According to the traditional Chinese method of preparing tea, called Gong-Fu Cha (Tea with great skill), the teapot is perhaps the most important part of this process. The tea maker should choose the size and shape of the teapot, the type of clay and the firing temperature according to the type of tea and the number of people to be served. And as a teapot is an object that can be used every day, it must be practical, easy to handle and aesthetic to use. Serious Gong-Fu Cha enthusiasts spend time debating the virtues of their teapots, but all agree on these four points:
- All tea is best in clay teapots and the best teapots are made from a "purple clay" ( Zisha ) from the Yixing (Yee-zhing) region of China.
- Zisha clay has excellent porosity and excellent heat resistance properties, which significantly improves the taste of tea compared to tea brewed in glass, porcelain or enamel teapots.
- A Yixing teapot should only be used for one type of tea.
- High temperature teapots with finer, thinner clay are excellent for any type of tea and are essential for green, white and Oolong teas. Low-temperature teapots, made with thicker, more porous clay, are ideal for black tea (called red tea in China) and Pu-Erh tea.
Chinese clay teapots are not glazed. The clay used remains porous and the tea oils are meant to build up inside the teapot and over time soften the taste of the tea and enhance it by adding its own unique "taste" due to accumulated oils. Different teas are not brewed in the same teapot unless they belong to the same family or class of teas, such as different types of green or oolong teas , but even this is not ideal as some teas from the same family have a strong taste and, over time, can "contaminate" a tea with a more delicate taste.
Your teapot will be your friend for many years to come, so make sure it doesn't have any cracks or chips. It should have good weight and balance and be ergonomic in the hand. The lid should fit snugly into the opening, with the opening just large enough to accommodate the size of sheets you will be using. A smaller opening tends to keep the flavor of the tea in the teapot while a larger opening tends to let the flavor escape. Thus, teas with small or rolled leaves and very fragrant (green tea, white tea, Oolong tea) will benefit from a smaller opening. A larger opening is better for large leaf, low flavor teas (black and Pu-Erh teas ). The spout should be wide enough to allow the tea to flow freely. Gong Fu Cha (the Chinese method of tea preparation) develops the taste of tea quickly with fast steeping times. The spout hole should therefore be as wide as possible so as not to impede the flow of poured tea, which would lengthen steeping times. Check other size teapots to make sure the spout is proportional to the size of the teapot. Many recent teapots have a built-in filter. If your teapot doesn't have a filter, ask for one to be inserted into the spout. Unlike Western pottery making techniques where "earth clays" are turned on a lathe, the stiffer quality of Zisha clay allows the elements that will form a teapot to be made in advance. They will be assembled piece by piece. There are 3 types of manufacture: Handmade, half-handmade and molded. The handmade teapots are shaped by an artist who cuts the pieces by hand and assembles them using traditional tools such as picks and wooden pallets. When preparing Zisha clay to make the different parts of a craft teapot, the teapot is bent many times. This folding strengthens the clay and creates micro air pockets in the clay that allow air to flow back and forth through the teapot. This "double porosity" characteristic is reflected in the added oxygen supply to the tea during steeping and, as wine drinkers know, oxygen enhances the taste. The term "semi-artisanal" refers to the fact of assembling molded parts by hand with traditional tools. Many good Zisha clay teapots are made this way. Molded teapots are made by a mass production process of machine-assembling pre-molded parts, such as the two halves of the teapot and the lid, and attaching a pre-molded spout and handle. Even though molded teapots do not have the same value as handmade or half-handmade teapots, many of them are made with Yixing clay and are still superior to glazed or ceramic teapots. porcelain for the preparation of tea. Owning a handmade teapot is a great satisfaction especially if it was made by a famous artist. Teapot making is a highly skilled art, and some Zisha teapots by famous artists are collectibles and fetch very high prices, especially if they date from the 1980s or 1950s, or even the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912). Antique teapots are prized because no two are alike, each with a unique history, patina, "taste" and "personality". Knowing about antiques requires very specialized knowledge, so only deal with an expert you can trust. Yixing clay (Yee-zhing) is the famous clay from the Yixing region of Jiangsu province in central China, from which the finest teapots have been made for centuries. There are many types of Yixing clay, but they can generally be grouped into two grades of "Earth-clay" made from mud, "Clay-stone" made from rock ( Zisha). "Earth clay" is generally used to make medium quality teapots, available in many designs at affordable prices. Its natural color is white. Premium "stone clay" is known as Zisha or " purple clay " (although the color of the clay is not necessarily purple ) and occurs naturally in a variety of colors. Zisha clay is therefore also known as "natural" or "original" clay. The unique grain structure and mineral composition of Zisha clay gives it unparalleled excellent properties for maintaining of a stable temperature in a teapot. thus mitigating temperature variations that could diminish the flavor of the tea. The mineral and metal content of the Zisha includes iron oxide, kaolinite, quartz and mica, making these teapots very strong when fired and resistant to damage compared to more delicate western pottery. High quality Yixing clay is 3-6 times less absorbent than other clays, allowing these teapots to retain the scent of teas.
- Composition of the clay:
There are 3 basic compositions of clays which are often mixed together in an endless variety of combinations.
- Zisha clay. (also called " Qing Shui Ni " when not mixed or colored).
- Mixed ( Pingni ). Can be any combination of Yixing, non-Yixing and man-made clays.
- Artificial (colored clay). Can also be used in mixed clay.
“ Color of clay
When the clays are mixed, they are called Pingni . "Natural" or "original" Zisha clays are often mixed to achieve traditional and new colors. Natural and artificial colors can be mixed or layered with each other in various patterns. Very often a small amount of Yixing or even Zisha clay is added to an inferior non-Yixing clay and the teapot is then sold as a "Yixing teapot". Although this practice is technically correct, it can be misleading. "Artificial" clay (Yixing "earthy" clay and/or non-Yixing clay) is clay colored with artificial dyes, which often reproduce the natural colors of the Zisha. These teapots do not perform as well as Zisha teapots and will not look as good over time as the color fades, unlike teapots made from Zisha clays which retain their natural color. Assessing the quality of a teapot by the color of the clay is a very specialized skill and is the subject of much debate among experts. Here are some indications to help you understand Chinese teapots by their colors. The natural color of Yixing "earth clay" is white. Zisha clay comes in a variety of natural colors, the most popular of which are:
- Red (Hongni)
- Purple (Zhini)
- Green (Luni) - usually mixed with other clays or layered.
There is another type of Zisha red clay called Zhuni which is mined from a rare type of rock vein. Teapots made from this clay are oversized and fired at a special low temperature and much longer than other teapots. Zhuni teapots shrink during firing, making the clay extremely hard and dense. If you look closely, you can see fine "wrinkles" in the clay due to shrinkage. Even though the firing is carried out with the utmost precision, the process is so delicate that losses are inevitable before obtaining good teapots. Zhuni teapots usually have a distinct red or orange color and produce a high-pitched sound when tapped. Needless to say, Zhuni teapots are very rare and very expensive. Markets are full of teapots claiming to be "real Zhuni", whether new or old, so don't even consider buying one if you don't have access to a trusted expert who can verify the clay. for you.