How much to spend on yixing
Despite a deep and lasting obsession with pu-erh, I have been putting off the purchase of a yixing pot.
Firstly, for many years I simply couldn’t understand why I’d want to make so little tea at a time. I used a tea pot to make lots of tea. But I’m past this hurdle now.
Secondly, ignorance. I am always very cautious when I look at a “product” and realize that I can spend $50, $100, $200 or $1,000 or… even more. How on earth do you know where the balance between “good enough” and “too expensive” is?
But I’m about to embark on an exploration of raw pu-erh tea (almost all my pu-erh experience to this point is with fermented) and I want to do this as thoroughly as I can, and so it seems that the time for yixing has come.
Camellia sinensis dot com has a 250ml yixing for a mere $45 (The Mr. Shao CS-C). I am tempted, of course, to jump all over this. Nearly twice as big and half the price of most yixing I see everywhere else.
But does this mean I’m getting something so vastly inferior that I might as well have stuck with glazed ceramic pots? Or is it possible that the potter is young and so simply cannot yet command higher fees for his work?
Advice about not bothering to get yixing at all would be unhelpful.
Advice about not bothering with raw pu-erh would be unhelpful.
Advice about how to find that balance between quality and price would be helpful.
Yixing (authentic Yixing) price varies a lot. And in western market, yixing price is not always proportional to quality. It’s very possible to get a good yixing teapot with $45, especially if you already know the seller and trust them.
There are many yixing options over $100 or $1000 that are well worth it. But I think for the first yixing, it’s a good idea to get a less expensive one. Other inexpensive and authentic options I can think of at this moment include yunnansourcing.com and Rishi Tea.
Most inexpensive (but authentic) yixing are semi-handmade, with facilitation of molding tools (but very different from the mold used for slip cast). By American standards and compared with a lot of other commodities, I think this semi-handmade method is more than qualified for “handmade”. But in yixing world, the real handmade ones are those made with sculpting standards and without facilitation of molding tools. Most yixing in the market are semi-handmade, and handmade ones, even by unknown craftsman, could easily get above $150 in Chinese market, and a few times more in western market. If you use yixing teapot as a brewing vessel instead of collecting it as a sculpture work, semi-handmade is good enough.
I agree with Ginko on price range. I’ve seen very fancy looking yixing pots running in the $100s that are really not that great. I recently bought a really nice, very simple yixing pot with a nice clink (indication of high iron content – good for very high temperature brewing) from J-Tea in Eugene, OR for something like $50. It is way better in quality than another yixing pot that I have that costed a lot more (was a gift many years ago).
That is extremely helpful information. Thank you.
I’m not interested in collecting at all, I certainly don’t need yet one more thing in my life I need to find the space to keep and display. I want a small collection of functional pots which are made of the right materials and in the correct manner for brewing better tea.
Yixings grow in value with continued useage. As long as you pour your initial cup of tea over the pot, then brew one to drink, the pot will form a glossy exterior and gain its value. This is the proper care for a Chinese Yixing pot.
Yixings are made with a purple clay, and this clay absorbs the tea flavours, seasoning the pot with prolonged usage. Hence, Yixings are reccommended for use with only one tea.
Being as that you enjoy pu-erh teas, it would work beautifully.
Pu-erh’s are generally black, so as far as finding one not fermemted: it would be very difficult.
I know it sounds weird, and it’s really not the most useful advice for someone who wants a pot now (ie: online), but here it is:
I do not recommend buying a pot from someone you don’t already know and trust. I’m not saying this because there are scammers out there (and sure, there are). I’m saying this because an yixing pot is something you’re going to invest a lot of time in raising. You’re investing your time into this thing: at the very least, it’ll hold your favorite flavors to give back to you. At best, it’ll hold memories of time spent with friends, loved ones- moments of your life.
If you’re going to get one, you might as well get something that will make the growing (the “yang”-ing) worth while. I think of these things like little pet rocks. You wouldn’t want to go order your kitten or puppy online from a huge catalog without getting to know the breeders or meeting the animals in person first. I don’t know.. I’m just not a fan of purchasing these kinds of highly personal objects sight-unseen.
