Yixing teapots (pronounced” yee-shing”) were first invented in China during the Ming dynasty. They are made of purple clay from the mountains surrounding Yixing in the Jiangsu Province of China. Yixing teapots are also known as Zisha. The iron and other minerals of the purple clay reduce the acidity and astringency of tea producing an exceptional cup.
Traditionally, Yixing teapots are small, for individual use, brown or red unglazed pots. The porous nature of the unglazed clay absorbs the essential oils of the tea and seasons the pot. Thus, it is often recommended to dedicate the pot to a specific tea type. Usually, pure Blacks, Oolongs, or Pu-erhs are best and caution must be used with Green or White Tea since the vessels retain heat well and can quickly over steep. Traditional Yixing teapots are made for the Gongfu style of brewing where you place the tea leaves in the pot and do multiple small quick steepings.
There is some debate whether you need to “season” your teapot with tea before first use but almost everyone agrees to prepare with an initial first “wash” with clean warm water only, then wipe out the teapot with a cloth to remove any excess clay. Next place the Yixing teapot with the lid separated in the bottom of a pot, cover with water, and simmer anywhere from 10min. to 1 hr. depending on how earthy your teapot smells. Remove the pot of water from the stove and let it cool, then take out the teapot and let it air dry. If your teapot still smells very earthy, repeat. Or if desired to further “season” repeat, but this time add tea to the water. When using a new teapot for the first time, it is recommended to do a quick initial first steeping (1min) and throw it out.
Caring for your Yixing teapot after initial seasoning is easy, just rinse it with fresh water and allow it to air dry with the lid off! NEVER use soap or other agents for cleaning as this would be absorbed by the pores and ruin the taste of the tea. Yixing cups can be cleaned by pouring boiling water over them.
Today, while most Yixing teapots are made in factories, the Art of handcrafting Yixing teapots is revered. Master potters must adhere to precise criteria in order to obtain highly coveted certifications. In many Chinese households, handcrafted Yixing teapots are prized possessions and are often prominently displayed.