There are three types of clays which are used to make Yixing stonewares: zisha (rose/brown clay), banshanlu (creamy white clay) & zhusha (reddish clay). The actual colour of Yixing teapots can vary & is not solely dependant on the clays used. The temperature used when firing the clay can create variations in the colour. Also, potters often blend clays together or add vegetable or mineral colours to the clay. As a result, Yixing teapots can vary in colour from purplish red to brick red, green & even yellow.
The pottery tradition of Yixing dates back to 2500 BC. The Yixing area has large clay deposits which create a unique style of stoneware. Yixing has produced pottery since Neolithic times, but the manufacture of teapots & teaware didn’t begin until the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). This was mostly due to the fact that before the Ming Dynasty, the Chinese preferred making their tea in bowls.
A monk living in a temple near Yixing is credited with making the first Yixing teapot, in the early 16th century. Production of the teapots & interest in them grew gradually. By the end of the 16th century there were still very few master potters who made small quantities of teapots & teaware primarily for scholars & collectors. Teapots were made in various fanciful shapes: fruits (pears, peaches), scenes from the natural world (tree trunks, animals, flowers), mythical creatures (dragons, phoenix), & geometric shapes (rectangles, cubes).
As demand for Yixing teaware increased, more potters took up the craft. By the 17th century, the shapes of the teapots were simplified so that mass production was possible. During the 18th century, the popularity of the teapots waned & there were no new design innovations.
Near the end of the 18th century, a scholar named Chen Mansheng revived interest in Yixing stonewares. He was Magistrate of Yixing from 1816-1819 & during that time developed 18 new teapot designs & encouraged other potters with commissions. He began a trend among other scholars & wealthy collectors of commissioning teapots & having their own inscriptions engraved onto the pots.
Yixing teapots are considered by the Chinese to be the embodiment of the perfect teapot. They are sought after for the artistry of the design & the way that tea brewed in them tastes. Yixing teapots are thought to keep the tea warm longer than porcelain teapots and to enhance the flavour of the teas. The interior of a Yixing teapot is porous, so it slowly absorbs the flavour of the tea and delivers better tasting tea as the years go by. For this reason, Chinese tea lovers often have several Yixing teapots and brew one variety of tea in each teapot.
Yixing teapots are a small size for several reasons:
- They were first used as individual pots. Traditionally people in China would travel to teahouses & other people’s homes with their own yixing teapot.
- Yixing pots were used to make many servings of tea when necessary. Typically more tea leaves were added to the pot & were then re-infused.
To ensure your enjoyment of yixing teawares purchased at SILK ROAD, we are providing instructions on how to care for your yixing teapots and teacups. If the instructions are followed properly, your merchandise can be enjoyed for a long time.
- do not place in dishwasher – hand wash only with hot water (do not use soap)
- do not place in microwave, on stove or in oven