Yixing Teapots: Chinese Teapot Renaissance
It's a Beautiful Thing
by Chas Kroll
for their superb tea brewing qualities, Yixing
(pronounced yee-shing) teapots offer
a rustic, elegant beauty. They have been a tea
staple in China for centuries, and thanks to an
exploding consumer demand for high quality specialty
teas on this side of the Pacific, they are enjoying
a remarkable growth in popularity in North America.
World's First Teapots — And Possibly the Best
teapot design ranges from traditional, perhaps
copying an old, famous work, to contemporary,
portraying natural themes that incorporate flowers
or animals. And while many tea drinkers are attracted
to these teapots solely for the way they look,
their history is equally enticing. For thousands
of years, the unique qualities of the clay deposits
in Yixing, near Shanghai, have made the province
the "Pottery Capital" of China. In fact,
it was here during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644
CE) that the world's first teapots were created.
During the years that followed, the distinctive
reddish stoneware teapots of Yixing came to be
considered the "best" by Chinese tea
aficionados, and when, in the late 17th century,
Yixing teapots were introduced to Europe along
with the first tea shipments, they became the
model for the earliest Dutch, German and English
enjoyed long periods of prosperity during the
Ching Dynasty (1644-1911 CE), and during the early
Republic (1911-1938), Yixing wares were exported
in quantity to Japan, Southeast Asia, Europe and
North America. Then the great turmoil of war and
revolution in China during the 1930s and ‘40s
brought the production of Yixing teapots to a
halt. It wasn't until 1954 that the Chinese government
established communes for the purpose of gathering
together the old master potters to recruit and
train a new generation of craftsmen, thus ensuring
that the great traditions would be preserved.
Despite the difficulties of the Cultural Revolution
in the ‘60s, the process continued, and
by 1979, the Yixing Purple Sand Factory #1 employed
600 workers. Still, only a handful of potters
were master artisans. Most produced utilitarian
wares for the domestic market.
the mid-1980s, the reopening of China brought
a "rediscovery" of Yixing teapots by
Chinese art collectors and tea connoisseurs outside
of China. With this infusion of enthusiastic patronage,
the artistic potential of the new generation of
Yixing potters burst into bloom. Hong Kong became
a hub for international exhibitions with collectors
drawn from Chinese communities in Asia, particularly
Singapore and Taiwan.
1988, an exhibition entitled "Innovations
in Contemporary Yixing Pottery" was presented
by the Flagstaff House Museum of Tea Ware in Hong
Kong. Over 200 of the finest works by leading
potters were presented. This splendid display
of form, theme and workmanship created by the
new generation of potters was absolutely dazzling.
Some works equaled and even surpassed the efforts
of the great master potters of the Ching Dynasty.
This outpouring of innovation and artistry has
continued with an enthusiastic following of knowledgeable
collectors eagerly awaiting each year's abundant
harvest of new designs and re-creations of the
Look for the "Chop" Mark
teapots bring out the best in fine teas for several
reasons. For example, when tea is brewed in teapots
made from "Zisha," a purple-sand clay
found only in Yixing, a tiny amount of tea is
absorbed into the pot. After prolonged use, the
pot will develop a patina coating that retains
some of the taste, scent and color of tea, along
with an unusually attractive luminescent quality.
Because of its absorbency, only one type of tea
(green, oolong, etc.) should be used with each
teapot. It is for this reason that one should
never wash a Yixing teapot using soap. After use,
it should simply be rinsed with fresh water and
allowed to air-dry.
improving the brewing process is the teapot’s
lid, which fits snugly to conserve heat; therefore,
these pots tend to keep tea hotter than porcelain.
In addition, they have built-in filters at the
spout, which are usually unglazed to enhance the
natural color of the clay and tend to be small
so the entire contents may be quickly emptied
after each infusion. This method assures that
the tea is served fresh, hot and without the bitter
aftertaste that occurs when the tea leaves are
left to steep too long in a larger pot.
of the most distinctive features of the Yixing
teapot is its “chop” mark. The potter
places his or her personal mark or seal on the
bottom of each piece. It serves to identify its
creator, reflects the potter's pride of workmanship
and provides collectors with the satisfaction
of attributing a work according to its potter
and time period. It also reminds the tea drinker
of the care and individuality that went into creating
Purchasing Your Teapot
prices vary widely, from around $20 for ordinary
machine-made teapots to thousands of dollars for
those that are collectible, intricately detailed
and handmade by famous ceramic artists. Plan on
spending $40 to $100 for a good 12-16 ounce capacity
reputable sources for Yixing teapots on the Internet
are Necessiteas.com (www.necessiteas.com)
and YiXing.com (www.yixing.com).
Many teashops offer quality Yixing teapots as
purchasing one, give some thought to its capacity
in ounces. The general rule of thumb is one teaspoon
of tea per six ounces of water for each person.
So, a six-ounce pot is ideal for one person, a
12-ounce pot for two tea drinkers, and so forth.
And if you’re buying one from a store, keep
the following in mind: make sure the lid fits
snugly into the pot, and inspect both the interior
and exterior for surface cracks, scratches and
of all, whether buying a Yixing teapot online
or from a store, prepare yourself for a great
tasting cup of tea. For added measure, after placing
your tea inside the pot and adding the recommended
amount of hot water, place the lid on top and
pour some hot water over the outside surface.
If you’re lucky, the hot steam rising from
inside the pot may cause your lid to chatter a
bit. The Chinese call this “Teapot Laughing,”
and it’s sure to bring a smile to your face.
Kroll, Managing Director of Royal
Dynasty Tea, is dedicated to promoting
daily tea consumption to people everywhere
for its health benefits. His company
is an online wholesaler and retailer
of many of the world's finest premium-grade,
loose-leaf teas. He is a tea master,
professionally-trained coach, gifted
intuitive, author, speaker, soft-spoken
motivator, empowering leader-by-example,
self-trained gourmet chef, former restaurateur
and black-belt in Kung Fu.
© Copyright 2005. Royal Dynasty Tea.
All rights reserved
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