I dont know..
In the end I would like us all to have wonderful tea sessions for many years.
Admar de Bruin