Also, if you buy from someone you know or at least respect, it will increase your appreciation for the pot and the pleasure you get out of using it. Take myself for instance. I didn’t really get into teapots until I had lived in China for a little while. I’d visit my friends at the tea market everyday, and I kept seeing all of these lovely pots. I finally bit the bullet to get my first real one, and went to a great shop. They had a whole range of pots.. from gorgeous antiques that were worth more than me, to great beginner pots the shop had commissioned under their own label/seal. I went with a pot that poured well and was made out of purple clay, and it was a great beginner pot. I was more confident in my purchase because I knew the shop owners really well, and they talked me through all of my options. They asked all the right questions: what kind of tea do you want to make? how many people usually drink with you? what’s your budget? do you like this kind of handle or this one? how does this feel in your hand? Watch how this pours.. now compare it to this one. Do you see the difference? And then they showed me what to look for. It was like going to a session with an expert matchmaker, and it taught me about my own taste in teapots.
I went back to the store many times over the year, and they continued to teach me about pots. I look at the pots I have now, and realize how valuable that education was. I started off really uninterested in pots, but now I really love and appreciate them. I can’t imagine buying a pot without meeting it first (without seeing the depth of the clay or the way it feels in my hand).
But anyway.. back to your question. I think for a quality pot in the US, your first pot should fall between $50 and $150. If it’s below $50, it’s not really worth spending too much time on (unless your getting a spanking awesome deal from a friend! in which case.. good for you!). Pots I have seen in this range are usually not very well crafted. Turn the lids, and you’ll hear them grind (nails on a chalk board.eeew!), or they wiggle around furiously in the hole. Pots over $150 could definitely be awesome, but again.. I’m leery of investing so much in something I haven’t gotten to meet. Plus, if it’s your first pot, you don’t want to sink a chunk of money into something you’re not addicted to yet. It really helps to have the context of experience to really appreciate. Or to have friends with really really good pots that you can learn from.
So yes- $50 to $150 is my golden zone for a first pot. Where you fall in between depends on your own budget and the value you place on your first pet rock.
A really good indicator of quality for me is the way the lids fit into the pots. Ceramic really changes in size during the firing process, so only a very good craftsman can get the lid and pot to fit well (they’re separate pieces, after all). If a pot is made in a mold or if it is made by an inexperienced potter, then the top or inside of the pot usually has to be sanded down after firing. Really really great potters are out there that can get a perfect fit on the lid. Add water, and a perfect heat seal is formed! All this without sanding.
So- if the lids turns in the pot with little resistance or grinding, it speaks well to the rest of the pot’s craftsmanship.
I hope you find something you love.
PS: here are some awesome pots for you to look at-> http://yiyanchatang.taobao.com/view_page-13444982.htm
I don’t have the opportunity to travel, and won’t anytime in the next… say… five years. So, meeting actual potters is not going to happen.
Ina city like Houston, even meeting merchants who are selling real pots rather than pretend wall decoration “collectables” is about as likely as the traveling.
Getting to know someone I can trust to sell me a pot is, basically, impossible. Heck, even simply finding a pot worth buying, whether I trust the merchant or not, borders on the impossible.
So, I’m looking at online purchases or nothing, basically.
I have no interest in a pet rock or cultivating a relationship with an inanimate object. I just want better tea. Learning to care for and use a tool properly is one thing, embuing it with an personality is something else enitrely.
To me, $50-150 is a huge price spectrum. Heck, I’ve never even spent $50 on a tea pot. So the primary question is “why would I spend three times as much for pot B as for pot A if I’m not collecting and I’m simply treating it as a tool?” — especially when pot A is already, to my mind, incredibly expensive.
Hey there- just a quick note before I begin. When responding directly to someone’s comment on the forums, it is often helpful to hit the reply bottom next to the comment rather than use the general “Add a Reply” field down at the bottom of the page. This notifies the poster of your reply (often helpful for folks who are not on steepster every day or who have not subscribed to the thread). It also makes the discussions easier for others to follow (ie: if they’re not interested in this particular conversation, they can skip it!).
