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China 2017 -Day 1 & 2 - Yixing

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Michelle has travelled to China for a two week trip to source tea and teaware. The aim of this and every tea journey we take is to forge new partnerships and cement old ones. Her trip will take her to many different areas, where we hope to source new teas and revisit farms we already buy from. The following series of blogs will document her trip.


Yixing maker finishing a teapot

After arriving in Shanghai we took a car across to Yixing, the capital of pottery and more specifically Dingshan town where the streets are lined with individual pottery shops selling thousands of Yixing teapots. Yixing teapots are made using a very special unglazed clay material called 'Zisha clay' - this clay has many special characteristics which makes it one of the best materials in the world from which to make a teapot.

When the clay is properly refined it produces a type of pottery that is highly absorbent. There is a legend that once you have used a Yixing teapot many times you can reach a point where adding boiling water alone you can make tea because the pot holds enough of the tea flavour.

Across the town we saw artisans and craftspeople working in their shops - often multigenerational - the shelves held an array of colours - Yixing clay occurs naturally in four characteristic colours - most common is purple but there is also light buff, cinnamon and green. Other colours are created by mixing the clay.

Tea set up in a Yixing shop

As you walk around the tea shops you quickly become able to separate out pots that are part hand made part mould made (ban shoo gong)  and pots that are fully hand made (quan shou gong). Both have their own merits and beauty but the prices are of course quite significantly different! 
Getting passionate about the pots.
At 10pm at night in the back of a store in Dingshan we came across a 20 year old man who even at this late hour continues to learn his craft. Just two years into his training he already makes beautiful handmade pots. 

Today we travelled to see the clay mines, a pot producing factory and examined teapot making in greater detail with individual makers. Every moment was truly fascinating. We filmed a great deal of the process of making these beautiful pieces of teaware. Below is just a section of this intricate process. After forming the walls of the teapot a piece must be fitted that will eventually be cut back out to form the lid. The precision and patience required is extraordinary.
Whilst the experience of the makers is clearly obvious and problems that a non-potter would face have long since disappeared, the one issue that is not avoidable is the weather. In the summer it is too dry for teapot making and the clay cracks ,in the winter is is too cold - this affects the number of making days a year.
Whilst watching each stage of the process we learnt more about the different Yixing clays. Jiang Po Ni which is normally slightly reddish then some of it goes browny - sometimes you get strange seams that run across giving nuances in colouring. Zhu Ni one of the big families with sub groups of red through to orange with coarse or fine. Another big classification is Xi Ni which means purple clay from aubergine through to plum with some quite red some dark grey. Next is Duan Ni which is a family that goes from pure white through to yellows and lighter greens. You also have more earthly colours like Di Cao Qing and then Qing Shui Ni (which is earthy but fine in texture). There are many more intricacies that can be examined and I will examine these in more detail on my return. We left Yixing inspired by what we had seen and keen to find some excellent tea to go in such beautiful pots.

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  • Allan Robson on

    Think I may have to hint for a teapot for my birthday. Looking forward to further posts.

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