Thursday, July 3, 2014

Thing of Interest: Yixing Clay Teapot

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I recently received a gift from one of my overseas coworkers: a Yixing clay teapot. I told her that while I was researching a green tea she sent me I discovered these pots. She went on to tell me plain ones can be obtained cheaply in Hong Kong and she would send one.

One day, in the mail I received a beautiful levered box and inside was my teapot. I still store it inside the box because it looks fantastic on my counter.

Yixing clay pots are unfinished and absorb tea throughout their lives. Eventually, the pot lends flavor back into the tea. Because of this, you should only brew one genre of tea in each pot. Mine is used for oolong. Some people have one of these small clay pots for each individual tea. I have yet to get to that point in my tea obsession.

Due to their unfinished nature these teapots require special preparation akin to an unseasoned cast iron pan. You can hear about the entire process of cleaning and curing your teapot from this guy:

...but I actually think he's kinda hard to watch (it's almost real time!) so here's a shorter break down:

1: Boil your pot and lid for about 10 minutes.

He explains the process from 1:00-5:25. Basically, use clean water, pot, and tongs, don't let the teapot and lid rattle because they'll break, be sure to fill the teapot with water, don't burn your hands, and let it air dry completely. You should see sediment from the teapot in your pot and the teapot will be shiny from the moisture and heat.
2: Season the pot with tea.
He explains this from 5:25-8:15 (he shows the end process at 9:30 if you want to skip his talk about how your pot will look as it ages). I would recommend using an unflavored favorite from the genre you're going to go with. This will seem like a waste, but it's worth it. You want the first thing the teapot absorbs to be something you really enjoy drinking because it's going to seep every bit of flavor out of the tea in this process. I used Iron Goddess for my pot brewed at double strength. This is the part of the video you really need to watch and follow. He explains it better than any other reference I saw when doing my research.
3: Drink that shit!
Your teapot is ready for use! You do not brew tea in a yixing teapot the same way it is brewed in European teapots. Skip to 10:40 to see the proper brewing method with these teapots. 
Do not skip the smelling steps. This is one of the most pleasing parts of the tea ceremony that is created with this brewing method. It allows you to pause, create some mindfulness, and really enjoy what you're doing on a deeper level. 
If you're thinking about purchasing one of these wonderful teapots, I recommend watching this video as well:

Here you can see the different styles of teapots and how to determine if a teapot is of good quality. Looks aren't everything; balance, size, and symmetry is much more important. This really helped me get a better grasp on my own teapot.

If you have any questions about my yixing clay teapot brewing experience, or want to see more posts about my interests in tea, please comments below.