The Tea Detective
Uncovering and Exploring the Facts About Tea
Buying Yixing Teapots - You Get
What You Pay For
Yixing earthenware teapots have been around since the Ming dynasty (1368-
1644), and are still made today, in demand not only for their beauty but also
because of their practicality and superb function when
brewing tea.
Yixing teapots may look fra-
gile, but the zisha clay from
which they're made tolerates
near boiling water without cracking, retains
the original color without fading, and doesn't
give off or retain any odors.

With careful use and handling these teapots
will last a lifetime and beyond. In fact, it's not
unusual to see antique Yixing teapots for
sale that are sixty, eighty, or even one-hun-
dred years old that look almost new, with no
apparent wear or age markings.

The first consideration when buying a
Yixing
teapot is its use-is it to be a functional pot in
which to brew tea, or is it purely decorative
or to add to a collection.  Yixing teapots are
made from zisha clay and found in a variety of earthtone colors
ranging from red to yellow to black, as well as rose-brown, dark
brown (the most prized color-called purple sand or zisha), light
brown, and purple-red hues, all depending on the earth pigments
in the clay.

Some Yixing teapots are painted but you can tell the true color of
the pot by looking inside, which is left natural and unglazed.  Some
things to consider if buying a functional Yixing
teapot in which you plan to brew tea are:

How does it pour? - Some teapot designs
are pretty to look at, but when it comes to
functionality and actually pouring tea, the
design or shape of the spout gets in the
way.  This can also pertain to the handle-
be sure you can comfortably hold and pour
without burning your fingers on the side of
the teapot (imagine it filled with
hot tea-
could you comfortably hold and pour), or is
it awkward and does the design of the
handle put your hand or fingers too close
in contact with the side of the teapot?

Does the lid have a proper, snug fit? - The
lid must be well fitted and snug with no gaps
gaps or uneven edges where the heat and
steam can escape during steeping-one of the most important steps when
brewing tea.

          
Does the teapot have a smooth finish both inside and out? - Most Yixing teapots (except
          for the very basic, inexpensive machine made pots) are rubbed with a piece of water
          buffalo horn to smooth and burnish both the inside and outside surface, and are signed
          with the chop mark of the potter on the bottom of the teapot and the lid (this is another
          way to verify authenticity).

          
The size and cost of the teapot - Yixing teapots range in size
          from 1/2 cup to four cups.  Look for a pot that holds at least
          two cups of tea.  You should be able to find a beautiful, class-
          ic, well designed machine or handmade pot for between $40
          and $80.

          Yixing teapots range in price from $10 to $20 for a basic ma-
          chine-made pot, to thousands of dollars for an antique or collectible teapot crafted by
          "national treasure" ceramic artists.  There are even antique Yixing teapots that are val-
          ued in excess of $100,000, and some that are deemed priceless.

          You can find Yixing teapots in five different price categories, with the first level being the
          mass produced machine-made clay teapots that are simple and basic and sell for $10 to
          $15 in
China.  The second level is also a large category, but offering a little more in style
          and design that range in price from $35 to $50.  

          The next category are the lower-end handmade pots made by lesser known artists,
          starting at around $60 to $80 for a beautiful, well designed handmade
Yixing teapot.
          Look for chop marks on the lid and bottom of the teapot.  If the chop mark is in Chinese
          ask the seller or shop owner to translate it for you.

                                                          Next are the collector's pots fashioned by popular, well
                                                          known artists known as "national treasure" ceramic
                                                          artists.  These collector's pieces go from $150 to $1,000
                                                          and up depending on the popularity and fame of the
                                                          artist.  The more famous the artist, obviously the more
                                                          expensive the teapot.  

                                                          The last category are the antique Yixing teapots ranging
                                                          from two to three thousand dollars and up.  As mentioned
          earlier, some very old pieces have gone for $100,000.  When dealing with costly antique
          pieces you should do some research, verifying the reputation of the antique dealer,
          the age and authenticity of the piece as well as the price range and value of the partic-
          cular teapot you're interested in buying.  Antique prices fluctuate depending on the fame
          of the artist, and what is currently in demand, which can drive prices up or down, along
          with other factors.
When shopping for Yixing teapots be aware of a scam which began around 2007 with the sale of new "yellow" clay
teapots from China.  These clunky, oversized fakes began popping up in Chinatown shops in both San Francisco and
New York in 2007 and they may still be selling in ceramics and tea shops in the U.S. that sell oriental style wares.

The fake teapots usually are shaped like bamboo shoots or stalks, dragons, or Chinese coins and made using a
rough, crude clay with a strong, unpleasant odor that affects the flavor of the tea brewed in them.

Even though some of the designs may be interesting to look at, you should be aware that they aren't true Yixing
teapots and should be purchased as a decorative item only, and not for brewing tea or as a collectible.  
Enjoy.
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