Do you have a favorite tea? Something that you drink every day? Something that people who really know you know is your tea? A Lapsang Souchong to your Sherlock Holmes? An Earl Grey to your Charles Grey?
If so, you may be interested in Yixing. Yixing is a traditional porous Chinese clay, which has been used to make tea pots since the Song Dynasty. The point of Western teaware, and ceramics in general, is that, when it is washed, all of the tea which was brewed in it is washed away. Yixing absorbs some of the tea which is brewed in it, instead of washing clean. Over years of brewing the same kind of tea in the same tea pot, the pot itself begins to enhance the flavor of the tea. After centuries of brewing, tea is brewed in the yixing pot not by adding new leaves, but simply by adding hot water, as the pot has completely absorbed the flavor of the tea.
Of course, the first person who own a yixing teapot is not going to own it for centuries. There are certain values of patience, tradition and gratitude which are very inherent to the Yixing pot. The patience is of course, because yixing pots gain value very slowly, by infinitely small amounts with each brewing. The value of a yixing pot depends upon how well it was cared for, whether it was handmade or slip-cast, and it’s complexity, but it depends most importantly on the age of the tea pot.
The yixing pot symbolizes tradition, because it establishes itself as a habit in the life of it’s owner. If you own a yixing pot, it becomes something that you keep with you throughout your life. You brew the same kind of tea in it, usually in the same kinds of circumstances, over and over again. It establishes itself as a thread of continuity in what can otherwise be hectic and disjointed lives.
Finally, there is a certain ethos of gratitude that comes with keeping something, and using it throughout your lifetime. Modern throw-away culture can feel a little disposable at times, but a yixing pot forces its owner to appreciate and care for an object. It becomes something which you gradually learn to treasure. The feeling of permanence that comes with an object becoming more valuable over time, and of your own mark, in the form of what tea you brew in it, being slowly impressed into it over time, is the exact opposite of the unsustainable cycle of buying things cheaply and then throwing them away when you no longer want them.
If you’re thinking about yixing tea ware, there are some things about it’s care and use which you should know. You should only brew one kind of tea in them. The wider the variety of teas you brew in a yixing pot, the more you muddy the flavor. This may involve just brewing black, or just brewing green teas, or you can be more strict about it. I personally only brew Yunnan Jig in my own yixing teapot.
You should also keep yixing teapots away from anything which may taint their flavor. Never wash them in a dishwasher, or use soap on them. This will make your tea taste like soap. Also avoid using flavorings in them such as honey or milk. You should be able to rinse your yixing teapot clean after each use.
You may note that yixing teapots are, on average, very small. They also traditionally come with tiny, simple cups. This is because they are traditional Chinese tea ware. It is also traditional to “wash” the leaves by throwing away the first brew of them, but that first steep tends to contain more caffeine, antioxidants, and flavor than later steeps, and so I absolutely always drink the first steep. If you’re looking for a more Western way to incorporate yixing into your life, we also have mugs made of yixing.
Good luck on your tea journey, and when you’ve found your favorite, our yixing tea pots will be here waiting for you.