Yixing teaware has gained immense popularity. By many it is considered the only possible option for gong fu style tea, beating porcelain, glass, and even other clay types. However, the steep price has tea drinkers questioning if it's really superior to other types of unglazed clay teapots.
What Is A Yixing Teapot?
The name of Yixing teaware comes from the clay used to make these teapots. This clay is from around Yixing city in Jiangsu province of China, situated by the delta of Yangtze River. There, these teapots have been made since the 10th century (Song Dynasty). Yixing clay (aka ZiSha) is a mixture of kaolin, quartz, mica and has high iron oxide content. Used almost exclusively for making teaware, it plays one of the central roles in Gong Fu tea culture. The unique mineral composition, the heat retaining properties, and air permeability that allows the clay to "breathe" enable this clay to interact with tea, transforming its taste.
Yixing is not an actual style of a teapot, there are many teapots produced in other regions of China and Taiwan with the same look and feel, but they are not made from Yixing clay so they cannot be called Yixing teapots.
What Are Chaozhou Teapots?
Similar to Yixing teapots, where "Yixing" refers the town where the clay comes from and where these teapots are created. The same goes for Chaozhou. Chaozhou teapots are made from red clay from the Phoenix Mountains of Chaozhou, Guangdong province, China.
The Phoenix Mountains are well-known for their Oolong teas, which are incomparable to others in terms of their aroma and taste. In the same manner, Chaozhou has its own style of Gong Fu Cha tea ceremony to match these robust teas.
The walls of Chaozhou teapots are thinner than those of Yixing teapots, as they are made by wheel and not hand-built like Yixing teapots.
Many tea enthusiasts believe that Chaozhou clay teapots are unbeatable when it comes to brewing Phoenix Mountain oolong teas (Dan Cong Oolongs) or even other lightly roasted oolongs from China and Taiwan. The Chaozhou teapots are traditionally tightly packed with the loose leaf tea. This ensures a concentrated brew where you can easily taste the delicious notes of the particular tea, at the same time rounding the less pleasing qualities.
We believe that when choosing an unglazed teapot, the main thing to consider is not mainly where the clay is from, but more so the specifics of the clay.
What To Look For In An Unglazed Teapot
Higher fired teapots will feel glossy to the touch and produce a high-pitched sound when tapping the lid to the body of the teapot.
Teapots with higher firing temperatures usually will season slower. They are great for highlighting the bright, fresh, floral tones of a particular tea.
The shape is quite important and shouldn't be overlooked when choosing the right teapot for your tea. Because tea leaves come in many different shapes and sizes, some teapots are made to accommodate these teas better, allowing them enough space to expand properly. These are general guidelines:
Low and Wide: long tea leaves (for example, Mi Lan Xiang Dan Cong Oolong)
Tall and round: rolled oolong (for example, Dong Ding Oolong)
Clay with higher porosity will season quicker. This means that if you want your unglazed clay teapot to develop its own "flavor" and that iconic shine faster, it's best to choose a teapot with more pores. Also, such teapots will most likely bury the tea's true flavor profile. At least for some time until it becomes well seasoned. At the same time, they will mask the unwanted bitter notes a tea may have. If you own a highly porous unglazed teapot, we recommend trying to increase steeping times.
On the other hand, teapots that are too porous are often of worse quality and technique and should be avoided. We recommend going for a balance.
When spinning the lid of the teapot it feels gritty, this signifies a clay of higher porosity. Highly porous clay will also feel gritty to the touch.
Unglazed clay teapots are very good at retaining heat and thus should not be used with delicate green teas.
Chaozhou are also good for non-aged white teas, and teas with greener, fresher profiles. The thin walls of Chaozhou teapots will protect these teas from over-brewing, while the qualities of the unglazed clay will help mask the unwanted bitter and grassy notes which may appear.
In conclusion, we do not believe that one type of teapot is necessarily better than the other. It all boils down to personal preferences, the tea you choose to drink, and most importantly, the skills of the potter. It is always good to experiment to find which style suits you most. And of course, as long as the tea is good, it can be enjoyed! The teapot is only a tool that can be used to enhance it, but not completely change it.
Note: Avoide using detergent when cleaning the teapot!
To read more about Yixing teapots we recommend checking out the following articles: