Home / Culture Atlas / Folklore / Yixing Teapot
 
Overview
Abacus
Chinese Calendar
Chinese Chess
Chinese Knots
Chinese Zodiac
Feng Shui
Festival and Holiday
Papercuts
Weiqi
Yixing Pottery
Back
Yixing Pottery

History of Yixing Teapot and Pottery
A dark-red unglazed earthenware made at Yixing in Jiangsu Province, which is always consider by the Chinese the best stoneware and porcelain for tea making and drinking. The tradition of making pottery has been strong since the Sung Dynasty (960-1279); wares are valued for their fine texture, thin walls, and naturally beautiful coloration ranging from light buff to deep maroon tones. Yixing (E-Shing), China, the birthplace of the teapot, is located on Taihu Lake in Jiangsu province. It lies about 120 miles northwest of Shanghai. As far back as the Neolithic age, some 5,000 years ago, the forefathers of Yixing were engaged in pottery making. The textual and archaeological record also affirms that the Yixing teapot was first produced there during the middle of the Sung Dynasty (A.D. 960 -1280). For centuries, the Yixing teapot has enjoyed the reputation among Chinese tea drinkers as being the superior vessel for brewing tea. What sets Yixing teaware apart from the others is the Zisha, or purple clay from which it is made.

Features
One of the great features of Yixing teapots is the ability to retain heat. Small pores produced in the clay during firing retain both heat and flavor, and the low shrinkage rate of Yixing clay allows the skillful potter to make a closely-fitting lid that inhibits oxidation thus heightening the tea's flavor. Unlike other porcelain artware, Yixing clay pots are baked at somewhat lower heat and demonstrate the highly desirable character of withstanding sudden extreme temperature changes.

The Yixing teapots are porous, a feature that considerably contributes to their evolution from a newly-made vessel to a superbly-seasoned masterpiece. Due to the dynamics of porosity, the actual amount of exposed interior clay surface is many times larger than the pot's visual size. Due to the dynamics of porosity, the actual amount of exposed interior clay surface is many times larger than the pot's visual size. Accordingly, the flavor influence remaining form liquids prepared in the pot is unexpectedly effective. Moreover, permeating capillary and absorptive action intensify this influence creating in the fully-seasoned pot an environment that has the potential of radically changing the prepared tea's flavor characteristics. To manage the effects of these changes, many Yixing clay teapot aficionados limit each pot to a single type of tea, and some may have pots that are further limited to tea quality levels within each type. For example a gongfu oolong connoisseur may have a special pot in which is prepared only the very highest quality tea originating from a specific garden or tea producing area.

The classic curing method requires many extended infusions of the same type of tea that is destined for use in the pot. The curing infusions are not consumed, and usually allowed to remain the pot for considerably longer time than ordinary steeping would require, but usually less than one-half hour. If the pot has been selected for a particularly high quality grade of tea, it is important to avoid curing with a lower grade. The tender surface of a new pot quickly absorbs flavor characteristics, and a low quality tea may permanently affect the pot's performance.

Styles
An infinite array of styles and designs were fashioned by early potters, such as the famous Gong Chun, from clay deposits located near the town of Yixing. Contemporary Yixing artists continue the ancient tradition of creating from themes of nature and their own inspired imaginations, an astonishing variety of teapot designs. Many aspects of the Chinese culture are beautifully brought to life and preserved for future generations through the medium of these treasures works of art.

Selection
Although the virtue of consumer prudence in judging quality is always a valuable consideration, selection of a Yixing clay teapot is best when it is from the heart. An emotional response to the pot's character can significantly add to the enjoyment of its use. To fully appreciate these delightful experiences, newly acquired pots in which tea has never been made need to be purged in a special manner. First, the pot's interior bottom is inspected for any remaining sandy residue that may not have been removed after manufacture. The residue may easily be removed with a clean piece of sponge or the finger while rinsing the pot with warm water. Second, the cleaned pristine pot must be cured prior to using it for preparing tea.

