Friday, May 9, 2014

My First Yixing Teapot

I will be the first to admit I have not been a teapot person. I first used a Mr. Coffee to brew tea. Then I 'moved up' to a tea ball. It wasn't long afterwards that a co-worker started using a French Press with his tea. Seeing it was an awesome steeping device, allowing one to watch the leaves dance and unfurl as it brewed, kept the leaves out of the cup, and was super easy to wipe clean, I bought one for myself. In fact I now have two. They have been my main brewing vessels for more than a few years.

Teapots are neat to look at but never really interested me because I tend to brew only a single mug at a time. British style teapots are a way too large for my tea drinking style. I became kind of interested in the yixing teapot once I learned they are generally very small. An American sized mug is considered huge by yixing standards. Of course the price of a purple clay pot is usually quite high. I just could not justify the price on an unconfirmed promise that it would brew better tea.

Recently I ran across the yixing teapots on the Enjoying Tea website. Their regular prices were about half the lowest prices I had seen elsewhere. Low end pots tend to be $40 and up on other sites. Here several of their already low cost teapots were on sale. One of them was the Traditional Purple Clay Bamboo Gongfu Teapot and it was on sale for $6.98. What? That couldn't be correct. But it was.

I had been looking for a small crystal teapot for display teas. They also had one of them on sale at the time for a reasonable price. So I ordered both. Honestly, I was expecting very little from such an inexpensive pot, but ordered it for giggles anyway.

When the pots arrived, I pulled the yixing box out of the shipping box first. The only English on the box says Yixing Ceramics Art. I opened the box and removed the well wrapped lid and pot. It was twice as heavy as I expected. The look and the feel impressed me. This one is rated at 350 ml or 11.9 oz. The perfect size for me and yet huge by Chinese standards. You can see my mug and French press in the background for comparison.

This picture looking inside the pot at the spout, shows the filter holes that keep larger pieces of leaf out of the cup.

I am well aware this is a machine molded pot. The etching on each side may or may not be hand etched. I have no idea how such things are done. I am also aware this may or may not be actual yixing purple clay. Based on what I have read on various sites it appears to be a legit machine molded yixing. In truth I don't care. I love this little guy!

It is actually darker than it appears in the picture. When I first took it out of the box, I ran several hot pots of water through it, wiped with a soft cloth, and let it air dry. No soaps touched this pot. Then I took a low end puerh I've had for years (terrible when I bought it but has aged into a pleasant drinkable tea) and prepared it in the pot. I let it set and steep for a several hours. Then I poured it out, wiped, and let the pot air dry. 

I know there is a good chance this is just my imagination, but the very first pot I brewed for actual drinking seemed more flavorful and alive. Real or imagined, I don't care. Having never been a teapot person, I suddenly found myself unable to wait for the next opportunity to use it again. 

When using, the belly of the pot gets and stays hot, but the handle remains nicely cool. It feels easy to control when lifting and pouring. The spout does dribble a little at first and the pour is kind of slow compared to my French Press. I do sometimes have to wipe up a small amount of tea after pouring. I need to get a tea towel and/or a tea tray to catch the spills. The strainer does keep large leaf out of the cup but small pieces do pass through. If that annoys you, pouring through a mesh filter would solve it. I quickly learned to ignore the bits in the bottom of the cup.

I have used my first yixing several times now for puerh. What I have read recently suggests this shape pot is better suited to oolong. For puerh it was stated the pot should be taller rather than wide. Again, I don't care. This is now my official puerh brewing vessel.

An experienced yixing user could undoubtedly give you many reasons why a more expensive pot would be a better choice. That's fine. This is like my first bike. It was a red 16" bike with training wheels. I remember the day the training wheels feel off and what hill I was coasting down at the time. I didn't think, "Man, I wish I had a better bike." Nope. I just enjoyed the pleasure of the moment. 

Bottom line: For what I paid, I have already had a hundred times more fun out of this pot.

An Update: I knew when I ordered my teapots that Enjoying Tea stated a free tea sample was included with each pot. When I opened the box I didn't see it and promptly forgot about it. In writing a soon to be published review of the second teapot I remembered the offer. So today I wrote Enjoying Tea. I got a reply back very quickly - yes samples should have been included. I still had the box of peanuts in the garage, so a search party ensued. Yep, In my excitement over the teapots I had overlooked the samples. One little tin of tea for each teapot. So a word of caution, if you order a teapot or teaset make sure to thoroughly dig through the package.

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