The city of Yixing in Jiangsu province, China, is renowned for a cultural legacy of pottery: specifically the teapot. The pots formed out of this region's sandy clay are full of minerals that loan the clay deep, rich tones, making a range of beautiful teapot colors readily available (though you may be most likely to see brownish-reds). A sieve or strainer is built into the spout, leaving your leaves inside the tiny pot where they belong. Crafted using a variety of ceramics techniques but left unglazed, a Yixing pot is able to withstand a higher temperature than glazed porcelains, making it the ideal choice for teas that demand a higher steeping temperature, such as oolong teas or black teas.
Step 1: Select a Pot
Your first step on the Yixing path is to select a pot that suits you. Yixing pots are traditionally small in size and volume, with the intent that you would perform several short infusions at once, serving quickly into a small vessel (or pouring straight into your mouth!) allowing much tighter control of steeping and cooling.
Whether you choose something traditional, cute, or more exotic, your Yixing pot will be a constant ally in the everyday world of tea. Select something you feel comfortable holding—and don't break the bank on your first one, keeping in mind Step 2.
Step 2: Tough Decisions
Because of the nature of Yixing clay, the walls of your new pot are extremely absorbent, and will take on characteristics and flavors of that tea as time goes on. For this reason, you're going to want to restrict your Yixing pot to only one kind of tea—whether you choose to use it for black teas, lightly oxidized oolongs, darker oolongs, etc., you'll want to pick a tea you like to brew and stick to it.
Step 3: The Cure
Now that you've gotten all excited and ready to drink tea, wait: your Yixing needs to be properly seasoned first. To cure a Yixing pot, have plenty of the style of tea you intend to use the pot for on hand. There are several traditional and nontraditional recipes for seasoning easily found online (ranging from an hour to a week!) but we prefer immersing the pot in a large stock pot full of a few tablespoons of the selected tea, bringing to a gradual boil and then removing from heat, and letting steep in the tea-water for 24 hours. Some will choose to repeat this process, and some will choose to simply brew several very long (30 minutes or so) infusions of their chosen tea in succession, dumping the tea out each time. No matter which way you cure, you'll want to wipe down the pot thoroughly inside and out with a clean dry cloth before and after the curing process. Over the process of curing, your teapot will lose any dusty clay residue and begin to absorb the oils and fragrance of your tea, a process that will continue over time with each infusion you perform with your Yixing. Ultimately your pot will begin to develop a patina and hue unique to the tea you use with it, a process as beautiful as it is lovely in the cup.
Step 4: Make Tea!
Now that you're ready to put your pot into action, you can go ahead and follow the usual methods for infusing oolong tea (fill to 1/3 of pot, heat water between 185-205 F, and steep for 1 to 2 minutes) or black teas (varying methods depending on your tea, using slightly less tea and slightly hotter water than for oolongs).
Over time, you'll get to know your Yixing pot and it will get to know your tea, producing a more and more rewarding aromatic and flavor experience throughout your lifetime together. Note to never, ever clean your Yixing pot with anything other than water; the pot will absorb the taste of any soaps or detergents, and should be treated only with what you drink out of it: water and tea.