Yixing Zisha (pronounced Yee-Shing Zee-Sha) teapots seem to be less functional at first glance, but they uniquely deserve the affection of tea connoisseurs. Yixing clay is composed of fine silt with an unusually high concentration of iron. These clays also contain mica, kaolinite and varying quantities of quartz. The percentage of clay, quartz, and iron in Zisha is optimally balanced to achieve low thermal conductivity and high permeability, as the texture of the clay has minute pores that trap the heat while permitting the exchange of air, which prevents the tea from becoming stale.

Zisha (‘purple sand’) describes the reddish-brown color of the sedimentary soil which settled in ancient lakes and is now buried deep underground. The clay is compressed under heavy sedimentary rock formations throughout the Yixing region, southwest of Shanghai, in China’s Jiangsu province. Huanglong Mountain near Dingshu township has been the source of high quality purple clay ore for centuries. The mountain itself is rather ordinary – neither grand or pretty – but it is 350 million years old.

These teapots are prized because their unglazed surfaces absorb traces of the beverage and develop a patina, which enhances the taste, color and aroma of fine tea. Generally, Yixing teapots are single-serving pots with 100-300ml capacity, considered small by western standards. Flavors concentrate in the pot and are better controlled during brewing, then gradually revealed through different rounds.