Saturday, April 18, 2009

Tea time.


I
started collecting Chinese teapots long ago, buying ones here and there over time. To be honest, I've never used them as teapots, just art pieces that I appreciate for their beauty. It wasn't until I renovated my kitchen recently that I've been finally able to display them all. To most Westerners, they're probably very odd looking - nothing like the refined porcelain teapots that the English serve their tea in. I think Chinese pots are more whimsical in design - some are downright ugly but just to the point that they're actually *cute*....at least in my eyes :-)


On a trip to Las Vegas many, many years ago, I even found a collection of miniature Chinese teapots in a Discovery Shop. Of course, I had to have them :-)

Chinese teapots, like a lot of other things *Chinese* have a long history. The teapot making center of China is Yixing ("Yee-shing") which is located about 200 kilometers northwest of Shanghai. The clay in Yixing, often referred to as Zisha (Purple Sand), is unique to the region. Zisha is made up of iron, quartz, and mica, and is naturally a purple color. It is also free of lead, arsenic, cadmium, and other toxic materials that are typically found in other forms of clay.

Yixing clay teapots are typically unglazed because zisha is highly prized for its porous nature which is excellent at absorbing the flavor of the tea brewed in it. Over a period of time, a Yixing teapot is literally infused with tea flavor. True Chinese tea connoisseurs will only dedicate a single flavour of tea to each teapot to maintain the pure taste of the tea and not be contaminated by cross-brewing.

Yixing teapots first appeared during the Song Dynasty (960-1279 AD) but they did not reach popularity until Ming Dynasty (15th century) when they started to become regarded as fine sculpture pieces in addition to being utilitarian items.

Chinese teapots are small by western standards because they are generally designed for a single drinker and the Chinese historically drank the tea directly from the spout. The rationale behind the single serving size is because it is felt that small portions allow the flavor of the tea to be better concentrated, controlled and then repeated....and, it is wasn't until the pots were introduced to Europe in the 17th century that tea cups appeared. I just have the pots....no need for matching teeny, weeny teacups.

I won't have time to visit Yixing on this trip but I'm certain I have room in my backpack to bring a little souvenir back - teapots don't take up much space :-)