Valuable Pointers For Buying and collecting the Zisha (Clay) Teapot

The raw material for making Zisha teapots comes from clay, which falls under three main categories of Zisha (purple) , Duanni (yellow) and Zhuni (red) clay, commonly known as arenaceous clay. This clay is mostly found deep in a layer under sedimentary rock formations, which can range from 10cm up to one metre in thickness. Research shows that Zisha clay contains a high concentration of iron. Under the ideal firing conditions during production, i.e. when the accuracy of the high and low temperature conditions are well controlled, the Zisha teapot can truly capture the origin of the tea essence. Moreover, with prolonged usage, the teapot becomes even more lustrous.

Nowadays, it is assumed that all earthernware pots are made of Zisha clay but this is untrue. Only pots and utensils made from Jiangsu Yixing clay can be regarded as high quality Zisha ware. Naturally, a superior Zisha teapot should also be aesthetically pleasing besides, the use of premium raw materials.

Some matters that investors in Zisha clay teapots are most concerned about: Is it really Zisha? What is the quality of the teapot? How do you know if you are getting value for money?

Through the ages, the Zisha teapot has always epitomized the perfect marriage of form and function. Widespread commoditization has flooded the market with Zisha pots, sold at affordable prices to the general public. In truth, the price of a teapot with fine craftsmanship and visual beauty would run into thousands of Yuan. Practically speaking, mass market teapots can only fulfill the functional aspect. Consumers are usually concerned about two matters: the raw material or clay and the workmanship. For starters, it must be understood that Zisha clay is not necessarily purple in colour. The "Duanni" clay is white, "fortified clay" is green, "Zhini" is purple, "Zhuni" is red, and so on.

The greatest virtue of Zisha pottery is its highly porous structure. It should be understood that the clay in its unprocessed form cannot be used directly to make Zisha pottery. The clay must undergo various processes of refining, panning, filtering, etc to render it usable. Good clay is even in colour with no visible imperfections. Refining and panning ensures the purity of this color.

It should be pointed out that, to achieve certain artistic effects, a pot maker may add some unprocessed clay or fine clay powder, which may or may not be in the same colour as the original clay. Blending raw clay of different colours can produce stunning effects. Since different-coloured clay types have different shrinkage ratios, many trials must be carried out before the blending process is successful; it is definitely not easy. Occasionally, some products display a granular effect on the surface, resembling orange peel or pear skin. This is actually a special "granular skin" effect, not to be confused with the flaws of an inferior product. This technique is most frequently observed in pottery made from Zhuni clay, as it has a particularly high shrinkage ratio which renders it highly malleable after firing. Adding burnt pottery fragments reduces the shrinkage ratio, increases yield and alters the aesthetic appearance. What's known in the market as "pear-skinned Zhusha" and "Pomegranate Rind zhusha" refers to this type of pottery.

In conclusion, an authentic Zisha teapot should be uniform in colour and free from defects. Even "twisted clay" and "granular skinned" teapots have very pure colour. The value of Zisha pottery is determined by the level of craftsmanship. So, how do you distinguish between a bad and good teapot? Making a good teapot is time-consuming. Like a painting, a Zisha pot is more than just the end product. More important are its unique outlook, charm, and style.

A Zisha teapot is also about expressing the maker's ideas and style through his craftsmanship. Aside from the aesthetic and functional aspects, a work should express a distinctive character that makes all the difference in the price of a teapot. So, how do you distinguish between good and bad craftsmanship? Teapot makers emphasize cost-effectiveness while buyers prioritize value for money - considering these factors, how do we apply what we have learnt from our observations to achieve a win-win situation for both?


Tea Customs - The Fascination of ZiSha Teapot

Using and Nurturing the ZiSha Teapot
In addition to purchasing and using a teapot correctly, true connoisseurs should understand the proper techniques of nurturing a teapot. Pairing the right tea with the appropriate teapot, the various techniques of brewing tea, the correct way of using and nurturing a teapot - all these are forms of knowledge and skills. Once we grasp finer points of nurturing a teapot, we are less likely to ruin a valuable teapot. Using the correct techniques to brew tea will bring out the best attributes of a Zisha teapot, and even spark interest in possessing one.

Most experienced tea and teapot connoisseurs agree that the Zisha teapot is best suited for brewing semi-fermented teas such as. Tie Guan Yin and Oolong Tea and fully-fermented teas such as Pu-Erh tea. Due to its tendency to conserve heat for long durations, the Zisha teapot is unsuitable for brewing green tea and other related varietals; the high temperature would destroy the green tea's nutrients. Green teas such as Longjing, Mao Feng, Shou Mei and Biluochun are ideally brewed in glass-made teapots. Other than enjoying the view of floating tea leaves, one can also preserve the green tea's nutrients. Of course, these rules are not hard and fast; the tea drinker's personal preferences and experiences also play an important role.