So, what effects the price of yixing?
Yixing price comes down to basically two things (though these are linked).
2) Clay quality
Well-made pots will cost more. The better the craftsmanship, the higher the price on the pot will be.
Part of the cost of craftsmanship will definitely be the renown of the potter, which is not really all that important. However, it does have an effect on the price, so it must be mentioned. The most famous potters should make the best quality pots, so these command higher prices. However, you’re right- a first time pot is not really concerned with this.
There are also some very practicle reasons to look for a well-made pot. Well-made pots make the best tasting tea for a couple of reasons.
Pour (spout construction and execution)
A pot’s spout effects the rate at which the tea is poured out of the pot. A poorly-made spout will often poor out too slowly. These will also dribble, which is basically just a messy annoyance. You just sunk some change into a tool you’re going to be using for at least a decade- why settle for something that dribbles?
As I mentioned before, high-quality pots should have a lid that fits well into the body of the pot. This makes for a better heat seal. One of the benefits of making tea in an yixing pot is that they hold heat extremely well and keep your tea steeping at a constant temperature. If the lid fits poorly, the pot will loose heat quickly. It is also at a great risk of falling out of the pot and chipping (never fun- you don’t want your tool to break), or of being a generally dribbley pot. Also, the lid construction and fit is a great indication of quality over-all. If the lid grinds, then you shouldn’t be paying for than $30-45 for the pot because it was made in a cast mold. This shouldn’t cost the reseller more than $5 base cost to buy in China, even working through middle-men. If we assume shipping is really expensive, add $2 for shipping for a base cost of $7. Wholesellers like to make at least double their money, so that gives us $14-$15, and retailers (who pay for brick and mortar locations, staff, etc) like to make between 200% and 400%. This gives you an end cost of at least $30.
This is just to give you an idea of the value of the pot vs it’s costs. A grind-y, obviously mold-made pot should not be costing more than $40, or else someone in the supply chain was ripping somebody else off, and you’re paying the price for that unnecessary inflation.
This also greatly influences the price of a pot. Three contributing factors here are clay quality, rarity, and pot size.
The bigger the pot is, the more clay it used. That’s pretty simple. I always recommend small pots for yixing. For example, most of my pots are around 6-8oz, and they can serve 6 comfortably. Anything bigger, and you might as well be using a western-style pot.
As a tool, yixings are designed for gong-fu ceremony, and it is through gong-fu that they give back the best flavor. I find filling the pots with more leaves than usual and doing quick steepings is where yixing gives you back the most interesting things. You get to experience snapshots in time of the full range of a tea’s flavor, instead of compressing then and simplifying them into just one taste. A smaller pot is ultimately more cost effective, since you can get the same experience (20+ steepings, full flavor, etc) using less leaves.
This just reflects the simple demands of the market. The more rare a clay is, the more expensive it is to get your hands on it. The true rare clays usually fall into the hands of the best craftsmen because 1) they can pay for it and 2) the people who have the clay would rather it get used for a nice pot than a crappy pot. This general trend also pushes up the prices for rare clays.
There’s no need to go for a real zhu ni or huang ni pot on your first pot, unless you’re an extreme-collector-type.
A clay is good quality if it will grow well over time and (eventually.. the ultimate goal) if it will give back goodness to the teas you steep in the pot. Higher quality clays are greedy- they are more porous. As a result, they will suck up a lot more tea. Since they suck up more tea, they will also be giving back more in terms of flavor and texture than a pot that is not greedy.
The higher quality clays will of course be just a little more because of demand. Interestingly, greedy pots will also become the most beautiful over time if you take care of them well.
Also, this kind of clay holds heat much better, and so will brew tea better.
Another unrelated thing:
Aesthetics (how nice does the pot look?)
This may seem like a silly thing to pay for on the surface, but it is actually very closely tied to making the most delicious tea.
