Daniel Lui's Blog

The Rare Chinese Teapot That Is Made From A Mountain –- Really!

There is much interest in teapots from China and their effect on making tea taste its best.

The best of these are Yixing teapots made from special rock clay from the Yixing area of China. The best Yixing teapots are called Zisha (Purple Sand Clay, even though they may not necessarily be purple in colour). Zisha teapots are at the heart of the Chinese method of tea-making called Gong Fu Cha (Tea With Great Skill).

Unlike western pottery teapots which are made from mud clay and turned on a wheel, Yixing Chinese teapots are assembled piece by piece, either by hand or machine or both. These teapots have excellent porosity and heat handling properties for tea making and as they age, they improve the taste of the teas made with them.

Chinese Teapots ImageThe most rare and special of the Yixing Zisha teapots are known as Zhuni. These teapots are made from clay that comes from a rare rock vein found on some mountain sides and are actually made oversized. They are then fired at a low temperature and for a much longer period than other Zisha teapots. During firing, they shrink to size leaving subtle wrinkles on the clay. This process makes the clay almost glass-like. Most of the teapots break during firing, making the survivors rare and expensive.

Today the markets abound with “Genuine Zhuni Teapots” but it’s all in the definition. During the Ching Dynasty (1644 – 1912 CE), the rare rock was found in a single mountain and Zhuni teapots were exported to Europe. By the mid ‘70’s the rare rock began to run out and since then, three more regions have been used. The clays from each region give the teapots distinctive properties and all can be said to be Zhuni. But amongst serious collectors, only those from the Ching Dynasty period are the real ones. Getting one of those though is almost impossible.

When it comes to Zhuni, buyer beware!

A complete guide to Chinese teapots can be found here,  in The Chinese Tea Shop’s Library — along with information on all types of Chinese tea (including pu-erh teaoolong tea, and white tea).

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    Pu-erh Tea: One of China’s Undiscovered Wonders

    1,500 years ago, the Chinese in Yunnan province began exporting loose leaf tea across the mountains to Tibet. The journey was long and dangerous but the Tibetans needed this tea as it provided important nutrients for their diet.  In return, the they traded horses which were very valuable to the Chinese.

    Later, the tea leaves were compressed into cakes and bricks to make transportation easier and more profitable. This tea was the forerunner of the Pu-erh tea we enjoy today. So valuable was this tea that for the Tibetans, it created a new form of currency in their region. A similar story occurred in Mongolia and the Chinese called these export teas “border teas”.

    Today, Chinese Pu-erh tea still comes in cakes and bricks and other shapes that have evolved over the centuries.  Even though the technique of compressing tea leaves was developed for reasons of safety and economy, this had the effect of improving the taste of the tea. We now know that over time, the microbes in the tea leaves create new chemical compounds that were not present in the original leaves as the tea ages. This action gives aged Pu-erh tea its famous taste which is unlike any other tea.

    Vintage Pu-erh compressed teas, some of which are over 100 years old are actively sought by tea enthusiasts around the world. Some vintages are very famous and others very rare, with natural undertones of fruit, date, plum, wood, earth and flowers. Like wine, there are eager collectors looking for rare vintages that can fetch tens of thousands of dollars but there are even more younger and very affordable Pu-Erh teas for every taste and budget.

    If you are a wine lover, you will enjoy the exciting variety and complexity of Pu-erh teas.Visit The Chinese Tea Shop website now to learn more about Pu-erh Tea, as well as other Chinese teas and accessories.

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      How To Store Chinese Tea To Make It Last Longer

      Did you know that it’s actually possible to improve the taste of any tea by following a few simple rules for storing? It is!  

      A good storage location should:

      • Be cool and dark
      • Have good air circulation
      • Have  little fluctuation in temperature and humidity
      • Be kept away from odours

      Kitchen shelves might be convenient but are not the best choice for storage.  I have conducted many experiments over the years and with some of my students and we have found there are specific techniques you can use to make your tea taste better.

      Non-Fermented and Partially Fermented Teas (Green Tea, Yellow Tea, White Tea and Oolong Tea)

      These teas have the least amount of processing during manufacture and so most closely resemble the original leaves. Store these teas in a refrigerator in an airtight container. But there is a catch: Once you commit to refrigeration, you must keep the leaves there. You cannot put the tea back on the shelf for a while and then put it back in the fridge. Tea leaves like stable temperatureS and humidity and any changes must be gradual. The airtight container is also a must as tea leaves absorb odours, and fridges can be very smelly places. If you follow these simple rules, your tea will actually improve in taste and last much longer.

      Fully Fermented Teas (Black Teas)

      Black teas use more processing in their manufacture than Green teas and do not respond well to refrigeration like green and Oolong teas. Keep in a paper bag or cardboard container that breathes a little but make sure these have no odours from printing or glue as these will be absorbed by the tea over time.

      Post-Fermented Teas -Pu-erh Tea

      Storage is the same as Black tea but the best method is to store in unglazed clay containers. Clay allows some air flow, mitigates the changes in temperature and humidity and the taste develops more fully and quickly. Read more about storing pu-erh tea.

      Da Hong Pao (Big Red Robe) and Aged Oolongs

      These are Oolong teas that can be stored like Black teas, but we have found that these teas do best when kept in a non-airtight porcelain container.

      Learn more about tea (including puerh tea (or pu-erh tea), oolong tea, and white tea) and how to best store tea for improved taste.

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        Why Expensive Tea Is Cheaper Than Inexpensive Tea

        Though counter-intuitive, it’s true: expensive tea is actually cheaper than inexpensive tea! This may come as a surprise to many people, but inexpensive tea is often more costly to use than its more expensive counterparts in the long run. There are 3 reasons for this:

        1. You use less. You only need to use a fraction of the amount of a high quality tea compared to a low quality tea, whether you are using an old English teapot or the traditional Chinese method of tea-making known as Gong Fu Cha (Tea With Great Skill).

        2. High quality tea lasts longer. A high quality tea will make many more good tasting brews than a low quality version before the leaves expire.

        3. The tea always tastes better – not just for the first few brews but from the first to the last !

        Every retail business offers products that range in price from high to low, and tea shops are no different. Typically, more expensive teas are higher quality than inexpensive teas. For the most part, you will enjoy tea much more and actually save money when you buy the more expensive teas rather than the cheaper ones.

        But are you getting a high quality tea just because it is expensive? Not necessarily. From a store’s perspective, their most expensive tea is high quality tea. What they really mean is their most expensive tea is their highest quality tea. This may or may not mean the tea really is high quality, so shopping around and comparing will tell you pretty quickly.

        Never be fooled by fancy packaging either. This may make you feel better about your purchase but has little to do with whether a tea is good quality. In fact, it’s often the opposite.

        If you want to learn about tea, look at buying new teas as a cost of getting an education. If you can’t taste a tea before you buy and you are not buying from someone you know or trust, always buy the smallest sample you can first.

        Learn more about choosing, buying, brewing, and storing all types of Chinese tea (including oolong tea, puerh tea, and white tea) in The Chinese Tea Shop’s Complete Guide to Buying Chinese Tea .

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