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Chinese Yixing Clay Tea Pots

30 posts in this topic

I just succumbed to the hype and bought a purple clay tea pot. My tea still tastes the same :huh: Does anyone else use a purple clay tea pot?

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Are you referring to a Yixing clay teapot?

There are a bunch of contributing factors to the flavor of tea, and the teapot plays a part, but the quality of the tea and the brewing technique are more important.

The advantages of Yixing ware are more about its ability to retain heat (compared to porcelain) than anything else, though some people praise the low shrinkage of the clay during firing. I like both tetsubin and yixing ware for the heat retention, and Hagi ware (from Japan) when it comes to glazed earthenware. Heat retention does affect the quality of brewing; for yixing ware, you will probably want to pour hot water into an empty pot to warm it up before actually infusing the tea.

If you have a small Yixing pot you may also be able to improve the aroma of your tea assuming you use a relatively high ratio of tea to water, and short infusions, but for the most part, the result can be accomplished with a small gaiwan, porcelain or otherwise.

The other perceived benefit comes from the long term "seasoning" of the pot as some molecules of tea are apparently absorbed into the very porous clay, but you wouldn't notice that immediately, whether it improves the taste or not.

The real benefit of having nice teaware is that good teaware improves your overall sensory experience. The visual appeal of the pot and your servingware has a real impact on your perception of the flavor of the tea, and on the sense memories triggered while you're drinking the tea.

This is part of the reason why Japanese food tastes better when presented carefully on attractive, appropriate tableware, and at the other extreme, why blind taste tests for Cola don't have much affect on sales; people's perception of flavor is affected by their visual experience, including brand visuals, and what memories and thoughts that triggers.


Jason Truesdell

Blog: Pursuing My Passions

Take me to your ryokan, please

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I just succumbed to the hype and bought a purple clay tea pot.  My tea still tastes the same  :huh: Does anyone else use a purple clay tea pot?

I own several Yixing pots (a few of them can be seen here My Tea Service) and I find that it more of a cultural attraction than anything else. The heat properties are supposed to be supperior however it more art in my mind. Will it make you tea taste better today, probably not, but it is said that if you brew ONLY the same type of tea in the pot it will develop a seasoning and character of it's own.

________

Mike Petro

Pu-erh, A Westerner's Quest


__________

Mike Petro

My hobby website:

Pu-erh, A Westerner's Quest

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It takes some years for the seasoning to take place. One word of advice is to brew the same type of tea in a particular pot. Oolongs are usually recommended.

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I own several Yixing pots (a few of them can be seen here My Tea Service) and I find that it more of a cultural attraction than anything else.

Mike Petro

Pu-erh, A Westerner's Quest

This is certainly an attraction---I've spent the last several hundred breaths admiring and reading. This is just the most beautiful thing I've see in many a long while.

Your corner is so smoooooth and contemplative, with all the green promise of soft breezes, the carefully-arranged utensils and the table's far-seeing landscape.

The use of breaths for measuring steeping time sets the stage for a quiet, relaxing moment or hour with a calming cup, and the description is soothing, before the first drop is poured. What is in the little stoppered cruet? And is there a little fish-companion in the vase?

I've never seen a more beautiful tea-tray---you seem to have harnessed a glossy wolf to hold your treasures and do your bidding. Amazing.

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What is in the little stoppered cruet?  And is there a little fish-companion in the vase?

I've never seen a more beautiful tea-tray---you seem to have harnessed a glossy wolf to hold your treasures and do your bidding.  Amazing.

Thanks for the kudos. The cruet is a good balsamic vinegar, not for tea but for snacks. Yes there is a Beta (Siamese Fighting Fish) in the vase. The plant and the fish form a sort of symbiotic relatonship. The waste from the fish is food for the plant, feed the fish regularly and the plant thrives too.

Cheers,


Edited by mikepetro (log)

__________

Mike Petro

My hobby website:

Pu-erh, A Westerner's Quest

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I just succumbed to the hype and bought a purple clay tea pot.  My tea still tastes the same  :huh: Does anyone else use a purple clay tea pot?

I think you have it backwards - the tea enhances one's enjoyment of the fine pottery :wink: - but I love ceramics.

Seriously, it is the whole experience - kind of like a restaurant with good service and good food. I'm not compulsive about it or anything (I use a lot of tea bags) but using a nice tea pot or drinking out of the perfect (for you) mug is satisfying.

