Thursday, May 5, 2011

Tips for Buying Yixing Clay Teapots

A few of my readers recently asked me for some advice on where to buy Yixing (宜興) clay teapots here in North America. Each of these potential buyers did not want to spend a lot of money and they wanted pots that they could use often (rather than just sitting on a shelf looking pretty). They also appeared to have already done a fair amount of online research and had run across tons of (sometimes contradictory) information and a baffling array of options and prices.

So for those readers and any others who might be interested, here are my tips for buying Yixing clay teapots:

1. Buy teapots that appeal to you aesthetically, feel well made and balanced, and pour well. Easier said than done eh?

2. Buy local if possible. Small retail tea businesses are truly a wonderful thing and deserving of local support. If you live near a place that sells Yixing teapots you should feel really lucky. Ask the buyer where they get their stock. Some may import directly (which is wonderful) while others will wholesale from larger domestic distributors (such as a notable Bay area company called CCCI). There is really nothing too special about these mass produced teapots but they can still be a good choice if they look nice, pour well and are well priced.

3. Buy used. This might be a controversial tip when talking about a porous, flavor absorbing, highly personal item such as Yixing clay. (Sort of like buying used underwear.) But I'm a big fan of thrift stores, antique stores, garage sales and rummage sales and you really never know what is going to turn up. All I'm saying is keep your eyes open. Even if the teapot is well used it may still brew great tea or be otherwise salvageable... and for just a couple dollars it is probably worth the risk. You could even get lucky and score a well seasoned treasure. Also, sometimes clueless people will receive unwanted teapots as gifts, never use them, and then just give them away. In fact, just last weekend, I found such a pot for $1 at a rummage sale. I am drinking Alishan out of it as I type this. It looks like a panther. I'll add it to my League of Pots later this month.

4. Who said you have to "buy" anything. No, I'm not suggesting you go out and steal a teapot, but there may be other ways for you to score your dream pot. If you have a marketable skill, art or craft, perhaps you could make a trade with another tea loving friend (including an online tea friend). If that's not going to work, you could always start dropping hints with friends and family around Christmas or your birthday.

5. Don't buy teaware at a corporate chain store (especially if it's in a mall). This last tip is just my own personal opinion. You're invited to do your own research about individual stores and make up your own mind about where to spend your own money.

I hope some readers will find this post to be a useful tool. I'm certainly no expert on this hugely intricate subject and I'd really appreciate it if some of my truly Yixing savvy readers would add more helpful comments. I'm also inviting readers and trustworthy vendors to share links to themselves or their own favorite places to buy Yixing teapots.


RTea said...

Awesome, you have a cup named Orko. Man, the 80s were great....

Good tips, although the comparison between used pots and used undies makes me cringe a bit as I drink from an old pot. Yikes!


Best tea pots said...

Great tips. I'm sort of on the edge though with buying and using used Tea Pots. I guess I don't have to buy a pot that has a seasoning not to my taste. But the germ factor freaks me out.

Rick said...

Thanks Brett~great suggestions. said...

The best teapot is the one that is made of a good clay. The one that is not mixed with any chemicals and a teapot that is not painted afterwards. Some good made teapots look like painted from outside but they might be only polished mechanically by a drill which is not bad thing to do. Check always the outside colour with the inside of a vessel. A good clay gives you at least a good feeling of the tea made. Later the skills used to make a teapot can be overseen once the clay is good and seldom you see teapots from good clay made by not very skilled tea potter although there is a really wide range of level of skills of teapot pottery, telling what is good, very good or atleast usable. Its really hard to buy a good teapot for good money on internet but then the question is what is an acceptable amount for a teapot. I tend to say that in case you use the tea pot daily, it brings you pleasure then you should go deeper into your pocket. In the past I was sceptic and reluctant to do the same until I got to Yixing last year. Even once you are there its not easy to get to the right pottery studio and get a teapot for good value. In case you dont care about money, you have plenty of fancy pottery shops there where you get really good stuff, although not sure how many time overpriced. Storming the local Dingshan shops for 7 days made me time to time sick of teapots but gave me at least a feeling to, a basic feeling of recognizing a natural clay teapot from the so called, cheap, not-tea-friendly material teapots. I have to admit that even now after this trip, after a year passed from that time I would need a few more trips to learn more as the variety of clays to be used for teapot is very broad and the chinesse skills for forgery are also similar to it :-) and both are bringing new trends and techniques year to year. A good teapot cost something and I tell you wont get a good (usable) tea pot under 30-40 bucks even in yixing right at the source. Making of a good teapot requires a price-i clay, a skilled potter and considerable time to have it make which takes at least of a day of making, time to dry, a day of firing and a place where to sell it. The chinese market for tea pots is huge so that good tea pots reach their price already in China as that is the place where they are being valued and recognized better. A good teapot gives you good tea and this is the first and the main feature of it and it is so of a good clay. Good teapots are made worldwide but the most suitable clays are found in Yixing and that's why it got that famous.

Alex Zorach said...

I like your advice about small businesses and garage sales vs. corporate chain stores in malls. I'm not uniformly anti-corporation but there's something about the economics and cultures of malls that I find does not sit well with me. For one, the rents in these malls are sky-high, so a larger portion of your money is pocketed as profit by the various intermediaries (the corporation, then the mall owner, etc.) than goes back into the local community or to the people originally producing the goods.