I have my first of what I hope to be many yixing teapots and I am eager to share what I am learning. The experience and detail of what it is to have tea in a yixing teapot is complex and ever-evolving for many reasons. Let’s start with a base: Yixing is an area in eastern China and the clay for yixing teapots, if they are authentic, is mined there. Zisha is the purple clay used for yixing teapots, though in the end they can appear anywhere from yellow to green to terra cotta to brown to deep purple (what?! ). This zisha clay is special in that it is porous and holds heat well. Therefore the oils of the tea brewed in a yixing teapot leave behind some of their essence and, over time, the pot becomes infused with more and more tea flavor such that it is an ever changing experience to drink from it. Very unique. Very cool. This is one of the reasons it is common to dedicate a particular yixing teapot to a particular tea or at least a particular category of tea i.e. “I will only drink oolongs from this teapot”(I don’t think you need to make a solemn vow as such. Just whatever pact between you and your pot that works for you).
The teapot is to be cured before use, kind of like a cast iron skillet, but the teapot is cured with water and tea not oil. It is a bit of a process dipping into boiling water first then steeping in tea, but as a yixing teapot is something to be enjoyed for years to come, for the tea drinker this ‘ceremony’ can be a fun one. I found multiple resources on curing yixing teapots, with minor variations to each so I did a blend of what felt best:
- Boiling filtered water in a large enough pot to fit the teapot (note: make sure there is no oil residue or soap residue in the pot – who wants soapy tea? Ick.)
- Lowering the teapot and lid (I did them separately) into the slow boiling water (you don’t want the teapot to be knocked around and cracked) You can use tongs or a large slotted spoon to safely lower the teapot into the boiling water making sure to get the water inside so it doesn’t float.
- After about 5 min slowly lift the teapot and its lid out of the pot, tip the water out of it and rest it on a clean, preferably lint-free towel. I just let mine air dry there.
- The first steeped pot of tea is for the pot as it will absorb a ton of it. So get a bowl (or use the same pot) that the teapot can fit in and still be submerged in tea. Steep a strong brew (I used more tea not more time) of the tea of your choice that you will be dedicating the pot to in sufficient amount to cover the teapot. You can either steep in another teapot or do multiple steepings in your yixing pouring them into the bowl/pot basin until you have enough to cover the teapot. If you do use the yixing to steep remove the leaves before soaking the pot in the tea. I brewed my oolong for the amount of time I would if I was going to drink it because I wanted to infuse the pot with flavor not bitterness. Put the yixing teapot into the freshly steeped tea and leave it there until the tea cools to room temp.
- Gently remove the teapot and lid from the tea and allow to air dry again and you should be ready for your first drinkable pot. I am sure there are those who do more than one steeping to cure so do what feels best for your palate.
Some important points:
- If your area has chalky water, use filtered to cure
- Don’t use any detergents or chemicals to clean the teapot or you’ll likely taste them in your tea due to the porous nature of the clay
- The higher the pitch when the pot is struck with the lid the higher the quality of the pot apparently
- There are a variety of ‘tests’ you can apply to ascertain how well designed and balanced a pot is – like how well the lid fits (not too tight, not too loose) - when covering the steam hole on the lid while doing a pouring action no tea should come out. Looking from the top of the pot if the handle and the spout are in line that is preferable unless it is a side handle pot.
- How does the pot feel in your hand? There are many ways of holding and pouring from a traditional yixing teapot including one and two-handed methods. You may need to experiment to decide which is best for you. The shape and smoothness of the lid and the shape of the handle will influence comfort and how you hold the pot.
Another conclusion I came to was not to use any flavoured teas – there is such a range of quality with these and not all use natural flavourings that I am inclined to just plain leave them out. I am dedicating my first pot to the oolong category (no flavoured ones) but not one particular oolong tea. Perhaps I will save that for later in my tea journey when I discover one I feel so passionate about.
This is just the beginning of what is a deep aspect of tea with a long history. I’ll be doing a series of posts on my exploration of the yixing tea experience because it is so deliciously detailed. Grab a pot of your favourite tea and join me. If you have a yixing pot you love, share a picture of it with us on Twitter, Facebook or Pinterest. Cheers!