The Yixing teapots do age. A friend pointed out how a well used one had developed a softer surface sheen. This may well affect the flavor. Even glazed pots are said to get better as they develop a thick tea-stain. I think this would be more pronounced with an unglazed stoneware. So give it time and enjoy your teapot.


It's almost never bad to feed someone.

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Ok, here is the pot in question, profile

http://www.flickr.com/photos/debunix/3806243025/

bottom stamp

http://www.flickr.com/photos/debunix/3807062878/

and the box that it was put in after I picked it off the shelf--no idea if this is the original pot or not

http://www.flickr.com/photos/debunix/3806246481/

I paid just $20 for it. It was one of the simplest designs available. And it makes wonderful tea.

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Yes, I know Wing Hop Fung. I have bought a few tea canisters on their website. Do they have more tea and tea-things in the store than on the site, as most b&m stores with a website do?

It is incredibly difficult to say whether a clay pot is actually made of any of the Yixing clays, especially without being able to see and touch it. There are a lot of fakes using other clays, and other good clays passed off as Yixing because they have the name and get a better price. But for $20, yours may well be an inexpensive Yixing, slip cast or made on a wheel, rather than half hand made using a mold (but even the latter is possible). I have several in that price range and they are perfectly suitable for brewing Chinese Oolongs and Pu-erhs. You would have to spend two or three times that much to do better.

So, what's the capacity of your pot?

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Yes, I know Wing Hop Fung. I have bought a few tea canisters on their website. Do they have more tea and tea-things in the store than on the site, as most b&m stores with a website do?

They have a tea tasting are with about 50 different teas in bulk, and that might be an underestimate, plus many tinned teas, pu-erh cakes in plain wraps and fancy packages, and a large selection of teaware--relatively few gaiwans in simple styles, quite inexpensive, and lots and lots of the small pots like mine, though most were more decorated, may fancier presentation sets and lots of japanese cast iron pots, and more. It is quite amazing.

And my little pot holds about 160 mL.

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Lot of clicks for what should be a simple job, but here is the pot in question:

gallery_16931_6727_23017.jpg

gallery_16931_6727_26641.jpg

gallery_16931_6727_13641.jpg

The box--again, not sure if that is specific to this pot or not--says in english 'association of ceramic arts masters' and 'traditional family of ceramic arts'.


Edited by Wholemeal Crank (log)

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I am loving the little pot just posted above, and understand that traditionally these are kept one per type of tea.

To what level of detail do most of you try to go with that--

would the same teapot for green and white teas be stretching it too far?

what about green/white vs yellow teas?

and should the light Taiwain oolong we just tasted be ok in the same pot as some basic anxi ti kuan yin?

green tea with green tea with jasmine?

Just curious.

And then, how do you keep track of which pot is which?

I can easily see keeping track of 'plain pot with dots on the spout' is for oolong, 'decorated pot with dragon on side' is for pu-erh, but beyond that, they might need to be labelled or a photo key posted inside a cabinet to keep track of them.


Edited by Wholemeal Crank (log)

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I am loving the little pot just posted above, and understand that traditionally these are kept one per type of tea.

To what level of detail do most of you try to go with that--

I have enough Yixing pots and other brewing vessels to divide things up quite a bit, but I think the basic divisions for Yixings are one each for shu,  young sheng and aged sheng; one for Oolongs ( you could have two - one for lighter and one for darker); one for red teas. While there are all sorts f theories about matching clay and pot shape to a particular category of tea, I have found that it's a matter of trying different teas in a pot to see what one shows the most improvement over brewing it in a gaiwan. The more you brew, the clearer and fuzzier all this gets. Of course, many people would say just get one for pu-erh and one for Oolong and be done with it. And that's not unreasonable either.

would the same teapot for green and white teas be stretching it too far?

what about green/white vs yellow teas?

In general, it's better not to brew green teas in a Yixing, because if you accidentally over-brew the tea will become bitter and that's what will be absorbed into the clay. Better to use a gaiwan or your glass teapot. There are Yixings that are okay with white teas, but not many and I don't know how to identify one that would work; I rely on tea pot merchants I trust for that kind of advice. For all three I would stick to a gaiwan or a glass pot.

and should the light Taiwain oolong we just tasted be ok in the same pot as some basic anxi ti kuan yin?

I think so. I had been thinking about trying it in a Yixing that I have dedicated to greener TGYs.

green tea with green tea with jasmine?

Again - gaiwan or glass pot. I suspect the jasmine will cling to any clay.

Just curious.

