Seasoning pots

So yixing pots are supposed to be seasoned over time as you use it… but how exactly does that happen?

I’ve been more than puzzled by the exact process. Supposedly, the pots will slowly gain a shine as you use them. You’re supposed to use a wet cloth to sort of buff the pot, basically, after using them and while they’re still hot, ideally. But there are many, many theories out there about the way you raise a pot. Some say you should just leave leaves in them. Some say you should clean them out right away. Some say it’s good to polish them often. Some say it’s good to not do it very often. Some say it’s important to use only one tea in them. Some say it doesn’t really matter how many kinds of teas you use in your pot.

The information has been, on the whole, contradictory. I cannot help but feel though that much of it is magic, and not really true.

What I can say is this — that over time, at least for the pots that I have raised myself, they do slowly gain a shine. I usually pour the wash over the pot while I am brewing my first infusion. Otherwise, I just pour hot water over them. I rarely rub them with a towel — maybe once a month, if even. I don’t usually leave leaves in them over night. I clean them out after using them. The most obvious change happened to my young puerh pot, which was fresh from the kiln when I got it. Now it’s actually got quite a sheen to it after about a year’s use.

There is also the matter of the clay’s quality. I am currently running an experiment on a cheap pot that broke on its way from Taiwan to here. Basically, I’m soaking it in my spent tea leaves every night before I go to bed. I have noticed that it started doing what they call “spitting black”, basically, black spots that show up on the pot. They don’t go away. Supposedly, from what I’ve read online, they are the result of under-firing of the pot. The pores are too big, and the iron ions of the tea (supposedly one of the things in it) will infiltrate these pores and somehow a reaction happen and it turns black. All pots eventually do this, but really underfired ones are more likely to do this, and at a faster rate.

This is only what I’ve read. I don’t know if it’s true. It’ll be pretty interesting if it were true. The black spots, I should add, are quite numerous. Maybe I’ll show you all a picture when I get better lighting. The thing though is that before I used it, the pot doesn’t look that different from many other ones. I could sort of tell it was slightly on the low density side of things, but it was not obviously so.

Anybody got pot-raising stories to share?


Comments

Seasoning pots — 13 Comments

  1. I have a very inexpensive pot that was sold as simply Huang Ni that I soaked last year overnight several times a week for several weeks in spent leaves and water.  I stopped soaking it because it was darkening at variable rates.  There are especially dark, patchy areas where the spout and the handle attach to the body, and there seems to be a faint straight line that runs the circumference of the pot at it’s widest point.  I posted some photos of it in TeaChat but they don’t show the ugly patches very well. Also, the photos came out a lot more yellow than the pot looks in real life.  http://www.teachat.com/viewtopic.php?t=4217

    In any event, I will not repeat the technique of drowning the pot in tea as I am not too happy with the results in this case.  I have even considered cleaning it with some unflavored denture tablets, but I feel such treatment would be an indignity to it’s pothood.

    In fact, the experiment was more successful at training me than at training the pot.  Because I used it exclusively for so many months, I am now trained to automatically reach for it whenever I am about to brew young sheng.  It has the comfortable feel of an old friend — rather an unattractive old friend I am afraid, but then friendship is a matter of comfort and mutual trust, not surface beauty.

    Thanks for this post today and for all the others that I don’t comment on but read religiously.

  2. Two hypothesis:

    1) The areas where it’s the darkest are likely the joint areas. They’ve smoothed it out enough so you can’t see it easily, but when you soak it in tea, they show up. I’ve actually seen this sort of thing before.

    2) Your pot, in the picture anyway, looks quite nice, and I think if it were still new looking, I don’t think it’ll look quite so nice…. personal tastes, I suppose?

    How did you soak them? Thanks for reading 🙂

  3. I always got puzzled by the inside blackening of old pots? Could that be the “under fire large pour iron built-up…?”
    As long as I don’t see it, is fine : p – Nice research, thanks.

  4. Toki, the inside of this one is quite black.  From what you say I gather that is normal.  I agree that if I don’t see it, it doesn’t bother me.  Your pots that you profiled photographically last year are always in the back of my mind as an ideal.

    MarshalN, your comments make me feel a little better about the pot: Definitely no denture tablets in its future now!  I soaked it by emptying most of the spent leaves into a small bowl, placing the pot into the bowl with the remaining leaves inside, and just covering the pot with boiling water.  I used a plate as a sort of lid on top of  the bowl so the water wouldn’t evaportate.  The pot sat thus overnight and often for closer to 24 hours.   I probably did this 20 times.

    Yes, the dark areas are finger-sized and in places where the maker may have used different clay to attach the handle and spout.  Do you know if the handle and spout are still manually attached on slip-cast pots?

  5. Is there any chance of stray minerals in the clay such as lead, cadmium or carbon? Has anyone seen anything on contamination of the clay? Thanks for the posting on preparing a pot for use. I’ve been reading quite a bit on the subject and there are as many opinions as sources. I consider your blog exceptionally enlightening. eileen

  6. If you don’t like the outer surface’s look, Salsero, have you tried rubbing it with a wet towel?

    The inside can be as black as ink. No real problems there, really

    I don’t see how stray amounts of lead in the pots will kill you. As far as I’m aware there are many other things you should probably be worrying about before you even think about your pots…

  7. MarshalN- too black will not be ideal also. I remember the first time buying pots 20+ yrs ago. The vendor said: “Best pot, over time will turn into a treasure. You can even add water from one end and have tea coming out from the other…” I guess something really came out from his other end….

    Anyhow, I have a RP pot that is so dark inside, it creates a funky taste to the tea. Not so good after all.

  8. salserito:

    i agree with marshal: i like the look of that yellow clay pot. your old friend looks good!

    re: your description: “a faint straight line that runs the circumference of the pot at it’s widest point” … my guess is that you let your pot sit in a tea bowl when you are using it, warm it with wash and water, and that line is the point at which the surface of the water sits. if you are going to let your pot stand with tea for a period of time, just don’t leave it in the wash/water. that might help with the line around the middle. i sometimes find such a line appears after a long session and i’ll make sure to rub it away with a soft cloth, but other than that i don’t control the stains, the seasoning.

    i’ve never forced the seasoning of my pots by bathing them for an extended time, but i do occasionally let them sit with leaves overnight if i think i’m going to pick up the tea drinking again the next day. does it make a difference? who knows

    i have dedicated different pots to different teas. one consideration is that, potentially, with time they will take on the residual flavors of the tea(s). but there are other considerations. one is pot shape, and its suitability to certain leaf shapes. I tend to wide mouthed, flattish bottomed pots for wuyis; i have an amazing and amazingly thin-walled duanni pot that i use for fenghuang dancong; and so on. those anxi oolongs need space in which to unfurl, and i understand that to mean they need different pot shapes (rounder…). etc.

    i need to look through my pots for black spots. can’t recall any. but these babies are seasoning at various rates, and it’s just part of the tea pleasure to see it. i have one shi piao (sp?) that i use for wuyi and it is developing a uniform patina (brown clay to begin with) outside, and a lovely, ever-present aroma of wuyi inside the pot. i have tow duanni pots that are starting to glow orange.

    i love noticing the influence of time on tea — there are so many places to see it. a seasoned pot, whether legit or not, is just another sign.

    fwiw.
    adrian

  9. @MarshalN – 

    Thanks for the comment about lead or other contaminants in the clay. There’s plenty of lead in the air we breathe in cities now and there are plenty of other sources of worry so why focus on a little pot? No need for tunnel vision you’re quite right.

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