Yunnan Jianshui Zitao Teapots

Yunnan Jianshui Zitao Teapots
February 17, 2019 Tea Hong
In Nature of Things

As the clay mines in Yixing approach depletion, price of the raw materials simply rockets and people are looking elsewhere for high quality substitutes. Jianshui Zitao has gained popularity lately not as a replacement for the purple clay, however, but as a totally different approach in specialty teaware making. 

The infusion effect rivals that of Yixing. Zitao is also seasonable — that means the ware can improve in appearance upon repeated usage. Those who are more familiar with real Yixing products would also notice that the surface of Zitao is finer and smoother. 

Making of Zitao teapot on a thrower's wheel

A Zitao teapot is made on a thrower’s wheel, essentially different from a Yixing teapot, which is slab-built.

Its physical appearance is not only a result of the unique clay, but also how the teapots are made — they are formed on a potter’s wheel and not slab-built like a Yixing. The clay is thrown to form and carved and polished for accuracy.

That is why a Zitao teapot has its own appeal. Its recent uprising has in effect carved a share of the market that had previously been virtually monopolised by Yixing teapots and imitations.

This wonderful clay has its origin in Jianshui, which has always claimed a position as the four main pottery centres in China. Its products have found their ways in loyal tombs and other key archaeological sites far away. Making of specialty teapots, however, is relatively new.

Jianshui is a county 3 hours south of Kunming, the provincial capital of Yunnan. The fineness of the clay from here is something between those from Yixing and the Kaolin for porcelain. The particle size of a fine Kaolin is between 25 ~ 35 micrometer, which is very, very fine, while that of a Jianshui zitao is between 50 ~ 75 μm, and a Yixing zisha 150 μm and up. 

The larger Yixing zisha particle plays a role in the porosity and heat insulation of the ware. This in turn affect the infusion result. This gives Yixing teapots their capability for producing smoother and rounder infusion. The finer Zitao usually renders a relatively sharper effect and more accentuated aroma. 

For me, I would use such ware for these kinds of teas:

  • Teas with great aromas, such as Eight Immortals Wudong, Eternal Spring etc
  • Teas which are already quite delicate, such as Biluochun Regal, Keemun Traditional etc
  • Matured teas that are supple enough and with an aroma that I want to highlight, such as Red Jade, Premodern Peony etc

Although to most people, making tea with a nice teapots happens maybe only once or twice a day, some even once a week, having the proper tool does make that rare moment more worthwhile.

A white clay mine in Jianshui, Yunnan

A white clay mine in Jianshui, Yunnan
Ore from the mine is used to produce bai-ni teapots such as the Reverse Handle Concubine by Wang Zhi Ping in this shop

All proper Zitao teapots should be treated like a Yixing teapot, including cleaning, priming and usage. In case you forget:

Initial Cleaning:

  1. Wash with non-abrasive cleaning cloth in cold water, no detergent
  2. Submerge totally in cold water overnight
  3. Wash again and then submerge again in cold water in a pot/saucepan and bring to a boil, let boil for 5 minutes
  4. Drain and wash again in cold water
  5. Go to next step — priming

Priming:

  1. Submerge totally again in cold water in a pot/saucepan and bring to a boil
  2. Turn off heat
  3. Add the kind of tealeaves you would use for this particular teapot into the hot water in the pot/saucepan 
  4. Cover and let stand overnight
  5. Drain and wash in cold water
  6. Let air-dry
  7. Your teapot is ready for use

Usage:

  1. One teapot for one type of tea only
  2. Repeated usage will continue to season the teapot
  3. A seasoned teapot allows for improved infusion effect
  4. A used teapot can be cleaned using the initial cleaning steps and then re-primed for another tea 

Cleaning:

  1. Empty the teapot after use
  2. Rinse with near boiling water
  3. Let air-dry
  4. Never use detergent or soap to clean your teapot

To see our Zitao teapot collection and other Yixing teapots, click <here>.

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