And then, how do you keep track of which pot is which?

I can easily see keeping track of 'plain pot with dots on the spout' is for oolong, 'decorated pot with dragon on side' is for pu-erh, but beyond that, they might need to be labelled or a photo key posted inside a cabinet to keep track of them.

A photo posted is a clever idea. I may do that, but so far I have placed a little card next to each pot. This really has been helpful only for those I don't use regularly. And things can get confusing anyway, because I continue to try new teas on old pots to see if there is a better match. In fact, I found a better match for Dan Congs just the other day, in the form of a Yixing that I had been using for sheng pu-erh.

I also wanted to mention that you did well selecting a simple shape Yixing. The fancier ones are interesting but typically made of the lower grade Yixing clays. The complex designs are more likely to break by the time they come out of the kiln and potters do not want to sacrifice the scarce quality clays that are valued for tea making. The fancy designs are usually meant for display, although any number of tea merchants sell them anyway.

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good point about the bitterness of green teas and unglazed pots--I was pretty sure that would be the answer for the jasmine, but not about the greens in general.

For work I will stick to my glass pot(s), as simplest and most practical.

But may play with some more simple yixings for pus and oolongs at home. It will add some fun to my next trip to the tea shop.

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I'm in London for a conference and stumbled upon a shop called Dao in the Greenwich Market with a lovely selection of Chinese teaware, particularly gaiwan and Yixing teapots (they play a bit off the connection between the Cutty Sark, which is just around the corner, and the history of the English tea trade with China). I was actually planning to come back to New York with a proper English teapot, but I didn't know when I'd again see such a nice selection of Yixing ware, so I bought a Yixing teapot, which I think I'll dedicate to oolongs. I only brought a film camera with me, so I can't post a photo at the moment, but I'll make some digital photos when I get back to New York.

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gallery_64820_6661_390214.jpg

Here's my new yixing pot, about 300ml. The owner of the shop explained that they generally came in four basic colors, and this color is fired at a higher temperature than some of the other clays. The text, she said, is the Heart Sutra.

gallery_64820_6661_335171.jpg

The inside perforated where the spout attaches.

gallery_64820_6661_49095.jpg

Here is the maker's stamp on the inside of the lid, also showing the airhole in the lid.

gallery_64820_6661_57837.jpg

And this is the maker's stamp on the bottom of the pot.

The shop had a selection of around 40 or 50 yixing pots and tea sets with matching cups on display in various designs, colors, and sizes as well as other Chinese teaware. They don't have a full website yet, but you can find their contact information at http://www.daolondon.co.uk/


Edited by David A. Goldfarb (log)

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Yes, the recommendation from the shop was first to fill it with boiling water and to pour boiling water over it, letting it sit for about a half hour, and to do this three times. Then to season they recommended to brew three pots of strong tea of the type to be dedicated to that pot using enough tea that the leaves would fill the pot, each time letting the pot sit until cool, and generally not cleaning the pot with a brush or with soap either during seasoning or afterward. I've done that using the Imperial Gold China Oolong from McNulty's in Manhattan, and I've made a few pots of the same tea in it since, and I've been very pleased with it.

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Richard,

You mentioned in a post on this thread that there are a lot of fake Yixing pots made from clays passed of as Yixing and to buy your Yixing pot from a source you trust.

Can you recommend a few sources for Yixing pots?

I have already checked out the pots at Tea Source since I was on their site reading about the tea you had today. Are they a reliable source for pots as well as tea?

TIA,

Diane

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Richard,You mentioned in a post on this thread that there are a lot of fake Yixing pots made from clays passed of as Yixing and to buy your Yixing pot from a source you trust. Can you recommend a few sources for Yixing pots? I have already checked out the pots at Tea Source since I was on their site reading about the tea you had today. Are they a reliable source for pots as well as tea?TIA,Diane

And if I can add to that, what is a reasonable price to expect to pay for a real Yi Xing pot?

I have not bought a Yixing from Tea Source, but would not be interested in those I see on their site. The clays do not look good for brewing tea to me. This is not just Tea Source - few tea merchants know much of anything about Yixing pots and often feature the more decorative ones because they are cool looking and people are more attracted to them than the simple, plain looking traditional ones. One problem is that the decorative ones are much, much more likely to be made of lower grade clay because many designs require a lot of clay and the breakage rate on these fancy ones can be high. Potters don't want to sacrifice their good clays this way. So it's best to think of the artistic ones as display pieces.

