Teaware: Yixing Teapots, An Introduction
An utilitarian view
Properly used, a Yixing pot can bring out the maximum potential of a tea like no other teaware can. An authentic Yixing teapot, therefore, is not just a craft object, but also an essential tea tool.
The material and the efficiency of the shape are two deciding factors for the utilitarian values of the Yixing pot.
The world has yet to discover a material capable of maximizing infusion effects like the clay mined from Yixing. Whether the clay is genuine and how it is refined are crucial factors for deliberation. Different styles and techniques in clay refinement result in Yixing clay of various colours and finishes, and more importantly, physical structure (such as density and pores character), making it possible to render different infusion results to satisfy different requirements. Yixing clay is a big subject in itself and in its relationship with various teas; we shall talk about this in another article.
How the hot water circulate by way of convection within the teapot is a major factor for the usability of the teapot. It is decisive in the taste coherence and texture character of the result. Heat loss, the rate of which also play a role in the result, is also affected by the shape. The shape of the teapot is therefore related closely to how one conducts tea making and the choice of tea variety. Additionally, there is the very personal ergonomic requirements.
Before we discuss in better depth selecting a fine Yixing pot in another article, if you need some advice in deciding a shape to buy, there is always the classic caldron shape that is an all ‘round’ solution for most infusion conditions.
One pot one tea variety
Because of the micropores of the material, which giving Yixing clay its "breathing" property and potential to render fine infusion, the taste matters of tea also very gradually build up into the pot too. This is good and bad for the user. The good part is that with repeated use, the infusion itself actually improves. The bad part is that you cannot use the same pot for a different variety of tea to avoid conflicting taste substances from different tea blending together. For example, a green style tieguanyin cannot be steeped in a pot that has been used to make golden tip puer, or even a bouquet style Phoenix oolong. If you ever made such mistakes, re-prime the pot all over again, but boil it with water two times in the cleaning step instead of once. (read the paragraph below for cleaning)
After you got your Yixing pot, give it a quick rinse in clean water and then completely submerge it in clean water to soak overnight. ABSOLUTELY no cleaning agents of any nature.
Rinse the pot again and submerge it in a fresh batch of clean water in a deep pan on the stove. Bring the water to a boil, reduce fire and let boil for 5 minutes. Drain. Rinse the pot in fresh water once. The pot is now ready for priming.
Submerge the pot in fresh water in the pan and put over the stove again. Turn off the fire after it comes to a boil. Put the kind of tea that you want to use with this pot into the pan of hot water and cover, as if you are making a pan of tea, with the teapot in it. Let steep for over night.
Drain and rinse the pot in fresh water once and let air dry, lid open. Your pot is primed and ready for your first pot of tea.
The pot is seasoned with every use.
Maintenance of the pot is easy. Empty the leaves after each use and give it a swirl of hot water, drain and then let it air dry with the lid open. Again because of its micropores, do not ever use any detergent or soap or any other substances other than water to clean the pot. For the same reason, do not let the pot come into contact with other strong smell, such as cooking fume, cigarette smoke, perfume, etc.
You can make tea with the Yixing pot as you would a regular teapot, or if you are interested, click here to learn about gongfu infusion technique with the Yixing pot. We'll discuss Yixing pot selection in future updates.
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