Sunday, August 1, 2010

Time to Retire a Favorite Yixing Teapot

I loaded my favorite zhu ni (cinnabar clay) teapot with Roy's signature Monkey-Picked Tie Guan Yin and was preparing to brew a savory pot to take the chill off of a typical San Francisco summer day. As I added a dash of hot water to rinse the leaves, there was a crisp click, a sound like one tick of the clock that teapot lovers dread. I'd read about this phenomenon and now, unhappily, I've experienced it first-hand. Zhu ni teapots are more vulnerable to cracking under thermal stress than pots made from other types of yi xing clay. Lovely to look at and the ideal vessel to enhance a good tie guan yin, these temperamental beauties are hard to pot well due to the clay's relatively large shrinkage rate. In addition, top-quality zhu ni clay with the high iron content that gives the pottery its distinctive deep reddish orange color has become quite rare. As a result, good zhu ni pots are expensive, if you're lucky enough to find one.

My pot was a gift from a tea-loving friend a few years back and whenever we got together to brew tea we enjoyed noting how its rich patina was developing over time. In the almost magical way that the right pot can interact with its preferred tea and improve it, this pot seemed to love tie guan yin and could be relied on to balance flavors, remove any harshness from overfiring, and release a delightful aroma cloud when the water hit the leaves.

Given all of that I should have been more patient and cautious when brewing, taking extra time to slowly bring the pot up from room to brewing temperature before adding leaves. A tea boat might have helped. But, eager to drink the tea I expected the pot to deliver, and perhaps overconfident from my experience with sturdy zi sha and ping zi ni yi xing teapots, I poured hot water right into the pot, causing it to crack like a dropped egg.

The pot is still intact (although with visible cracks) but it will never again brew a fine pot of tea. I'll keep it on the shelf, looking handsome with the soft glow of many happy tea sessions in the past. It will be a gentle reminder to take extra care when brewing tea in zhu ni, and alway have a seasoned backup teapot in the cabinet.

1 comment:

Adam Yusko said...

Sorry to hear of your loss. Its hard to explain to others, but for tea lovers loosing a treasured piece of teaware can seem almost like loosing a pet.