Buying a Yixing without seeing and touching it in person is tricky. You can buy a useable Yixing teapot for as little as $12 plus shipping. This is modern Zisha clay of good enough quality to brew tea. If you are brewing gong fu cha for one or two people, I suggest one of about 90 - 100 ml as optimal, but no larger than 150 ml, which could serve as many as four people. Simple, traditional styles. No cute decoration. There is good reasons for not spending more than, say, $50 on your first two or three Yixings. It's a learning experience and we all pay some dues. Those dues are cheaper at $12 - $50 than at several hundred.

I have had the good fortune to see in person hundreds of Yixing tea pots of awful ($4) to good to very good quality since one of the largest importers of Yixings is here in Dallas. Robert Bo at Chinese Teapot Gallery on eBay. There is not anything in his eBay store I can recommend right now, but he should have a lot more stock in later this year or early next year. Don't consider anything in his store less than $12 and only traditional, simple styles. No appliqué, no open work. When you see something you like in the store, just email him and tell him you want a Yixing for brewing tea, not as a decoration, and ask if it has good clay for brewing. Ask for alternate suggestions in the 90 - 150 ml range.

Scott Wilson at Yunnan Sourcing on eBay is another tea merchant I can recommend for inexpensive Yixings in the $12 - $50 range. Again, simple styles in the 90 - 150 ml range. People almost always start larger and end up later with smaller (100 ml or less) pots. Scott is not a Yixing expert and the clays used in the pots he has listed may or may not be accurate, but regardless they are good clays and his prices are fair.

Older Yixings made of better clays that are "extinct" (no longer mined) usually start in the hundreds of dollars, go into the many thousands and are another subject entirely. And are not a reasonable place for most people to start.

All this said, my strong suggestion these days, which I am sure is usually ignored because of some intrinsic appeal of Yixing tea pots, is to forget about Yixings for now and learn to brew Chinese teas with a gaiwan. Spend time learning what teas you like in this neutral vessel that will not appreciably change, impact, improve or negatively alter the aroma and taste of the teas. I didn't do that, of course, but Robert Bo and I probably spent a weeks worth of hours over several months, squatting on the floor of his shop looking through hundreds of pots as he gave me my basic Yixing education. But today, I often try a new tea in a gaiwan before brewing it in a Yixing.

Gaiwan first. Yixing later.

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      IMPORTANT NOTE: The Chinese names given here and in the images are the names most used locally. They are all Mandarin Chinese, but it is still possible that other names may be used elsewhere in China. Certainly, non-Mandarin speaking areas will be different.

      By the far the simplest way to get your sugar ration is to buy the unprocessed sugar cane. This is not usually available in supermarkets but is a street vendor speciality. In the countryside, you can buy it at the roadside. There are also people in markets etc with portable juice extractors who will sell you a cup of pure sugar cane juice.


       
      I remember being baffled then amused when, soon after I first arrived in China, someone asked me if I wanted some 甘蔗 (gān zhè). It sounded exactly like 'ganja' or cannabis. No such luck! 甘蔗 (gān zhè) is 'sugar cane'.
       
      The most common sugar in the supermarkets seems to be 冰糖 (bīng táng) which literally means 'ice 'sugar' and is what we tend to call 'rock sugar' or 'crystal sugar'. This highly refined sugar comes in various lump sizes although the price remains the same no matter if the pieces are large or small. Around ¥7/500g. That pictured below features the smaller end of the range.


       
      Related to this is what is known as 冰片糖 (bīng piàn táng) which literally means "ice slice sugar". This is usually slightly less processed (although I have seen a white version, but not recently) and is usually a pale brown to yellow colour. This may be from unprocessed cane sugar extract, but is often white sugar coloured and flavoured with added molasses. It is also sometimes called 黄片糖  (huáng piàn táng) or "yellow slice sugar". ¥6.20/500g.
       


      A less refined, much darker version is known as 红片糖 (hóng piàn táng), literally 'red slice sugar'. (Chinese seems to classify colours differently - what we know as 'black tea' is 'red tea' here. ¥7.20/500g.


       
      Of course, what we probably think of as regular sugar, granulated sugar is also available. Known as 白砂糖 (bái shā táng), literally "white sand sugar', it is the cheapest at  ¥3.88/500g.



      A brown powdered sugar is also common, but again, in Chinese, it isn't brown. It's red and simply known as 红糖 (hóng táng). ¥7.70/500g


       
      Enough sweetness and light for now. More to come tomorrow.
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