If you drink oolong tea you’ve probably heard of yixing clay teapots. They are small unglazed teapots for preparing small, fresh infusions and reinfusions of oolong tea and come in a number of different natural clay colours from the region of Yixing in the eastern Chinese province of Jiangsu on the west side of Lake Tai. Mostly they are a purply-brown clay but can be reddish-brown and an ochre-yellow shade. I don’t know how long they’ve been being made in Yixing but they continue even today to be made there by skilled, master potters.
When I was there in a few years ago on one of Tao’s small tea tours, we visited a master potter, Master Zhou, who had a workshop in the beautiful and preserved old town of Yixing where many master ceramicists work with Yixing’s famous clay. He welcomed us with a fine pot of tea.
Zhou runs a small workshop with apprentices. He had five apprentices who had been studying with him for 6 months to three years.
Apparently a good yixing oolong pot should stand completely flat if upended with its lid.
The pots were traditionally fired in a “dragon kiln,” so-called because it winds uphill and has multiple air-holes through which the wood is loaded — they’re huge! At night it apparently looks like a long, snaking, fire-breathing dragon.
The next day we also visited other gas-fired kilns of a slightly more commercial nature.
There is huge demand for these little teapots both from within China and internationally. While I know that some made by master ceramicists demand very high prices, there are also many made by others, or from molds, that are priced for the regular consumer market.
I couldn’t leave without getting my own perfect little oolong teapot from Master Zhou. When I got home, and with Tao’s advice, I seasoned it before using it to make tea.