I first heard the phrase raising a teapot in a conversation with Chinese friends several years ago in a teashop in Guangzhou as we hunted for some new Yixing teapots to add to our collection. Later, with our purchases in tow, our friends explained why raising an Yixing teapot is important and necessary, and also how to do it. Despite the fact that these teapots come in a wonderland of forms, designs and natural clay colors, they are and always have been serious tea-steeping vessels. Old, well-cared-for Yixing teapots command high prices and respect in China because well-raised, well-used teapots are a valued commodity.
Our friends explained that the clay in a new Yixing teapot is raw-tasting and often there is a strong clay smell, too. They also described this type of clay as being soft and porous in its composition. One of the characteristics of the clay is that it has microscopic pores in the clay body. When a teapot is new, the pores in the clay contain clay dust etc. from the process of being formed and fired. Cleaning purges the pores, and later, with use, tea oils from the tea itself will fill up the pores and seal the clay.
Because of the absorbent nature of this clay it is worth following the advice to limit one’s use of an Yixing teapot to one type of tea only – for instance dark strip-style oolong or Pu-erh. Serious tea lovers who know these teapots will have a different Yixing teapot for each of the broad styles of tea that are usually associated with the use of this teapot – semiball-rolled oolong; dark strip-style oolong; and Pu-erh. For the truly committed, further subdivision of leaf within these styles of tea is made, requiring even more teapots.
So we cleaned our teapots as instructed, confident in knowing that raising a teapot is essentially how one transforms a new Yixing teapot from something awkward into something mature and seasoned. A well-raised teapot comes from the attention you pay to the process as well as from repeated use.
It takes a bit of time, but it is fun to watch the transformation of your teapot. Changes occur to the outside of these teapots, too, as the teapot is used and handled and buffed. The clay will acquire a soft, lustrous, smooth patina that is most appealing and pleasing to the touch.
The result of carefully raising your teapot is that it will both beautify and enhance the taste of your tea, earning its place as one of your most treasured tea-steeping possessions.