Yixing Clay Teapots: A Traditional Style of Tea Brewing

Yixing clay teapots, also known as Zisha teapots, are a type of teapot that originated in China during the 15th century. These teapots are made from clay produced near Yixing in the eastern Chinese province of Jiangsu. Archaeological excavations reveal that potters near Yixing were already using local “zisha” clay to make utensils that may have functioned as teapots as early as the Song dynasty in the 10th century.

Yixing teapots are intended for pu-erh, black, and oolong teas but can also be used for green or white teas. These teapots have unique heat retention characteristics, which can make the brewing process challenging, especially for green or white teas. The water must be heated to no greater than 85 °C (185 °F) before pouring into the teapot.

Characteristics and Use

Yixing teapots are famous for their ability to absorb trace amounts of brewed tea flavors and minerals into the teapot with each brewing. Over time, these accumulate to give each Yixing teapot its own unique interior coating that flavors and colors future brewings. It is for this reason that soap is not recommended for cleaning Yixing teapots, but instead, fresh distilled water and air drying.

The type of clay used has a great impact on the characteristics of the teapot. There are three major color types of Zisha clays: Purple, Red, and Beige. Tianqing clay, a subtype of the purple variety, has historically been the most sought-after due to its rarity. This clay is distinguished from the generic purple type by its dark liver color after firing, its sandier texture, and its higher permeability, leading to greater formation of a distinctive semitransparent patina.

Some Yixing teapots are smaller than their western counterparts as they are often used for the gongfu style of brewing: shorter steeping durations with smaller amounts of water and smaller teacups. Traditionally, the tea from the teapot is poured into either a small pitcher or into several teacups for guests.

Hand Made Yixing Teapot

Manufacturing and History

Yixing teapots are made in Dingshan, also known as Dingshu, on the west side of Lake Tai. Hundreds of teapot shops line the edges of the town’s crowded streets, and it is a popular tourist destination for many Chinese. While Dingshan is home to dozens of ceramics factories, Yixing Zisha Factory Number 1, which opened in 1958, processes a large part of the clay used in the region, produces fine pottery ware, and has a large commercial showroom.

In the past, Yixing teapots were popular with the scholarly class during the reign of the Zhengde Emperor in the Ming dynasty. A monk from Jinsha Temple in Yixing handcrafted a fine quality teapot from local clay, which soon became famous. Today, many tea connoisseurs steep only one type of tea in a particular Yixing teapot, so future brewings of the same type of tea will be optimally enhanced.

Why Yixing Teapot so Expensive


Yixing teapot prices can range from a few dozen to thousands of yuan, with some fetching millions at auction. Factors influencing the price include the age, clay type, artist, style, and production method. Hand-shaped pots made with wooden and bamboo tools tend to command a higher price, while cheaper ones are made using slipcasting techniques. In general, the price of a Yixing teapot reflects its quality and craftsmanship.


Yixing clay teapots are a traditional style of tea brewing that originated in China during the 15th century. These teapots are made from clay produced near Yixing and have unique heat retention characteristics. The type of clay used has a great impact on the characteristics of the teapot, and Tianqing clay is historically the most sought-after. Today, Yixing teapots are still popular with tea connoisseurs who steep only one type of tea in each pot to fully appreciate its flavor. Yixing teapots require proper care and seasoning to maintain their quality, but with the right techniques, they can last for generations. Overall, Yixing clay teapots are a beautiful and functional piece of tea culture that is worth exploring for any tea lover.

Leave a Reply