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.

Yixing old town D SNAP

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.

Yixing Master Zhou pours tea SNAP

Zhou runs a small workshop with apprentices.  He had five apprentices who had been studying with him for 6 months to three years.

Yixing Master Zhous workshop w students SNAP Yixing Master Zhou w finished tea pot SNAP

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.

Yixing Qian-Shu Dragon Kiln SNAP

Yixing teapots at commercial gas kiln SNAP

The next day we also visited other gas-fired kilns of a slightly more commercial nature.

Yixing teapots at small kiln SNAP

Yixing teapots loading into small kiln SNAP

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.

Oolong pot seasoning A

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.