For Yixing clay teapot aficionados and gongfu tea connoisseurs, the debut of a new fully purged pot is a grand occasion to be shared with friends and fellow tea enthusiasts. A number of societies and groups throughout the world are devoted to the advancement of this venerable art. While Yixing clay teapots have long been appreciated in the east, their captivating charm is presently enjoying new popularity in the west. For the collector who values these treasures as display pieces, the selection of fanciful styles and colors is virtually unlimited. For the gongfu connoisseur the choice involves a number of other considerations that reflect a deep understanding of the pot's purpose and maturity. Whether an exhibited work of art or an integral part of a daily tea ritual, a rapidly growing number of individuals from many cultures are being brought together by the enchanting beauty of Yixing clay teapots.

Tea Leaf Varieties
There are hundreds of varieties of Chinese tea, and can be classified into five categories. The classifications are based on the method of processing the tea. These are green tea, Oolong tea black tea, brick tea, and scented tea.

Green Tea
Most tea historians agree that green tea cultivation and production originated in the coastal provinces of China around the province of Zhejiang. With its natural fragrance, green tea is the oldest tea. For preparing green tea young tender budding leaves are hand-plucked and quickly processed without fermentation to produce fresh tasting tea.

Oolong Tea
Oolong tea belongs to the semi-fermented family. Oolong leaves rolled by hand or in a rotating drum generally exhibit a distinctive red fermented edge, while the inner portion of the leaf remains green in color.

Black Tea
Black tea, also commonly known as red tea, a term originating in China where this type of tea has been cultivated for centuries. In more recent times, its popularity has grown and black teas are currently being produced in many countries, such as India, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, etc.

Brick Tea
Brick, or compressed, tea, are pressed into brick shape, and are mainly produced in Hunan, Hubei, Sichuan, Yunnan and Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. Brick tea is made from black or green tea. The most famous brick tea is "Pu'er Tea" made in Yunnan province.

White Tea
White teas although sometimes included with green teas, have a slight degree of fermentation. However, the amount of fermentation is not enough to classify them as semi-fermented. As its name suggests, this tea is as white as silver. It is mainly produced in Zhenhe and Fuding in Fujian Province.

Flavored/Scented Tea
Scented tea are popular in Northern China, is a mixture of green tea with flower petals of rose, jasmine, orchid and plum. Among this type of tea, jasmine is the most common.

Gongfu Tea preparation
In China the formal presentation of tea is known as "gongfu" dating from the Ming dynasty (1368-1644). The term "gongfu tea" is generally used to refer to the elaborate preparation of tea using miniature unglazed wares made of the special "purple sand" clay of Yixing. Gongfu tea preparation requires patience, attention to details, and of course extended practice, but the rewards are well worth the effort. Because of the high temperatures involved in this and the porosity and insulating properties of Yixing teaware, green and scented teas are not suitable for this style. The following procedure applies to Black, Brick & Oolong teas.

1. Rinse - When tea is prepared, the first step is always to rinse all vessels with hot water suggesting that the ritual of tea making has started. It also warms the vessels since the hot water is poured into the serving pitcher and from there into the tasting cups. This also warms the ceramic teaware as they are generally cold and unsuited to brewing fine teas whose temperature must be carefully controlled. After rinsing the water should be discarded.

2. Tea Leaves - prepare the tea leaves in advance and place in the pot as soon as it has warmed. To begin with around one to two teaspoons of leaf is a good quantity. Remember that due to the many variations of tea processing, some leaves are a lot more compact than others.

3. Aroma - Before infusion, pour hot water over the leaves and quickly poured off. This removes any dust from the leaves and will release the tea's aroma which should be savored prior to infusion in order to prepare the palate to appreciate the full flavor of the tea.

4. Water - tea is 99% water, so it's important to give some thought to the water used for brewing. Tap water should be avoided since its chemical treatment imparts unwanted flavors and odors which obstruct with the delicate aromatics of tea. The best water for tea brewing is spring water with a natural mineral content that's neither too hard nor too soft.