Factors like a Zisha teapot's shape, size and raw material also determine the type of tea suitable for brewing. For example, a small teapot (with water capacity lower than 70 ml) is unsuitable for fully matured tea leaves but is appropriate for crushed tea leaves. A round teapot, especially the small doliform teapot, is ideal for big leaves. Generally, most round teapots can be used for any kind of leaves; most importantly, we need to consider the tea leaves' degree of expansion during the brewing process.

When evaluating small Zisha teapots, tea experts believe that `the potterywork is the essence of a pot, the smaller the pot the more valuable it is'; when serving tea, a small teapot contains and does not diffuse the fragrance and the taste of the tea.

Therefore, to demonstrate the tea's visual beauty, aroma and flavour, small is better than large and shallow is preferred over deep.

Generally, regardless of what kind of tea you brew, it is advisable to stick to one kind of tea for a specific teapot if possible. Over time, the teapot absorbs the fragrance of the corresponding tea. With prolonged usage, you can actually obtain the tea fragrance just by adding hot water into the teapot, without putting in tea leaves. A teapot that is used to brew different types of tea will result in an impure-tasting brew as the original tea flavor will, naturally, be affected.

The treatment of a new teapot is another important aspect of tea nurturing. First, place the covered teapot into a separate container filled with water. Make sure the container is clean and big enough to soak the teapot completely. You can also add a small quantity of leaves and boil at low heat. During this process, be careful not to let the tea lid and teapot come in contact with the walls of the container, as the delicate teapot may get damaged. Simmer at low heat for 45 minutes to one hour before turning off the stove. Let teapot cool inside the container. You may repeat this step, but first, remove the teapot and clean any sandy residue inside the pot with clear water. This procedure opens up the pores of the teapot in preparation for future use.

A simpler technique for treating a new teapot is to pour boiled water into the teapot, soak for about 15 minutes, then drain. Next, add a small amount of tea leaves, and again, add more boiled water, let it soak for 15 minutes, then discard the water. This method is more convenient and practical for most new teapot users. A key point to remember: don't use just any kind of detergent or soap to clean a Zisha teapot; it will leave behind a smell. Simply use boiled water to rinse the teapot. After that, open the cover of the teapot and let it air dry.


Tea Customs - The Fascination of ZiSha (Clay)

Distinguishing an authentic Zisha teapot from a fake
As a commodity, the Zisha teapot is the same as other products. In terms of production and sales, there are three grades of quality: high, medium and low or crude, fine or premium. Fake or inferior versions are also widely available in the market. Therefore, whether it is for one's own use or investment purposes, one should have a basic understanding and knowledge of Zisha pots. This is to avoid buying a Zisha teapot that has no value or worse, one that doesn't function well.

So, how do you grade a Zisha teapot? We will describe a simple method of comparing average, fine and premium grades of teapot.

Average: Refers to the general popular goods. Its target is the mass-market consumer such as ordinary households and teahouses. The workmanship is unrefined with no distinguished features, usually produced in large volumes to bring the price down. It is not suitable for use in the art of tea appreciation. However, even average teapots can also serve useful functions in tea drinking, thus they are considered economical yet practical.

Fine: Craftsmanship is superior to the average teapots. Generally, they imitate celebrated high- quality teapots from ancient times. Workmanship is considerably good, though incomparable to the original teapots. While these are made by skilled craftsmen, they are churned out en masse and are thus affordably priced. The quality and usability of these teapots are definitely above average but lack uniqueness. As it is mass produced, its value as a collectible is low.

Premium: Exquisite teapots made by famous craftsmen. While production is limited, you do get more than one unit of each because it's impractical to make only one Zisha pot each time. When making a premium teapot, a prototype is generally duplicated into a few tens. Premium teapots fetch very high prices, far exceeding the average price of other normal Zisha teapots. Such pots are collector's favourites. Its quality, craftsmanship and design are ranked highest among all the Zisha teapots.

The Zisha teapot has penetrated the teapot market by offering a blend of aesthetics and function. The high market demand for Zisha teapot was also spurred by the "Tea on the Road" movement. Driven by the impact of commoditization, huge volumes of Zisha teapots in varying qualities surfaced rapidly in the market. This development also means that the technique of making imitation Zisha teapots have grown more sophisticated. Thus, a buyer who lacks sufficient knowledge would be incapable of telling if one is genuine or not. A recent trend is the imitation of other famous craftsmen's teapots. Another way is by counterfeiting old products. Residual tea stains are accumulated in a teapot to make it look aged. Then, a skilful craftsman uses a special clay to customize the teapot. Next, a seal design is configured by computer to make it seem authentic. This type of Zisha teapot is the hardest to distinguish.

A real teapot lover would appreciate any teapot in their hands, whether by famous craftsmen or counterfeiters. However, what does matter is the visual enjoyment you will experience when the teapot suits your preferences, as well as feel, the model's uniqueness, and color of the teapot. The ease of use when pouring, how the water flows when poured, and the drinking of authentic-tasting tea are also important. A Zisha teapot chosen according to the above will bring the joy of tea culture to the teapot lover.




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