The more beautiful a pot is to you, the more often you’re going to want to use it. These kinds of things also make using the pot more enjoyable, which (again) means you’ll be more interested in using this tool. A tea pot is, as you say, an extremely fine and powerful tool for making tea, but it is only as good as the time you put into it. The more you use it, the better it becomes.
Also, the more you enjoy using the pot, the better the tea will taste. I’m serious: the placebo effect and the ramifications of ceremony cannot be ignored here if you’re seriously considering investing in an yixing pot. Here’s why.
Yixing pots give the best flavor when used in gong-fu. Even really casual gong-fu enforces just a little bit of ceremony on the drinkers, because you drink short, small steepings out of small cups. Small cups means you have to sip your tea (savor it, taste it), instead of just drinking out of a mug. It’s the difference between drinking to qunch thirst and drinking to appreciate tastes, flavors, textures. This is tea as an experience as opposed to tea as a beverage. Tea that is tasted with care will always taste better, because you are paying attention to it. You are looking for the good things in the cup, and so they are easier to find. It just tastes better, which is awesome.
If your yixing pot can in anyway contribute to this tasting, this ultimately aesthetic experience of the senses, it will in the end also make the tea taste better on a psychological level. Something coming out of a lovely vessel will make your more positively disposed towards the tea that’s coming out of it. This placebo effect should in turn help you taste more interesting things in the tea by helping to make you just a little more open minded and positive.
As you say- an yixing pot is at heart an extremely fine, specialized tool. Compare it to a fine chef’s knife. If you’re going to invest in a good knife and you really care about having one that cuts well for you, then you might as well get a good one. You also have to make sure you’re caring for it properly. For a knife, this will mean using a wetstone and a steel often to keep the blade sharp and straight, not just an automate sharpener once or twice a year. This is what I meant when I spoke of raising and growing (yang-ing) a tea pot. I was speaking of the technical act of actually caring for the teapot well in order to make good tea, not of fetishizing or anthropomorphizing an object unnecessarily.
Caring for your pot
If you’re getting an yixing pot and you want it to give you back the best flavor possible, you’re going to have to care for it properly. The means saving a little bit of each steeping to “feed” the pot (pour over the pot to help more tea get into the pores), letting the pot dry completely between uses (to avoid mold and to help the flavor “set” into the pot… if you use a wet post, then alot of the flavor will just get washed away instead of building up nicely), etc etc etc.
The finer your pot, the more likely you are to use it, and the more likely you are to actually invest the time in caring for the pot properly.
For me, this is what will determine where your pot falls in the $50-$150 spectrum. Basically, how much are you willing to invest? If you don’t want to spend around $50 (40-60ish), then the pot you end up with might not be enough to encourage you to really use the tool well everyday. The pot needs to be nice enough to get you to use it and to like using it, which is why I think you should wait until you see something you really like.
If you’re not interested really in yang-ing a pot and devoting the time to raise one that will give back the best flavor, you might be better off sticking with a smaller glazed pot. This will still give you the power of short steepings and better heat-holding-abilities, but it will give greater flexibility in terms of what kind of tea you can make in it. Since it’s glazed, you can put anything in there! These are also easier to find, plus you cut out the added cost of clay quality, clay rarity, and the fame of the potter.
As for the issue of not knowing anyone you trust.. yes- I know it’s an issue. I’d been thinking about your original post since you posted it, and when I realized what I actually thought, it pained me. I want folks to have good quality pots, but I know they’re hard to find. I would rather someone wait just a little bit and get something really nice than to just settle. I almsot wish that weren’t the case.
However, I do not think all hope is lost. My adivce would be to go out and find folks on the internet that you trust. Steepster is a great place to be looking. I wish I could recommend vendors to you, but I got my pots in China. But I’m an odd-ball; there are many others on Steepster who can put their experience to good use for you. Look for folks whose notes indicate they’re using yixing. Follow them and contact them about yixing. Ask them where they got the pots and who they recommend.
OR- get to know online retailers. If there is a pot you see online that you think is nice and that you might want, contact the sellers. See if they will send you mroe pictures and info about the pot. If they seem to really care about the pot, then they probably do- they probably wouldn’t bring in pots they don’t personally believe in. Try a bunch of their teas. If you really like what you’re tasting, then there’s a good chance that you’ll grow to trust the taste of the shop owners.
