If you’re relatively into tea, you probably have a Zisha teapot, a teapot made out of purple clay. These teapots come from Yixing, a city in Jiangsu Province in China. Yixing is the world capital of teapots, producing the best teapots featuring the most highly sought after clays made by the most renowned clay artists. However, Yixing isn’t all about teapots or clay for that matter.
Without tea, you’d have no use for a teapot, and Yixing knows that pretty well, producing nearly 4000 tons of tea yearly from farms surrounding the city. Maybe you know about Yixing tea, maybe you don’t, but the truth of the matter is, Yixing tea is relatively quite unknown and rare in today’s tea market. In this article however, the light will be shined on this wonderful tea producing region and its history.
Yixing Tea Fields
History of Yixing Tea
In the past, Yixing tea used to be called “Yangxian tea”, with Yangxian being the ancient name of Yixing city. The origin of Yangxian tea stems from a farmer named Pan San (潘三), who was later revered as “God of the Land” in Yixing. The story goes that Pan San gave some wild Yangxian tea to the prefect of Changzhou, Li Qiyun, who then gave it to revered tea poet Lu Yu to judge. Lu Yu found it so impressive that he suggested that the tea should be given to Emperor Zong of the Tang Dynasty as tribute. This made Yangxian tea famous all over the country, and the name “Yangxian tribute tea” was born.
Lu Yu (陆羽)
Over time however, Yangxian tribute tea became less and less known and esteemed in China, especially with the meteoric rise of green teas from surrounding regions such as Xihu Longjing and Dongting Biluochun. The tea slowly fell out of favour with royalty, and as a result, fell out of favour with the public as well.
Types of Yixing Tea
Nowadays, there’s two main types of Yixing tea. The first is Yixing black tea. This tea is characterised by a fruity flavour, especially when compared to other black teas like Dian Hongs. The other tea mainly found in Yixing is Yangxian Xueya, a green tea typically made using a bud and a leaf from small-leaf varietal tea trees. There are other types of Yixing teas as well, but these are far more rare and uncommon compared to the previous two. For example, Yixing makes Biluochun-style green teas, just like other tea producing regions in Zhejiang or Yunnan, and they also make some unique green and black teas using Anji varietal tea trees.
The most well-known tea produced in Yixing today is Yixing black tea. Its profile is similar to Keemun black tea, a famous tea produced in Qimen County in Anhui Province. Its leaves have a tightly corded shape and are black in colour, typically presenting without a significant amount of golden buds. A good Yixing black tea has a liquor similar to red wine, with a lustrous golden patina along the rim of the cup. It should be smooth and fruity while being very easy to brew, with it being able to be steeped multiple times.
Yixing Black Tea
Tea & Teapot - The Pairing
Yixing is also the home of the famous Zisha teapot, which are teapots made from a collection of clays found in Yixing. These teapots are the teapots of choice for many tea drinkers around the world, owing to its porosity that enhances the flavour of the tea brewed over time, along with its beauty and collectible value. As the saying goes, “Water is the mother of tea, and the teapot is the father.” The pairing of tea and the teapot is vitally important, and that’s no exception to the home of tea and teapot itself, Yixing. In ancient times, particularly during the Ming and Qing dynasties, the Zisha teapot was commonly found in Yixing households along with Yixing black tea, and they were brewed together in harmony.
Ye Zhaoyan (叶兆言), in the book, 《宜兴红茶》, said that “Purple clay teapots are naturally prepared for black tea. If you want to use a purple clay teapot, you must drink black tea. If you want to taste good black tea, you must use a purple clay teapot.” The people of Yixing have their own way of raising and seasoning their Yixing teapots, using their special black tea to do so, brewing the tea inside the teapot. The first people who drank Yixing black tea, according to history, were kiln workers who burned Zisha teapots. All this makes it obvious that Zisha teapots and Yixing black tea have a natural relationship, and it’s definitely something you should try if you have both on hand!
If you’d like to try some Yixing tea for yourself, Sipscollection stocks excellent Yixing Black and Yixing Biluochun Green teas for your brewing pleasure. If you’d like to learn more about how to brew teas like the ones produced in Yixing, head over to our article “How to Brew Chinese Tea” to learn more!