Yíxìng 宜兴 is a small region in the Chinese province of Jiāngsū 江蘇. In this área, a material known as "purple clay" (zǐshā 紫砂) is extracted, which has been used to produce pottery since the times of the Sòng dynasty 宋朝 (10th-13th centuries). This purple clay has certain characteristics that make it especially suitable for making teapots and tea sets. Let's see what these characteristics are.
Charasteristics of purple clay
First, purple clay is rich in minerals, such as iron, mica and quartz. These minerals reduce the acidity and astringency of tea, making the infusion pleasantly milder.
Second, teapots made with Yíxìng clay lose heat very slowly, so they keep the infusion temperature for longer and make it more controllable.
Finally, it is a very porous material that absorbs the essential oils of the tea. This means that, over time, the teapot develops particular flavours and nuances, depending on the type of tea for which we use it. It is said that, over the years, a Yíxìng teapot can produce tea by simply pouring hot water over it, since the clay breathes and releases the oils and flavours with which it has "macerated".
Purple clay is rich in minerals that reduce the acidity and astringency of tea.
Although it is called "purple", we can find zǐshā clay in three colors: red, ocher and violet brown, the latter being the most appreciated, and other colors can be obtained by mixing them or adding mineral pigments.
Purple clay teapots are ideal for infusions at high temperatures for long periods of time, making them particularly suitable for black tea, wūlóng 烏龍 and pǔ'ěr 普洱. Because the clay absorbs the essences of the tea, it is highly recommended (although it is not essential) to reserve the teapot for a single type of tea, and not to mix flavours.
However, if it is the first time you buy a Yíxìng teapot, you can use it for several types, and later acquire another one and reserve it for a single specific type. It is advisable that you make this choice before you start using it, and that you choose a tea that you are going to drink often, since otherwise the teapot will be abandoned in some corner of the house without fulfilling the purpose for which it was molded.
Yixing teapots require seasoning prior to their first use.
A new teapot that has not been used still has remains of clay and dust. To eliminate them and prepare it for use, follow these steps:
1. Rinse the teapot in cold water. Under no circumstances use soap (see below).
2. Prepare a pot large enough and place a clean cloth on the bottom. This cloth is simply to protect the teapot during cooking, preventing it from hitting the bottom. Fill the pot with water at room temperature and submerge the teapot and lid separately. Cover the pot and bring to a boil over low heat for 30 minutes.
3. Remove the pot from the heat, let the water cool and take out the teapot, letting it dry in the air.
Now your Yíxìng teapot is ready to start using it. But first, if you want, you can also season it so that it acquires the flavor of your favourite tea more quickly.
A teapot takes a long time to develop the particular flavour of a type of tea. To speed up this process, if you wish you can follow these tips (this process does not replace the boiling, so if you have not cooked your teapot before, you should do it).
Follow exactly the same steps as during cooking, but this time fill the teapot with the tea of your choice (the one for which you are going to use your teapot). After boiling everything for 30 minutes (teapot and tea), remove the pot from the heat but do not take out the teapot: leave it submerged between 12 and 24 hours.
Once this time has elapsed, rinse the teapot with cold water and let it dry in the air.
Do not use any soap or detergent to wash a Yíxìng teapot (or cups), as it would be absorbed by the pores and this would ruin your teapot forever. Clean it only by rinsing it with tap water after use. To clean the cups you can pour boiling water on top.
After rinsing, let air dry without the cover, so that it does not develop moisture.