I’m a big proponent of actually contacting sellers, so here I am saying it again. If they care about the pots, then they probably brought in pretty good pots. Ask them for advice and about their experiences.
OR- you’re in Houston. It’s been awhile since I visited tea shops around there, but isn’t there a nice community growing around The Path of Tea? And don’t they hold tastings? I say- go to those tastings, stay afterwards, and ask them about pots. They might even be willing to source in something just for you! Even if the shop owner isn’t bringing in yixing, there’s a good chance that the folks who work there might have some yixing and would be able to make recommendations for shops and sellers that they respect.
Well- that’s long..sorry about that. I really hope you can find something great that works for you! I will keep my eye out around town and in my life. If I find a nice group of sellers, I will definitely recommend them to you via private message.
Best of luck, and happy drinking!
@Spoonvonstup – Cool note on the aesthetics aspect. I definitely feel that, in this way, my yixing pot serves as a support to contemplation of the tea I brew in it, every time I use it. And it’s kinda funny… but when I’m feeding (yang-ing) my teapot, it really does feel like I’m drinking with a companion. I definitely experience an increase in my appreciation of the tea, in much the same way that I do when drinking with good company. I think that maybe just having to share some of the brewed tea with the teapot, and hence having less of it to drink myself, makes me invest that much more attention in the cup of tea before me and not take anything about it for granted. Cheers!
All sterling information.
Spoonvonstup has a lot of very pertinent and interesting info. Agree with him and Geoffrey about the aesthetics/tool perception. Also like an artist or skill tradesman, the more you use the pot the more it feels like an extension of you and so it is easier to use. You also develop a better understanding of your and the teapot’s quirks/preferences.
I would reinforce the 50USD price point as the place to start. Anything under 30USD, you really are risking ending up with something potentially dangerous. YiXing was raided by the police earlier this year because of the number of outside people who had opened up shop and were making teapots often not with ZiSha clay. At best it was clay from outside the region, at worse they found some nasty stuff in the clays. Stick with specialist tea sellers online. Avoid China town!
YiXing teapots are very much a personal choice and you may find your preferences evolve. If you have the chance/budget try two different clays/styles for your two puer tea types which seem to be your passion. See how the teapots mature and find out what you like/dislike about the teapots.
It is very difficult to recommend a specific style, so a long search is ahead for you until you find the one that jumps out at you. A couple of classic starting YiXing teapots are the Fang Gu and Xi Shi. Easy to use, developed over a long time and used by a lot of tea lovers everywhere. Tried and tested as they say.
I would have to disagree with Spoonvonstup on the size issue. There is no rule saying tea must be made in small teapots. There are a lot of very nice 300ml ++ pots around. We have a lot of friends in YiXing, Shanghai, ZheJiang etc. who only use large teapots especially for green tea, puer and black teas like YiXing Hong Cha. I guess the only thing will be in the US your choice may be limited and obviously the price will be a little high because of the amount of clay.
Rather than witter on. Here are a couple of links to some overviews we have written. Hope they will be of interest.
Overview of YiXing ZiSha and YiXing teapots.
How to select a new YiXing teapot;
I am sure you will enjoy your purchase whenever you find the right teapot. YiXing teapots are a great investment and bring a lot of pleasure to your tea making.
“I will keep my eye out around town and in my life. If I find a nice group of sellers, I will definitely recommend them to you via private message.”
I too would be interested in your Pu-erh yixing clay pot recommendations.
I noticed you mentioned a CS yixing pot in your original post. I’m not sure how good Mr. Shao Teapot CS-C is, but I have the Mr. Shao Teapot CS-H (125ml) for oolong and I’m quite pleased with the results so far. At the very least, I don’t think they’re too shabby.
I think vendors’ connections (and markups) vary a lot. There are some quite decent pots available for $20-50; however, most of what you will find from most western retail vendors in that price range will not be good. I don’t have any really good suggestions for vendors, but I think it’s hard to define a price range where you’ll be sure to get a decent pot – the sad fact is that if you pay $150, you may be getting something that’s inferior to a $30 pot from another shop.
