Yixing: How has this ever worked?

This time-skipping story begins sometime around a year ago, give or take a month. I was admiring uber-expensive teapots in Teavana when a helpful, if traitorous, employee noted that most teapots go on steep clearance around and after Christmas/New Years.

Naturally I ended up with spending money around that time and found two that I really liked. One was a second tetsubin for special occasions, the other was an adorable mouse-shaped Yixing pot. They were both a great deal, but I felt so bad I spent so much time in the store talking off employees’ ears and I’d ended up spending so little on the pots, that I bought cast iron standards for both… Definitely the last time I’ll be inclined to be generous there.

Having read about it somewhere previously, I had been intrigued by the idea of Yixing’s purple clay. If Teavana’s sales pitch is to be taken as being in anyway credible, Yixing are great for brew masters because the highly porous surface absorbs minerals from each steep. In theory, (at least in my mind at the time) one could brew several varieties of a specific type of tea, say Chun Mee for instance, and overtime the flavors would merge into a Super Chun (the 8 Dora Red Dragon Yakuhai to end all Chun perhaps).

Great, so time to experiment. Jump ahead another few months: I’ve settled on brewing only Golden Yunnan in the mouse. Several attempts have yielded good results, but nothing really indicating a ground swelling toward Super Yun. Then last week, after only six months, I had to throw the mouse pot away.

I’d unfortunately been operating under the misguided assumption that the purple clay pores had been engineered to perfection. When I’d forgotten to clean out the pot’s last steep and left it on the counter for a couple weeks, the many pores had turned the damp tea into a fierce mold that quickly migrated into clay itself.  I have little doubt if I’d kept it in its current state, in six months I’d have a Chia Mouse. Horribly gross.

Obviously, the moral of the story is that if you want to use Yixing, not only do you have to clean out it out thoroughly after every steep (actually quite difficult if the lid opening is narrower than the diameter of a quarter as mine was), but you should also probably keep it locked away in Tupperware, and don’t expect it to last forever.

But then, doesn’t this screwup seem to pose the question: how exactly were the pre-20th Century Chinese successful at maintaining their Yixing? Did they keep them submerged in water?  If anyone who happens upon this doggerel is actually an expert with Yixing, I’d love to know your secret. Though, perhaps it’s too late. Tea is a hobby, and like any hobby, it can quickly become expensive. I doubt very much I’ll have the spending money for another teapot in the near future.

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