Yixing teaware first appeared in the early Northern Song dynasty (960 to 1279 A.D.) in China and gained in popularity during the Ming dynasty (1368 to 1644 A.D.). They were made of the purple clay, zisha clay, that is said to only occur in the Yellow Dragon Cave of Dingshan town in Yixing, China. It is said in China that zisha clay is worth more than gold and teapots made of this clay are prized despite their high prices due to their advantages in brewing tea. Not only are they said to maintain the freshness of the tea for long periods of time, but they also bring out the flavor of the tea and retain the heat longer than teapots made of other materials. This makes Yixing pots especially useful in the preparation of gongfu cha (the Chinese Tea Ceremony)  because it allows the tea master to ensure that the quality of the tea is the same for each participant. Zisha clay is very porous and because of this it is advisable to brew only one kind of tea in an Yixing teapot because it will absorb the tea into the clay itself. It is said that after many years of using an Yixing teapot all you have to do is add hot water to the pot in order to have a perfect cup of tea. A Chinese tea aficionado (particularly the old timers) will use the Yixing teapot not only to brew their tea, but also to drink it straight from the spout.Yixing teapots are used primarily in brewing oolong and puerh teas. The pots tend to be small, single serving size pots because these teas can be brewed numerous times. No tea collection is complete without a good Yixing tea pot!

The Yixing teapot to tea making is equivalent to, if not more critical than, the oak barrel is to wine making. So what is it specifically that makes these teapots so effective?

When properly used, an Yixing pot can bring out the maximum potential of a tea like no other teaware can. An authentic Yixing teapot, therefore, is not just a craft object, but also an essential tea tool. The material and the efficiency of the shape are two deciding factors for the utilitarian value of the Yixing pot. Well-considered ergonomics, superb spout flow, and precise crafting are basic in ALL acceptable quality Yixing pots. The neck of the lid should fit perfectly into the collar of the body. The lips of both should fit so flatly against each other that there is a vacuum pull when you try to open the lid. Leveling of the collar of the pot is instrumental in gongfu tea infusion when water is filled to the rim, and the underside of the lid neck is used to scrape the surface of the water before covering the pot for tightness.

the material
The world has yet to discover a material capable of maximizing infusion effects like the clay mined from Yixing. Whether the clay is genuine and how it is process-refined are crucial factors for deliberation. Different styles and techniques in clay refinement, manipulation and firing result in Yixing clay of various colours and finishes, and more importantly, physical structure (such as density and pores character), making it possible to render different infusion results to satisfy different requirements. Yixing clay is a big subject in itself and in its relationship with various teas.

the shape

How the hot water circulate by way of convection within the teapot is a major factor for the usability of the teapot. It is decisive in the taste coherence and texture character of the result. Heat loss, the rate of which also plays a role in the result, is also affected by the shape. The shape of the teapot is therefore related closely to how one conducts tea making and the choice of tea variety. Additionally, there is the very personal ergonomic requirements.

Strainer holes are pierced through the wall of the pot body rather than placing an additional ready-made one. This is not only aesthetically more pleasing, but also maintains the shape integrity of the interior for efficient water convection.

If you need some advice in deciding a shape to buy, there is always the classic caldron shape that is an all ‘round’ solution for most infusion conditions.

one pot one tea variety

Because of the micropores of the material, which give Yixing clay its “breathing” property and potential to render a fine infusion, taste matters of tea also very gradually build up into the pot. This is good and bad for the user. The good part is that with repeated use, the infusion itself actually improves. The bad part is that you cannot use the same pot for a different variety of tea to avoid conflicting taste substances from different tea blending together. For example, a green style tieguanyin cannot be steeped in a pot that has been used to make golden tip puer, or even a bouquet style Phoenix oolong. If you ever made such mistakes, re-prime the pot all over again, but boil it with water two times in the cleaning step instead of once. (read the paragraph below for cleaning)

Throughout the ages they have been renowned for their unique artistry and practical usage by incorporating the concepts of aesthetic beauty and natural harmony. In the Song dynasty Yixing zisha (purple clay) teapots were very simple, not at all ornate. As the centuries progressed they became more and more elaborate, decorative and elegant. As a matter of fact, the Forbidden City did not accept the Zisha teapot into its collection until the early Qing dynasty (1644 - 1911 A.D.) By that time the Zisha teapot had been elevated to an artistic form, and potters and scholars worked together to make beautiful, ornate pot styles.