Yixing pots grow with their owner and become an outward reflection of her internal tea practice
With fall marshalling in the distance, September is the best time to make sure your yixing teapot gets you through the cold front that's probing the horizon. As the dawning teaficionado naturally learns, our best pots undergo seasonal changes as well. Overtime, the rough, sandy finish of first purchase smoothes into an amethyst lustre with evolving mineral tones. As this process unfolds, a sheen or patina brightens the surface of a true yixing pot which alters impalpably like the revolution of the stars. Overtime, the condition of a teapot becomes the stamp and outward evidence of its owner's sublime tea practice.
If you haven't already, check out our article on where to buy yixing teapots in Vancouver before we talk seasons!
The process and for some rite of initiating a new teapot by immersing it in boiling water and sometimes leaves (see below), prepares the vessel to nurture your tea. As time passes, the pot-being of a highly porous nature-will absorb the oils and aromas of each steep. It is therefore imperative to start early, before you brew your first leaves.
There's a ton of online resources to get your new teapot ready for the season. But if it's your first (or tenth) time seasoning a pot, below are some additional best practices to follow and pitfalls to avoid.
Yixing pots are a vessel for tea as well as their own self-contained works of art
In the season
The craft and manufacture of yixing teapots is an involved process. From the mineral-rich ore mined in increasingly depleted supply in eastern China, the fine dust it's ground into and the sand it's sifted from, to the various processing methods-from rarefied handmade vessels to complete machine manufacture-that give it final shape, the specimen that eventually sits plumb in the palm of your hand really begins its journey only when you decide the character, texture and spirit the teapot will live by.
It is natural then that a little sand dust will rustle at the bottom of the pot when you first bring it home (although some retailers, like The Chinese Tea Shop, often preseason their pots before sale.) Similarly, take the coarse, unglazed finish of your pot as an invitation to impart it with your own style: a challenge to cultivate your individual tea art and have that glisten through the pot you sustain it with.
If your working with a stainless steel boiler, you should line the bottom with a towel to avoid vibrations and breakage.
When Yixing teapot and water meet
In short, boil clean water with as little chlorine content as possible, let it simmer and steep your new pot (separately from the lid) with the same care and attention you bring to any brew. As you can see in the picture above, I prepared my own pots in a simple tin pan. One tip provided by Don from Mei Leaf (see video below) is to line the bottom of your pan with a towel to guard against any rattling of pot against metal that might disturb the vibrations of the clay, or worse, introduce physical damage.
Use an unbleached, white towel so that no additional colours or dyes leach into the water and marinate your pot. Given how porous this clay is, you don't want give it the sour tang of chemical manufacture from the offing.
Once the pot meets water, turn off the heat source and allow the vessel to percolate to room temperature. You may even want to dip and rinse your pot a few times with the water to make sure the dust sediments are removed, emptying it and repeating the process all over again with new water.
Steeping with leaves
Now comes the simmering question: to leaf or not to leaf? As suggested earlier, yixing teapots not only prepare the tea you will drink, but in a sense become the tea itself. That is to say, a true yixing clay pot will imbibe the essences and aromas of each steeping, most notable in the first several dozen pours, yet in a process that continues in a gradual arc over a pot's long career.
Whether you want to dedicate your pot to a specific class of tea (oolong, black, puerh) or a varietal within that class (Tieguanyin, Hei Cha, shou) is pretty much up to you (and your budget). As you get to know your teas and teapots better, you will be better positioned to decide whether to express the panoply of your tea taste within the complex character of one vessel, or to christen an individual pot to bring out the inscrutable body and complexity of one type or subtype of tea.
The only caveat is that you make the decision now and see it through.
From here, you may optionally add a healthy batch of fine-quality leaves of your tea of choice to the tin pan in the second stage of the preparation process, removing from the heat source (so the tea doesn't keep brewing and lend an overly astringent coating to your pot). The other method is to steep your tea in the pot as you normally would when serving tea, emptying the brewed liquid in a large vessel and repeating the process until you've filled it with enough pre-steepings to be able to fully submerge your pot and lid and let them sit that way for up to 24 hours.
Even though it looks dry on the outside, there could still be moisture deep inside the pores. Let your teapot dry for up to 24 hours before your first brew.
Develop your own practice
I have personally determined not to take this final step that would otherwise speed up the development of a patina as some guides recommend, rather allowing my pots to season organically, in the natural tone and rhythms of my tea practice. This is an individual choice, however, and in line with how I view the evolution of my relationship with tea. But as with tea as a whole, you are the final arbiter of your own practice, allowing yourself the time and space to expand like oolong leaves – modifying, experimenting and adapting your style according to your own taste and experience.
After letting the pot sit for about a day until the pores have thoroughly dried, it's finally ready to begin its much longer trajectory of serving you and your guests innumerable servings along what will be a fertile tea journey. From there, find your favourite loose leaf source in Vancouver and experiment with different teas to see what liquid life your next pot will be most suited to nourish.