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Introduction to Zisha Teapots

True tea connoisseurs are sensitive to every subtle nuance of flavor and aroma tenderly expressed by each leaf.  In their pursuit of delicate tastes and texture, the fine instrument of a zisha teapot is indispensable.

Made from the unique zisha clay found only in Yixing China, zisha teapots are treasured for their ability to enhance the flavor, aroma and texture of tea.

Purple Clay Teapots

Teapots made from Yixing purple clay are extolled by aficionados as superior to all other types of teapots for brewing tea. This is attributed to the unglazed state of the teapots after firing that retains its porous nature, which is excellent for absorbing the flavor and aroma of tea. After prolonged use, a rich patina will gradually develop inside the teapot, which enhances the taste, color and aroma of the tea. Externally, the pot's unglazed surface absorbs oils from the tea making its appearance more and more lustrous with age and use. Legend has it that if a purple clay teapot has been used for a long time, one can simply pour hot water into the teapot to brew a cup of tea without using leaves.

Besides their unique tea brewing quality, these delicately handcrafted, elegant Yixing teapots are also noted for their artistic beauty and are therefore many people's favorites.

However, if you would like to use the poetic purple clay teapot to brew a good cup of tea, two important steps must first be taken: how to treat a new teapot and matching the pot with the right type of tea. To treat a new teapot, one must remove any residue and clay odors in the pot. After treatment, one should explore which type of tea quality is most enhanced by a particular teapot.

Purple clay is in fact midway between earthenware and porcelain. Clay similar to Yixing clay in color and appearance can be found in many parts of China and Europe, as well, but they lack the sandy consistency that makes Yixing clay so unique. Its unique quality makes it a perfect candidate for delicate handcrafted creations. Therefore, purple clay can be molded into teapots, tea ware and other handicrafts.

Purple clay ware made completely by hand is not only excellent for brewing tea but also beautiful. Its rare beauty is derived from the variety of colors, texture, exceptional artistic designs in form and shape, exquisite free-hand skills and superb workmanship. Only a perfect and harmonious combination of all of these elements leads to the paramount status of purple clay ware.

Purple clay occurs naturally in three colors: purple, red and buff yellow. These clays can be used independently or mixed together or combined with minerals or artificial pigments to form a variety of colors.

Among the different kinds of clay, pure red clay and buff yellow are in very short supply.

The designs and shapes of clay ware can be classified into three main categories: natural, geometric shapes or artistic style. Another way of classification is to simply define them as plain or decorated teapots.

In addition, calligraphy, painting, intricate carvings and sculptures are also incorporated into the teapots, making this art form a unique expression of Chinese art.

Modern craftsmen or artisans not only produce replicas of old pots, but also create new and innovative designs which contribute to the individual character of each teapot. Many aspects of Chinese culture have been embodied and preserved through the medium of these valuable artworks.

Each purple clay ware is a handmade work of art, and it may take artisans many years to develop and mature their skill and technique. With the various levels of forming or potting techniques, the same design can be found at several quality levels.

For instance, the art of making plain geometric ware is easiest to learn but most difficult to master. Plain geometric ware is completely exposed due to its simplicity and plainness. The slightest deviation will become more glaring compared to products of greater intricacy. Therefore, high quality purple clay ware is usually considered the best work of the highest caliber.

The function of zisha teapots in the art of Chinese tea is as important today as it has been for the last four hundred years.  Today, the term zisha is synonymous with Yixing teapots and the art of tea.

Can I use a Zisha Clay teapot for any kind of tea?

Yes.  Zisha Clay teapots are suitable for making teas of all categories.

Connoisseurs prefer to have a different teapot for each style of tea so that the essence of each tea style does not influence the distinct flavor profile of various teas.

Tea masters will also consider the size, shape, and thickness of the teapot, as well as the texture of the clay, to match particular tea varieties.

How should I prepare a new Zisha teapot for use?

Before using a new zisha teapot it should be cleaned by boiling it in a large pot of clean water for approximately two hours.  This process allows the many pores to expand and release any dust or loose clay within the teapot.

How should I care for my Zisha teapot?

Remove used tea leaves and rinse the teapot with hot water after every use.  Do not use soap or detergents to clean the teapot.  Allow it to fully dry inside and outside with the lid removed or tilted open on top of the teapot.  A clean soft cloth can be used to wipe down the teapot to prevent water stains.  Do not use oily agents to add artificial lacquer to the teapot.

What is nurturing a teapot?

In addition to the preparation and cleaning of  a teapot, aficionados will use extra effort to season their teapots.  The porous nature of zisha clay gives it the ability to absorb the essence of tea.  Aficionados take efforts to allow their teapots to absorb tea on both the inside and outside surfaces of their teapots.  After much use, the natural tea oils also create a beautiful lustre to the seasoned teapot.  This extra care and attention is referred to as nurturing a teapot.

Are all Zisha teapots from China?

The unique zisha clay is found only in Yixing, China.  China's does not permit the export of raw zisha clay for it is considered a national treasure.  Teapots from Taiwan and other countries are not made of zisha clay and do not have the same characteristics desired by tea connoisseurs.

Are zisha teapots hand made?

China Flair's premium zisha teapots are all hand made.  Craftsman may use hand moulds to assist them in making consistent shapes and patterns.  Individual sections are then hand crafted together and hand finished.

Cheap mass-market teapots will use machine moulds to stamp cut the desired shapes, or use methods of injection moulds for large production quantities.  The clay materials used in mass production are generally inferior to the carefully selected clay used in handcrafted teapots.

Why are the prices of zisha teapots so varied?

The price and value of zisha teapots is largely determined by the quality of the clay. Premium grades of zisha teapots are composed of pure zisha material that are highly porous, easily seasoned and 100% non-toxic.  Inexpensive clays may incorporate non-zisha material to reduce costs.  This method of cost cutting creates teapots of inferior quality that often impacts tea with bitterness and coarseness.  Proper firing and skilled craftsmanship, also differentiate the premium zisha teapots from the mass-market products.

The experience of Chinese tea art is complete only when tea is prepared from a fine zisha teapot.  However, to collectors and tea connoisseurs, zisha teapots are more than just an instrument--they are works of art that satisfy us with visual beauty, textural allure, and flavorful delight