Before I had gained any exposure to gongfu cha, I remember seeing the pretty little Chinese teapots and wondering about their function. I suspected that they were purely ornamental, as they seemed too small to be of use. Now that I have a great deal more understanding of the world of tea I can appreciate both the artistry involved in their design and production and their perfect suitability to the preparation of high quality teas.
There is a wealth of interesting information available about these special teapots. The terms “zisha” and “Yixing” are often used interchangeably to refer to them, although they have distinct meanings. “Zisha” is the name of the special clay that is found only in Yixing, and although the name means “purple sand” it is also found in green, yellow, red and blue. This very finely grained clay is perfectly suited to sculpting and fashioning teapots, as well as other items. “Yixing” (pronounced “ee-shing”) is the region of Jiangsu province in China where the clay comes from and within which most of the zisha teapots are manufactured.
Care of these highly prized teapots is another interesting area of inquiry. The theories and practices around seasoning new Yixing teapots often seem to vary nearly as widely as the styles and colors of teapots themselves. It is mostly indisputable that every new zisha teapot needs to be seasoned in some way, but the methods recommended range from simple rinsing, to scrubbing with toothpaste, to extensive brewings of the pot immersed in tea.
Detailed descriptions and photographs of the seasoning procedures that I use can be found on the “Seasoning a New Yixing Teapot” page of our site.
This article on the Tea Masters blog is quite useful in regards to the ideas around seasoning Yixing teapots.