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.