This city’s good at keeping secrets, not least on where exactly to buy yixing teapots in Vancouver. The question came to mind when I stumbled upon the Poly Cultural Centre, an unassuming little gallery in the financial district which regularly hosts fine Asian crafts and tangible Chinese cultural artifacts… for free!
The centre is currently hosting a collection of master yixing Chinese teapots throughout the hall. No pomp and fanfare, no real marketing to speak of, just these fine pieces that collectively represent the pinnacle of Chinese teaware craft and the stoic simplicity of the Tao-Confuscian ethic made flesh. Here are a few examples from my visit.
While you admire these artistically explorative and distinctive pots – each the result of a different contemporary craftperson’s take on this age-old practice – I want to take the chance to preface yixing, zisha teaware and the way these pots have become the indispensable element in the gungfu cha tea ceremony and where your best bet is to buy yixing teapots in Vancouver’s burgeoning tea culture that might suite your needs.
First attested during the Song dynasty some time between the tenth and thirteenth centuries, unglazed purple sand clay “zisha” pots became the adjunct of the glazed porcelain vessels favoured by the Imperial seat at the time. With the finest examples of this clay starting to be excavated in the mineral deposits surrounding Yixing city in China’s southern Jiangsu province, these simple, rotund pieces revealed a porousness and breathability that was found to yield a subtle distillation to the newly favoured loose-leaf brews. The clay provided an interface between the leaves inside and the air without, offering a gentle oxygen kiss while sealing the heat inside to provide a soup of robust flavour and effervescent texture, modulating slightly with each steep.
The story goes that, as the Songs yielded their celestial seat to the interloping Yuan Dynasty, the former nobles measured their distain of the decadent Yuan’s by cultivating the staid beauty of these brownish-purple, rough-finished vessels. As they did so, they found the clays to both mature as they imperceptibly retained the aromatic oils and nutrients of each steep while lending subsequent brews the rarefied essence and pallet of every tea that went before. Like all tea art, these ceramic pieces both became the living testament of its owner’s refined tea practice, each brew adding to the subtle palimpsest of flavours, aromas and intangible spirit of the leaves that went before it while value and desirability through use. A fine pot expresses its master’s taste not only in the delightful shape and discrete charm of a beautifully burnished vessel, but in the teas with which she chose to baptize this most ethereal of tea tools.
Where to buy yixing teapots in Vancouver
Although Vancouver has a blossoming list of tea-and especially Chinese tea-retailers, those from which you can reliably source yixing tea pots remain few and far between. The Chinese Tea Shop has a wide selection of teaware that ranges from inexpensive, machine-molded clays of lesser quality (for those still finding their tea legs), to an impressive collection of antique, artisanal pots of fine provenance – many of the latter behind glass cases!
Slightly newer to the scene is Silver Crescent. Although primarily a tea café boasting a variety of brews sourced directly from the fields of Yunnan Province, Silver Crescent also sells loose-leaf, cakes and importantly an elegant selection of yixing pots. Step into the storefront nestled humbly in the blustery business district and ask specialist Erick Smithe about the best teapot for you while trying an option from their tasting menu hand selected by Smithe.
The more you evolve your tea practice, the more you realize the indispensability (and sheer diversity) of this cultural patrimony that’s as enthralling to observe as it is subtle to utilize. And no matter where you are on your tea path, if in Vancouver step out of the hubbub of frantic finance-couver and into the nondescript Poly Culture Centre to season your admiration of this most worldy of substances anew.
Essence in Zisha: Eastern Intangible Cultural Heritage of Yixing Stoneware is on now at Poly Culture Centre at no cost until May 31, 2018: #100-905 W Pender Street