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How to prime, season and maintain your Yixing teapot

A recent post from Nikki at her blog ‘Tea Escapade’ was the inspiration for today’s post. I’ve put it off long enough to write about how to correctly treat yourYixing teapots.

Yixing pots are one of the most beautiful vessels for brewing tea. At the same time, they represent one of the most perfect combinations of form and function.

Since Yixing teapots are unglazed and their high regard amongst tea lovers stems from specific properties of this special kind of clay, care for your teapot is important. While taking proper care of Yixing pots isn’t difficult, you should follow a few simple guidelines which I will describe in this article.

A disclaimer - of sorts
First, let me clarify that these guidelines are just that: guidelines. They are based on my personal experience as well as that of many other tea-drinkers who have applied them successfully. These guidelines are relatively generic and you’ll most likely find many variations on the same theme if you start to look for them. Follow the steps listed below and you’ll end up with an Yixing pot that will not only brew a better pot of tea, but will also become even more beautiful over time.

The basic principles
As mentioned above, Yixing teapots are unglazed clay teapots with open pores. This allows them to absorb some of the tea’s essence during brewing and develop a character of their own over time. Since this build-up of tea essence is highly desirable, you shouldNEVER use soap or any abrasive substances on your Yixing ware. If you’re buying a new Yixing pot, you should first follow the priming and seasoning tips below. To develop and maintain the ‘patina’ of well-loved Yixing pots, you should read the section on maintenance below and adjust it to your tea habits (the simple principle applies: the more tea you prepare in your pot, the better the pot develops).

Priming and seasoning a new Yixing pot
While there are many different ‘recommended’ methods of how to prime a new Yixing teapot, most of them are just variations on a handful of simple steps consisting of: removing dust and clay particles from the inside of the pot, boiling it with tea, then rinsing the pot and letting it dry naturally. Timing and details may vary, but in essence everybody agrees with these steps.

Before starting to use a new Yixing teapot, follow the steps below:

  1. Place your new Yixing pot and its lid separately in a big enough saucepan and cover with cold water.
  2. Bring the water to a soft boil and simmer gently for about 10 minutes (NOTE: at a hard boil, the teapot could be damaged by ‘jumping’ violently in the saucepan).
  3. Remove teapot and lid, rinse with warm water. Use an old softened toothbrush to scrub the inside and outside of both to remove any clay dust and larger lumps.
  4. Fill the teapot about half-full with tea leaves (with the type of tea you intend to use this Yixing pot for) then place the teapot and lid separately (so they don’t knock into one another) back into the saucepan (top up with water if necessary to cover the teapot well).
  5. Bring to a boil again and simmer for at least 1 hour. Some of the tea leaves will float out, but most will stay inside the teapot. They will brew up a nice tea that will season the pot inside and out.
  6. Leave the teapot and lid sitting in the tea-filled saucepan over night.
  7. Remove the tea leaves (rinse the inside of the pot with tea from the saucepan to remove the rest of the leaves) and place the pot and lid separately in a dry place out of direct sunlight to dry. (NOTE: Although many people rinse the teapot with water after removing it from the saucepan, I do not use water but rather the tea itself.)
  8. Now, your Yixing pot is ready to being used.

How to develop and maintain the patina of your Yixing teapot
 [ IMAGE Comparison of a well-seasoned Yixing teapot with a new one ] Like a well-loved cast iron skillet, aYixing pot gets better with careful repeated usage. Frequent brewing not only improves the flavour of your tea, it also brings out the true beauty of the teapot.
In the photo to the right (and at the top of this post), you can see the difference of lustre and glow between a used pot and a new, unused Yixing pot (as usual, click on the image for a larger picture). I’ve been using the red pot in the foreground for sheng (’raw’) pu-erh tea since about May this year, so it’s been in use for only about 3 months. But the difference is quite striking. The unused (brown) pot has a dull and rather subdued appearance, whereas the red pot is developing the classic lustrous quality of Yixing clay.

Some people advocate the development and maintenance of  aYixing teapot’s patina (which consists of many layers of tea) purely through use. While this works, it can take a VERY long time. However, here are a few simple steps you can take to help speed up this process:

  • During a brewing session, pour the rinse water (and any dregs from the infusions) over your teapot.
  • After finishing a brewing session, fill up the teapot (tea leaves still inside) with water and let it sit (’steep’) over night. The next morning, pour the tea into a faircup and remove the leaves. Rinse the inside of the pot with tea from the faircup to remove all remaining leaves. Rinse the OUTSIDE with tea as well while gently rubbing it into the surface of your pot.
  • Polish/buff the outside of your Yixing pot with a soft cloth from time to time.

Over time, your teapot will build up a nice lustre. While tea stains are unavoidable, rubbing the teapot will help to spread the tea evenly over the pot.

What to do if you want to ‘repurpose’ a seasoned or stained teapot?
Sometimes, the situation arises that people want to reset their teapot and start the seasoning process anew. This can happen when you buy a used teapot or when your drinking habits change and you want to dedicate the pot to a different type of tea. The goal is to remove any patina and create a neutral pot.
Many people have had good success with denture cleaning products for removing both tea stains and patina. The procedure usually involves LONG periods of submersion in the denture cleaning solution and LOTS of scrubbing. For a nice step-by-step guide (and experience report), check out Eric Lim’s blog.

While most gong fu drinkers have more than one Yixing teapot, we all have one yang hu (or ‘pet teapot’), a cherished teapot that gets more attention than the rest. These are the teapots we love best and treat with extra care. With the tips above, you should be able to season your yang hu to perfection.

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