Thursday, September 27, 2012

Yixing pottery

A Yixing tea pot
Tea pots made from a special clay found only in the Yixing area are famous throughout the world. That's because they make drinking tea so special.

The purple clay, known as zisha, absorbs the flavor of the tea. After awhile, you can make tea without having to use tea leaves! This is why it is so important to only use one flavor of tea. Serious tea drinkers in China reportedly use a different pot and cup for each flavor of tea they drink.

Caring for Yixing tea accessories is pretty easy. All you need to do is rinse the cups and pot in water. You never, ever wash them in soapy water. If you do, you'll be drinking soap-flavored tea!

Yixing has hundreds of tea and ceramics shops. It has a ceramics museum that gives the history of this special clay. You can even watch artisans handcrafting pots and cups just outside the grounds.

Yixing pottery comes in all styles and prices. You can pick up tea pots for 10-20 renminbi at Panjiayuan or Hongqiao in Beijing, but it's not recommended that you drink tea made in these pots because they may contain high lead content.  These pots are mainly for decorative purposes.

When I worked at China Daily in the 1990s, one of my co-workers bought Yixing pottery and sold it whenever he returned to the United States. An expert on the subject, he recommended not drinking tea from anything that cost less than $30 a set.

We visited Yixing several years ago. Our Chinese friends planned an overnight stop in Wuxi, a place I'd visited on my first trip to China in 1984. After a boat ride on the city's very scenic lake, we headed to a tea mall. The array of pots and cups was astounding. Our friends wanted to buy a tea set as an investment, and ended up paying the equivalent of $1,100 for one, even having their picture taken with the artist. The tea shop wouldn't bargain on the set, but did throw in a high-quality expensive set which our friends gave to us. The tiny cups have a half-moon on the bottom that expands to a full moon when tea is added.

The next morning we took a bus to Yixing where we bought more tea things, including a lovely bamboo tray to hold our new tea seat.

We returned to Shanghai by bus, a trip that took about three hours.

Are you going to China?

If China is in your travel plans, be sure to check out Cheryl's China and email me if you have any questions.