Yixing Purple Clay Teapots

The History of Yixing Teapots

Yixing ceramics is mostly famous for its teapots made of Zisha, which literally means “purple sand” or “purple clay”.

There are three basic Yixing clays according to the color of original ore: purple clay, red clay, and green clay. By combining colored clay together in different proportions, it is easy to get five-color of zisha: purple, red, green, black and yellow. Such teapots are made of clays of different colours with very vivid names: cinnabar, ice gold yellow, pomegranate skin, pear skin, agarwood or aquilaria tree, yellow mallow and many more. In our days these little teapots come in a wonderland of shapes – fruits (peach), flowers (lotus), tree stumps or even dragons.


Originally people in Yixing had neither cups nor bowls and people used to drink tea directly from the spout, holding a hot teapot in their hands and keeping them warm. Located west of Shanghai Yixing experiences below zero temperatures in winter, lots of old houses had very thin walls, paper instead of window glass, and basins filled with coals as a source of heat. The walls of the tea vessel are very porous and they absorb the aroma of the infused teas so if you pour regular boiling water in such teapot it will enrich its flavor. That is why these wonderful teapots were very popular in China.


Another interesting thing in relation to tea. The Yixing teapots have started the tradition of brewing tea in a pot, as earlier such vessels (Hu) were considered suitable only for pouring wine, and tea was steeped directly in a bowl. The teapot as a teapot was born here.


During the Ming dynasty time, there were two areas in Yixing area where the ceramics have been produced: one on the Three-legged mountain (Ding Shan) and the other on the Silkworm mountain (Shu Shan).


Yixing became the capital of ceramics due to its extraordinary reserves of colored clays. 

This ceramics is very cohesive, with high density, and no leakage. This type of ceramics does not necessarily need glazing.

Yixing pottery is a unique type of ceramic ware with characteristics of both pottery and porcelain.



Yixing teapot – everything in balance

Yixing teapots are made with a specific touch of antiquity, usually in one color, although if you mix clays of different colors, you can get a multicolored teapot after firing. A teapot used for tea steeping absorbs the tea really well, and in the right hands, it can develop a nice oily gloss on its surface, which gives it a rather vivid appearance. When it happens, the original spirit of a teapot starts to manifest itself, adding more value to a teapot.


The Yixing teapots are extraordinarily praised because of the excellent quality of clay. Purple clay does not affect the aroma and taste of the infused tea, but it is excellent at absorbing the flavor of tea, so, if used frequently, with time a teapot develops the ability to give aroma to regular boiled water. The Yixing clay has great heat handling properties – it holds the heat of the infused tea but the teapot handle itself does not get hot.


Today Yixing teapots are considered exquisite works of art. They also enhance your tea brewing experience by adding a touch of aesthetic pleasure through contemplating the admirable work of the tea masters.


The value of the Yixing teapot is determined by its shape, color, chop marks of the master and the quality of the clay. Evaluation of the teapot shape is based on personal feelings and all disputes about shapes and forms come down to the concept of “harmony in everything”. A variety of colors and hues of the finished teapots never cease to amaze. Multiple factors affect the color of the teapot: clays extracted from different sources or clay beds, firing temperatures and duration of firing. Seals and inscriptions normally placed on the bottom of the teapot or lid can give us an idea about the masters or the school of the masters.


Six important features of Yixing teapots

Generally speaking, there are 6 hallmark features of Yixing clay teapots:


  1. The clay doesn’t affect the aroma and taste of the infused tea. That is why the Yixing teaware is specifically used for brewing tea and experiencing its original flavor and taste. Also, the pure interaction of water with tea leaves and the beautiful colors of the infusion is a pleasure that gratifies your eyes.
  2. It is able to “absorb” the tea oils and compounds and build up its own tea patina during the history of continuous brewing. This particular ability allows the old teapots to do a magic trick of a miraculous “transformation of water into tea”.
  3. It is easy to clean. If a vessel remains unused for a long time, it is very likely that it will develop unusual smells that can potentially ruin your perfect cup of tea. To eliminate these odors, you can pour some boiling water inside a teapot two or three times, and then rinse it with cool water, and it is ready to be used again without any risks of changing the natural flavors of your tea.
  4. The teapots of high-quality clay have great heat-handling properties - very low thermal conductivity and slow heat emission. Thanks to conducting heat slower and holding the heat longer, the tea inside a teapot cools down much slower, and the teapot is always safe to touch and use without burning your hands.
  5. Yixing clay has excellent resistance to heat, and if you pour warm water into the teapot and then boil it on a stove, you should not worry that the teapot will crack.
  6. And finally, one of the best practical features of Yixing teapots, which allows you to perform that “wonderful transformation of plain water into tea,” is associated with fairly high porosity. After all, the pores provide good air circulation. The large amounts of metal oxides contained in purple clay form multiple clusters in its microstructure, creating the so-called double porosity in the Yixing teapots. In other words, such type of clay absorbs the tea particles and stores them inside, like honey in honeycombs. Also, various types of Yixing clay have good plasticity and cohesive force and it is very convenient for moulding, creating artistic elements and fine decorative finish. All these natural characteristics turned the purple clay into an exceptionally perfect material for creating beautiful teapots.


Yixing teapots are an essential part of the Chinese Tea Ceremony


The art of appreciation and collection of tea is equivalent to collecting pieces made of Yixing clay. For many centuries, Yixing clay teapots have been an integral part of the Chinese tea ceremony.