5. Infusion - For the best infusion fill pot to the top with hot water and cover. Then pour water over the top of the pot, drawing the stream over the air hole until a little water comes out the spout. When this occurs this signifies that the pot is full and heated to the right temperature.
· Oolong Tea: For light oolongs, such as Bao Zhong etc use 70°-80°C (158°-176°F) water and an infusion time of 3 to 5 minutes. For darker styles, including Tieguanyin & Yan Cha- between 80° and 90°C (176-194°F) again steeping 3 to 5 minutes.
· Black Tea: water between 85° and 95°C (185°-203°F) and a 3 minute infusion works best for black tea.
· Brick Tea: Use water that's just come to a boil and infuse 3-5 minutes.

6. Service - When the leaves have infused, pour the tea out into the pitcher and then serve in individual tasting cups.

Gaiwan Tea preparation
Before the Ming dynasty (1368-1644) tea was usually prepared in and drunk from the same vessel. The bowl had to be large enough to accommodate the implements and actions of tea brewing, yet small enough to be held comfortably in the hands for drinking. It was simply known as chawan tea bowl. During the Ming dynasty, changes in tea ritual and in tea itself gave rise to a smaller, yet equally functional vessel called a gaiwan.

The significant feature of a gaiwan is its lid - which is not merely a cover, but is designed to fit snugly inside the lip of the cup. The gaiwan's universal practicality, superior control and versatility through all families and styles of tea make it the perfect vessel in which to explore the widest range of the world's teas.

1. Rinse - When the tea is being brewed, the first step is always to rinse cup with hot water. The water should be poured from the gaiwan into the serving pitcher and from there into the tasting cups to warm them and then discarded.

2. Tea Leaves - Prepare the tea leaves in advance and place in the gaiwan as soon as it has warmed. To begin with around one to two teaspoons of leaf is a good quantity and is easily adjusted to taste after the initial infusion. Remember that due to the many variations of tea processing, some leaves are a lot more compact than others.

3. Aroma - Before infusion, pour a few drops of water from the kettle to the leaves. This releases the tea's aroma and should be savored prior to infusion in order to prepare the palate to appreciate the full flavor of the tea. Some people like to cover the leaves with hot water and quickly pour it off. This is known as "flushing" the tea and is suitable for tightly rolled and aged teas, such as oolong and Puerh.

4. Water - tea is 99% water, so it's important to give some thought to the water used for brewing. Tap water should be avoided since its chemical treatment imparts undesirable flavors and odors which interfere with the delicate aromatics of tea. The best water for tea brewing is spring water with a natural mineral content that's neither too hard nor too soft.

5. Infusion - For infusion, water temperature and steeping time are just as important as the quality of the water and tea leaves used. Sadly there are no set rules for either, but the following guidelines may be used for starters:
· Green Tea: Many people know that it is best to brew green tea with water below boiling, but few know just how low to go. A good rule when encountering a new green tea for the first time is to steep it for one minute with 70ºC (158ºF) water. If, for example, the taste is too strong or bitter after only a minute, this indicates the water temperature should be dropped. Lowering the temperature also allows steeping the leaves longer and, in many cases, extracting more flavors without the infusion becoming bitter.
· Oolong Tea: Start out at 80°-85°C (176°-185°F) with a 3 minute infusion.
· Black Tea: 85°-95°C (185°-203°F) for 3 minutes.
· Brick Tea: Use water that's just come to a boil and infuse 3-5 minutes.

6. Service - When the tea is ready the gaiwan should be covered and picked up on its plate with the left hand and placed on the up-turned fingers of the right hand. The lid should be positioned slightly askew and held in place with the thumb just enough to allow the tea to pour out while retaining the leaves. Pour the tea into the pitcher and then serve in individual tasting cups.


Go to Top


| About Us | Contact Us | Privacy Policy | Terms of Use | Advertising | Feedback | Site Map |

 

 

The LightofChina mark and logo are trademarks of LightofChina, Inc.
Copyright © 2004 lightofchina.com All rights reserved