Serious tea lovers love their teapots almost as much as tea itself. I recently got a new pot and seasoned it this weekend. In case you’re wondering exactly how to treat your new yi xing treasure, here’s advice from Roy Fong, the resident Teamaster at San Francisco’s Imperial Tea Court:
First, decide which tea your pot will be dedicated to. Especially with highly porous and absorbent yi xing clay, it’s best to use a separate pot for each type of tea. That way the pot reinforces, rather than conflicts with, your goal of making great tea. But actually this is putting the cart before the horse, as every pot is best suited to certain varieties of tea.
Take a generous-sized pan and fill it with enough cold water to submerge your new pot. Place the pot and lid in the water, with the lid removed from the pot and knob-end down, and ideally not touching the pot. The goal is to maximize the exposure of clay surfaces to the liquid in the pan.
Warm the pan on medium heat until it’s steaming but not boiling. The reason you don’t want it to boil it is that could rock the pot or lid, possibly causing them to chip. You don’t want to do that to a new pot! When the water approaches boiling, turn down the heat to the lowest setting to keep it just below a boil.
Let the pot “cook” in the hot water for an hour or two to expand and open up its pores. You’ll probably notice lots of tiny bubbles emerging from the pot’s surface. That’s what you want to see!
After the pot has steamed awhile, toss a couple of generous handfuls of the appropriate type of tea (e.g., green oolong, high-fired oolong, pu erh) into the water. Use tea as close as possible to the quality of the tea you’ll actually brew. Add boiling water from a kettle as necessary to keep the water level above the top of the pot, but again, try to keep the water just below boiling temperature. Let the pot stew in the tea broth for at least a couple of hours.
Finally, turn off the heat and let the entire mixture, including your pot, cool to room temperature. I usually do this step overnight. When it’s cool, carefully fish out the pot and lid and remove any stray leaves, but don’t rinse. Invert them on a paper towel to dry (you can use a cloth towel, but the strong tea mixture is likely to stain). When they’re completely dry, buff with a soft cloth to polish and remove any residue. Your new pot is on its way to a beautiful patina!
By the way, if you’re wondering, yi xing is pronounced approximately “ee shing.” It’s a city in eastern China near Suzhou that’s endowed with rich deposits of a special type of clay that’s ideal for teapots—they’ve been made in the area for hundreds of years.