The Yixing teapot pieces feature the finest craftsmanship in the field of pottery meeting all the standards of beauty and elegance. They have every right to be called as exquisite works of art. Along with the beautiful external shape and the classic color of clay, such teapots still serve their original functional purpose as a brewing vessel.

Hardly anyone denies the fact that the perfect Yixing teapot improves the quality of tea brewed inside. The process of brewing tea in a good Yixing teapot significantly beautifies and enhances our experience in tea tasting and indulging our senses with taste and aroma of tea. This teapot brings aesthetic pleasures to any tea ceremony.


And here comes more magic ...

The Yixing teapot used for many years becomes even better – it develops natural lustrous shine, builds up the gloss and delicacy of its exterior which symbolizes the highest degree of beauty. Most likely that no other form of art could take such an important place in the Chinese tea ceremony and in our life. It is for these reasons that the old or perfectly crafted Yixing teapots are priceless ... For a fervent tea lover, his or her favorite teapot is like a good old friend, so there is no need to say that such teapots can be worth much more than pearls.


One type of tea per one Yixing teapot

True tea connoisseurs use only one teapot for a certain type of tea (just one sort) that they like. If you think of an example, the taste of the lightly fermented Oolong tea, brewed in a teapot which originally has been used for Pu-erh teas, will be completely destroyed.


Always remember a simple truth: we need to take care of the Yixing pots and constantly interact with them. Teapots are made to be used with our hands. And they like to be held in human hands because in response they express their appreciation by building up a flawless patina on their surface.


Choosing a Yixing teapot

There are certain standards for a proper evaluation of a Yixing teapot – among the most important factors are the artistry and functionality of the ceramic piece.



The artistry is manifested in the need of creating an appealing and aesthetically beautiful tea vessel: the presence of such teapot on a tea table already brings simple aesthetic pleasures. Beautiful teapots harmoniously complement the tea setting and give it a touch of refinement.




One of the functional parameters of a teapot is the shape of a teapot itself. By all means, the shape of a teapot depends on the creative approach of the masters, and on the preferences of the collectors. However, there is a list of criteria that we should keep in mind when looking for a functional teapot.

Some people would not choose a teapot with a narrow diameter for brewing large-leaf teas in it. For example, this type of vessel will not work for highly fermented oolongs, such as Wu Yi Yan Cha – the cliff tea from the Wuyishan mountains or the Guangdong Oolongs - Feng Huang Dan Cong.

As for lightly fermented oolongs (Tie Guan Yin or Taiwan Alishan oolong), whose leaves have a rolled spherical shape, they feel perfectly fine in a round-shaped teapot with a narrow lid opening, which has enough space for the leaves to unfurl to their full extent.

Everyone could agree that the good sign of a teapot pouring function is the quality of the water stream from the spout –steady and smooth. Another important thing is the handle supporting a comfortable grip. A comfortable handhold will make the process of pouring tea smooth and easy.


Techniques for making a teapot

And, finally, another parameter that should be considered when evaluating the functionality of a Yixing teapot is the technique of the master. Was it crafted entirely by hand or made on a pottery wheel? If a teapot was wheel-thrown, it would be easy to spot very typical even circles inside. At the same time, it’s easy to notice the craftsman’s precise work. So, the spout and the handle should be located symmetrically in one line, and the lid should fit perfectly well into the opening of the teapot.

In the hands of the skillful master, a good teapot is rewarded with all these important features.


Buying a Yixing teapot

It is very important for a consumer to know what kind of teapot to buy. If there are no trusted experts nearby, the best thing you can do is simply pick a teapot you like, examine it with attention and, by focusing on your own feelings and intuition, try to assess how your artistic and functional expectations match its qualities. In this case, the shape and structure of the teapot should be of the finest quality, with perfect proportional positions of all major elements: the spout and the handle, the lid and the bottom.

Artistry and mastery should be possible to notice with the “naked eye”, and should be evaluated separately as qualities common to ceramics of the highest categories.

Needless to say that the price and personal perception will play an equally important role in choosing a Yixing teapot.


To summarize these are the most important tips to keep in mind when buying a Yixing teapot:

- The spout and the lid opening should be in line, except for the teapots with an unusual design.

- Appearance should be proportional and complete.

- The lid should be well fitted with a tiny vent hole on it.

- The sound will help you to determine the quality of the clay: tap lightly on the teapot; the sound should be fine, metallic, and ring brightly.

- And finally, pick up a teapot with your hand - the curved handle should not create discomfort for your hand.


The art of decorating teapots has incorporated poetry and calligraphy and traditional forms of art. Therefore, a simple admiration of a teapot will help you to discover different layers of Chinese culture that will appear in front of you at the moment of contemplation. The most important task is to be able to identify and to see them.


If you want to comprehend the character of the purple clay teapots, or learn more about them or even become a collector, do not get misguided by the external appearance. You should use more of your vision, hearing and thinking.

Especially when it comes to fine things. Two different people can have a completely different perception of the same teapot. “To each their own” as we say and "Good people see good things and wise people see the wisdom".


If the purple-clay teapot that you bought accompanies you during your morning rituals and evening reading, if you treat it with care, day after day, you will develop a very special bond with it, or you will learn the essence of something, and without any doubt you will become the owner of the perfect teapot.


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