As others have alluded to, you will probably make mistakes on your first purchase, even if you do a lot of research, so don’t spend too much. Also, while there isn’t much alternative for folks who don’t live near a lot of shops that sell Yixing, buying pots online is a really tricky business.
I know this might fall into your “unhelpful advice” category, but depending on what raw pu’er you’re talking about, I really think you should evaluate whether you need a Yixing teapot. For many raw pu’ers, especially young ones (
I am getting two tea sets from purepuer.com. No, I don’t work for them! I just have a large order in for Christmas and they have been amazing so I have mentioned them in several posts! One set is the glazed white porcelain oval tea set and the other is one of the cheapest Yixing pots. I didn’t want to put a lot into it for my first one. If they are marked by a well known potter the price goes up tremendously. I saw one article that said for starters, just make sure it doesn’t smell muddy when you take the lid off, as well made Yixing will have no odor.
I don’t think that it should have “no odor”. The best description I’ve seen of the smell you should be looking for is “hot rocks”. In other words, it should have a kind of mineral-y smell.
Thanks, Will! I will be sure when I am checking for muddy odor to see if I can pick up a hot rocks scent! Hey, as drinkers of subtle teas, we should be able to pick up on that, right? :). I am really excited about using these! Just six more days…
Jim – how is your pot hunting going? Did you end up buying something, and if so, how do you like it so far?
I need some advice on how to prevent mildew from forming in my Yixing pot. I allow my pot to completely dry (sometimes even two days) before I return it to it’s sitting position with the lid on. Why, then, is there mildew forming inside? I do not believe it is limescale since it has a fuzzy appearance, and I use filtered water. I am very frustrated because I am sure this pot is ruined. I am hoping that there is a way to clean this pot and prevent it from happening again. Any advice would be appreciated!
As Tea Merchant said, the best way to clean the mold out now is to re-boil and re-season the pot.
What’s your process for finishing a session with your yixing pot?
If you’re not already doing this, here’s what I might recommend. After you remove all of the tea leaves, do a quick swish with boiling water to make sure you’ve removed all of the small debris. Empty it out.
Then, pour fresh boiling water into the pot and cover with the lid. Pour boiling water over the pot, too. Let this sit for a few minutes (until the pot is cooler to touch).
Pour out the water, making sure to check inside for small debris again. Don’t pour it all out right away.. save a little bit to swish and pour out of the top (rather than the spout).
THen pour in just boiled water, replace the lid, and pour boiling water over the pot one more time. Pour our right away, and remove the lid.
Using boiling water as a “rinse” should help with 1) finding any little particles and getting rid of them.. 2) making sure that the last thing to touch the pot was super hot so that it evaporates very quickly (instead of cool water that sits and evaporates over two days). The boiled water should evaporate off the hot pot within a minute. I find this more ideal than having water evaporate off of a cold or room temperature pot, since no dampness can stick around in the dark, cool recesses of the pot and spout.
At this point, you can also take a very clean piece of cloth or suede (you can even dedicate one to your yixing pots) to lightly rub the outside of your pot. If you do have hard water, this will help to even out any water residue. You can even have a little bowl of boiling hot water to (lightly!) dip the cloth in and rub on the outside of the pot.
Finally, you could even use a dry part of that cloth to pat away moisture left on the inside of the pot.
All of these things should help the pot dry quickly, without tiny leaf residue, and with less hard-water buildup (or at least more evenly distributed build-up). None of these are required, and you can experiment with what works for you, but since you’re having so many issues with mold, I would suggest doing as many of these steps as you can, and then slowly removing whatever steps don’t work for you over time.
One more quick tip: be sure you’re checking the spout for loose leaf debris. Sometimes small particles can get stuck in the filters. I find bobby pins (with the end-protectors removed) or thing pu’er needles (or just plain needles!) helpful for getting in there and manually removing anything that doesn’t want to come out with blasting water wrong-way through the spout.