Chinese Clay Teapots

Yixing Teapot

Yixing teapot is made of simple unglazed clay, so it may be imperceptible, standing near hand-painted porcelain or gilded china. Nevertheless, the Yixing teapots became one of the most beloved tea tools.

From the beginning, Yixing teapots were popularized as a symbol of resistance to the overly ornate ceremonies at court. Nowadays, Yixing teapots may cost more than their weight in gold. Yixing has remained popular since its inception, taking its official place in tea ceremonies all over China.

So why are these teapots considered that pleasing?

Chinese Famous Clay Types

While Yixing is by far the most known kind, there are four famous varieties of Chinese pottery by region:

  • Yixing - ZiSha (紫砂泥)
  • Qinzhou - Nixing (坭兴陶)
  • YunNan - JianShui (建水)
  • SiChuan - RongChang (荣昌)

Clay similar to Yixing clay can be found in many places, but Yixing clay is distinguished by a high content of kaolin and small silicate particles, which after firing gives products an oily sheen and a porous structure with two types of pores - closed and open. That is why Yixing teapots slowly cool down and allow the tea to breathe when brewing.

Special mixtures of rock are mined from specified regions within Yixing and crushed into a fine powder. This powder is mixed with water in large troughs and allowed to sit and rest. The water and rock form a clay mixture that can be used alone as a “single origin” clay or mixed with other clays or minerals to achieve a specific colour. Some Yixing craftsmen do their own sourcing, looking for the right rock deposits, while others work with trusted specialists.

Process of making a teapot

After the clay is sourced, blended and processed into a workable material, the Yixing masters can start their work. First of all, the artist designs a piece and calculates the very precise math to make sure that shape and details fit together.

The variety of Yixing forms is impressive! From the shi piao (石瓢, stone ladle) to pots shaped like oil lamps, gourds, or architectural columns, many of these classic shapes have long histories and students spend years learning all these forms before making changes or developing new forms. The smallest change to the classic curves of a shape constitutes a deviation from the original. The precision of the Yixing artist demands planning and accurate measuring to be sure that the final product will look as the master has planned.

Once a new custom form is set and designed, the artist starts meditating on this form. He makes this design several times a year for many, many years, using slightly different clays, adjusting an angle or carving in each iteration. This art demands perfect precision, so artists have to measure every move, approaching perfection step by step.

When work is ready to begin, the clay is prepped, pounded and smoothed. By contrast with other popular ceramic techniques in China, artists do not use a wheel for Yixing teapots. Instead, gallery quality Yixing teapot is fully hand built.

A top and a bottom are cut from an accurately rolled sheet of clay. The side is connected, shaped and smoothed to remove any connection lines to the piece itself. Then the side part is curved to form the required design and the top and the bottom are attached to the side piece.
After drying slightly, the teapot lid is precisely cut.
The handle and spout are hand-formed and attached to the teapot, at the same time all artistic details are added. The final piece can take days of work before the firing.

To prevent the teapot from cracking during firing, craftsmen fill the entire teapot with sand. If the craftsman is experienced and knows how to address every nuance of firing, and the pressure and humidity of the crafting day were acceptable, the teapot will come out undamaged and fit together with its lid.

Famous teapot shapes

There are a number of lists of famous Chinese teapot shapes, even we have made one, with photos, check it out here. In fact, it is impossible to cover all of them, because there are literally hundreds of them. Yet, some are more popular than others. Today we have made you a cheatsheet with 18 common teapot shapes. You can also download a print-friendly version.

How does yixing teapot affects tea?

Over time, the unglazed clay inside the teapot can absorb the oils and aromas of the tea. Every time you brew Yixing tea, the porous texture of the clay absorbs some of the aromas and dissolved oils. A teapot that has been brewing tea for many years can add flavour and texture to a regular water even without brewing. This teapot texture allows the tea to express its aroma more intensely than it could on its own.

In contrast, most porous vessels trap volatile aromatic oils and reduce the aroma of the final beverage. On the other hand, Yixing is unique because it absorbs the oil and holds it, hitting a peak of the saturation, which allows it to start giving aroma to the brewed tea.

Another feature is that the surface of the teapot is thick enough to retain heat and with a tight-fitting lid, it is a sufficiently closed system for quick brewing. This fast brewing and high temperature allow Yixing to make the tea way more aromatic.




Infographic: Vlada Morgun

Text: Vlada Morgun

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