Yixing mysteries

One of the very first thing I learned about yixing pots is that you shouldn’t use more than one type of tea in it. They say it mixes tastes as you season the pot, and will eventually lead to a pot that brews tea with weird combinations of flavours. This is something that I’ve heard repeated many, many times, and which I myself have told others before. However, I am increasingly skeptical as to the truthfulness of this claim, and whether or not such division is truly necessary.

I should first point out that I am not saying that all pots are equally suited for all types of tea. I do notice, for example, differences in my aged oolongs when I brew it with my black pot versus my zhuni pot. However, I am no longer sure that it is truly necessary to confine each pot to one type of tea, especially in some of the rather fine distinctions between, say, Taiwanese high mountain oolong and low roasted baozhong, to name a pair that can be distinguished from each other, but whose tastes are not too dissimilar.

I own a pot that is around 300-400ml in size which I occasionally use for lazy brewing of loose puerh of one kind or another, usually some wet stored stuff or the very rare cooked puerh. I haven’t used it for anything else thus far, but last night I felt an urge to drink some darjeeling all of a sudden, and pulled out some of the black darjeeling generously given to me by Mr. Lochan of Doke tea. It’s a fine darjeeling, sweet and mellow (and I think aged slightly since last year, when I got it). I brewed it in my pot, the same one that I’ve used all along for puerh. Did I notice anything funny that I could attribute to puerh? No, not at all.

Sure, one could say that it is probably because I haven’t used the pot enough for puerh yet, therefore it didn’t impart anything to my darjeeling that I could detect. It does make me wonder though, how often do you need to use the pot before it will start affecting the taste of the tea being brewed, and how much of that effect is dependent on the previous teas you’ve brewed in the pot?

My guess is we generally overestimate the amount of work that seasoning a pot does to the taste of the tea in the pot. Seasoning the clay certainly makes it look nicer, but I’m not too sure if it really makes the tea taste nicer in any meaningful way — or at least, a meaningful way that is detectable by most drinkers. If it takes, say, prolonged use over years with one type of tea for a pot to gain any sort of meaningful “seasoning” that will affect the taste of the tea (more than the pot itself would otherwise) then is it really useful to advice newcomers to tea to buy more than one pot? I have heard before that all of this is just a ploy by pot makers/sellers to sell more pots. It sounds like a conspiracy theory, but there’s no proof that it’s not true… or is there?

Mind you, all of the above is purely speculative. Yet sometimes I do feel that when somebody is led to believe that they must buy half a dozen pots for all the teas they plan to drink…. is that a bit much?


Comments

Yixing mysteries — 10 Comments

  1. Thanks Marshal and would like to mention here that 2008 first flush has come but too high priced, we plan to start buying after 1st april only. Shall send you a couple of new season Darjeeling teas.

    Kind regards,

    Rajiv Lochan

  2. I’ve wondered about this too, especially since I really only have two pots to brew from. Of those I usually only choose which one I’ll use based on size. I notice that the water I pour in to rinse doesn’t come out clear, so I assume there is some tea residue in there that adds something to the flavor of whatever tea I brew. But I’ve never been confident that the residue would add much positive to even similar teas, let alone different teas. Could such tea concentrate really capture the best qualities of a particular tea?

    Even if the residue does add a lot, I am not sure that a hint of fragrant oolong residue in my green pu-er would necessarily be a bad thing.

  3. You know… I’ve always wondered that.
    Esp with like… taiwan style pots that are unglazed but seem much less porous.

    I still hold that yixing pots add something, but I am not sure if it’s affecting the tea, or affecting the water, which in turn affects the tea. From a chemical perspective, we know that it does change the water, since you can “Brew” water and it will taste different out of a glass than out of the pot, even before it’s seasoned.

    But I guess the test to see if you need lots of pots would be to brew something in a seasoned pot, and new pot, and see if the results taste different.

  4. Teapot conspiracy theory. Very clever. Right up there with the tempest. Definitely food for thought so to speak. Walt’s water theory adds another perspective to the mix; and you, Marshal have had several interesting and thought-provoking earlier entries on water use for tea. Some Japanese recommend seasoning pots (and their cooling pitchers of clay) to ‘bind’ the pot’s clay. Eileen

  5. Thanks Rajiv, your generosity is much appreciated 🙂

    Chabing — I think by the second or third flush of hot water, the residue pretty much all washes out. Try it with your pots. So I don’t think it really adds much. And you are right that perhaps it’s not bad at all. It’s sort of like cooking — sometimes you add a pinch of salt or sugar to a dish even though you don’t taste that flavour in it at all. Adding that pinch, however, often adds a complexity to the dish that it otherwise wouldn’t have.

    walt — I’m not saying yixing doesn’t add things, but I’m not sure if seasoning the pot with one kind of tea exclusively really adds to it on top of what the pot does anyway.

    Eileen — what kind of pots are we talking here, tokoname?

  6. @MarshalN – 

    I believe it is tokoname that recommended ‘seasoning’ pots and cooling pitchers for sencha. I hadn’t heard of seasoning previously in regards to anything but yixing. I’m very interested in the subject of seasoning as well as that of water (I know, another time). I find it reassuring however that you feel we don’t need to be obsessed with certain types of tea being brewed in certain pots only. That makes it a little easier on us novices. ef

  7. MarshN, I am in total agreement with you! I do not find it truly necessary to dedicate a single pot to a single type of tea. I generally use one pot for old puerhs, one for young sheng, another for shu and so forth. However, mind the shape of the pot and how the shape will affect the tea as it brews.

    Hop

  8. MarshN-Have you seen any “Tea Master” whom pick-up a dry used pot and inhale the interior a couple of times, then breath in to it and inhale a few more… pausing and tell you what tea was used? I guess if they can smell the difference, will “they” taste the difference too? Tiffany from BTH once told me about someone miss used her High Roasted DC pot, and forever sabotage it with a “sugar cane” taste. Maybe is more obvious when exchanging Green with High Roasted tea. If you throw me a yiwu pot which occasionally used for one of the “Six Mountain”. I will not over think it : ) -Toki

  9. Toki — good points there, and I agree that at some level, damage might be done. I think of all teas, young puerh is probably the most damaging to a pot’s taste, and perhaps if you’re used to brewing sweet roasted tieguanyin in a pot and all of a sudden somebody threw some bitter young puerh in it, it might really screw things up.

    The whole inhaling bit though is a little more subjective. I know that every time after I make a tea it leaves residue, and sometimes when I open the pot again the next time it will show up the aroma from last time. That doesn’t mean it’s seasoned….

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