A Tea Lover Asks About Yi Xing Teaware

This weekend a tea lover emailed Imperial Tea Court Teamaster Roy Fong with a question about yi xing teaware. He had read that "greener, lighter, and more floral oolongs such as jade oolong and tie guan yin taste cleaner and fresher in porcelain teaware. A claim is made that yi xing clay changes the true flavor of these oolongs and should only be used only for darker oolongs. What is your belief as to the truth of this?"

We'd like to share Roy's reply for anyone else who may be confused on this point:

I read the line where the author wrote, "brewing in zi sha vessels will imbue green oolongs and green teas with a very unpleasant undertone." I find that interesting since millions of people for a few hundred years have employed zi sha teapots to make their tea and not many have discovered this issue. I do not doubt that the author may have had a problem but that is not a case made. Many reasons can contribute to his/her issue. Yi xing teapot connoisseurs agree in general that certain density clays work better for high-aromatic oolong. The end result is a combination of tea, pot, water, and techniques. I am afraid that I object to the author's "it ain't working, end of story" way of addressing this issue. Zi sha isn't the problem, the person making the tea may be the problem.

Roy's answer says it all, but to elaborate a bit for anyone who may have experienced a problem and wondered about it, here are three common reasons tea properly brewed in a zi sha pot may have disappointed. First, if you used this type of pot for a delicate spring green tea such as a dragonwell, bi luo chun, or many other varieties, the pot may be holding too much heat, effectively "cooking" your tea into bitterness or blandness. While there's a long historical precedent for using yi xing ware with green teas (many excellent green teas grow near the town of Yi Xing), our preference is to brew these teas in a porcelain gaiwan where it's easier to control the temperature.

Second, your pot may be the problem. Inferior quality pots can reek of clay, firing, or industrial oils. Before you buy a pot push your nose inside and take a deep whiff. You shouldn't smell anything. In addition, it's a good idea to take the time to cook your pot in tea prior to the first use, to remove any residual odors. If you drink quality tea you should invest in a quality pot; it will last a lifetime, continuing to improve with age. High quality zi sha clay is rare and expensive. A nice pot will cost $100 or more, whether you buy it in the US or China. Don't cut corners when you're ready to acquire a pot.

Third, it's essential to maintain your pot correctly. One of the characteristics of zi sha that makes it ideal for tea is its absorbent nature. That means good "teapot hygiene" is critical. A common mistake is to keep a teapot in the kitchen, where it absorbs cooking odors and aerosolized grease. Store your pot in a clean, neutral environment and never wash it in anything except water or tea. I've seen advice to clean teapots in soap, bleach, all kinds of things. Don't go there! When you finish brewing tea remove the leaves, rinse the pot with warm water, gently buff the surface dry with a soft cotton cloth, and invert the pot resting on the lid to help the inside air-dry (inadequately dried pots can develop bacteria).

If you're lucky enough to have a nice zi sha teapot match it to the right type of tea, brew the tea thoughtfully, and treat your pot with respect and it will reward you with delicious tea for many years to come. If you haven't acquired a great pot yet, we can help! We also have an excellent selection of gaiwans if you prefer that brewing style.

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