We have already discussed the importance of clay when drinking tea, but let's go even deeper.
We have noticed that for those who are fairly new to tea these are usually the steps:
Experiment with loose leaf teas. Find the teas you enjoy drinking. Get the brewing techniques right. Not over/under-boiling the water. Not over-steeping the tea etc.
And only when you feel comfortable enough with the tea might you want to start looking into buying some proper teaware.
But where to start!?
Yixing teaware is renowned for being the perfect teaware when it comes to gongfucha but unfortunately, there is still some myth and confusion surrounding these teapots.
So let’s start with the basics: what is a Yixing teapot?
The name of Yixing teaware actually comes from the clay used to make these teapots, which is clay that is taken from around Yixing city, in eastern China. It is an ancient county (established in 221BC, during Qin Dynasty), in Jiangsu province of China, situated by the delta of Yangtze River. There, teapots made from this clay have been made since the 10th century (Song Dynasty). This is one reason why sometimes the teapot may demand a very high price if it is an antique.
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.
When you are ready to purchase your first Yixing here are some factors to consider:
An authentic good quality Yixing teapot should cost anywhere between $50-$100 USD. Any lower and it’s probably not the best quality. Although they can go much higher in price, be careful not to overpay. Always inquire why it is of a higher price, perhaps its because of the artist who made it or the year of production. And remember: just because it is a Yixing teapot doesn’t mean it should be over $100.
It is important to make sure that the Yixing you are purchasing is of decent quality. There are many cases where a cheaper/lower-quality purchased teapot would completely ruin the taste of the tea. Some even report the newly purchased teapots to smell like mold or fish.
Yixing teaware will come in 2 different varieties (for the most part): purple clay (ZiSha) and red clay (ZhuSha).
Purple clay is meant to be used with black, oolong and pu-erh teas. The purple clay is very porous and perfect for rounding these kinds of teas by muting the bitter or astringent qualities they may have. Thus it is not recommended to use with green tea, greener oolongs or white teas since it is better to emphasize their delicate flavors and aromas.
For these greener teas, the red clay type is favored. However, it is much rarer and demands a higher price. Most tea sommeliers will stick with a gaiwan when brewing these types of teas.
Of course, you can also use purple clay Yixings for these kinds of teas, but there are some factors to consider:
high-fired teapots with thinner walls are best for the greener teas, while low-fired thick walls are best for dark teas.
An important factor to keep in mind is that because the clay is so porous, it will easily absorb any flavors. Eventually, with use, the teapot will develop a kind of “tea coating” made from the tea oils it absorbs, which will give off its own unique but faint scent and flavor. For this reason, we recommend using the Yixing teapot for only one type of tea and to never use any soaps or detergents.
Yixing clay is favored for its porosity and its ability to heighten any tea drinking experience. Glazed, porcelain, cast iron, or glass teapots can never retain as much flavor and aroma as the unglazed clay of a Yixing teapot. When you are prepared to invest in a Yixing we recommend comparing the experience with one where a non-Yixing teapot was used. It will surely enhance the senses!
We realize that the internet is overloaded with options and information. Not only are there so many different styles of teaware, but the price of something that might, at first glance, look the same will vary greatly. This is the reason why at Path of Cha we keep a carefully curated stock of teaware. We sell only the teaware that was personally tested by us for quality, and teaware that is fit for a tea sommelier at any level of expertise! Meaning we like to keep it versatile for anyone to comfortably use.