What’s So Special About Zisha Clay?

Zisha clay, used to make those treasured Yixing teapots, is special indeed and so are those teapots! Time to get the facts.

Da Hong Pao Clay “Gu Shi Shui Ping” Yixing teapot (holds 130ml)
  • It’s not clay or sandy mud but rather a special kind of rock usually located within stratified layers of other clays from mostly mineral deposits found under the ground near Yixing city in Yixing County of Jiangsu Province in China. It consists of fine silt containing iron, mica, kaolinite, quartz, and iron ores.
  • There are three varieties: Zini, the most common, ranges from rose to brown; Banshanlu, more rare, ranges from creamy white to light brown; Zhuni, also rare, has rich red tones.
  • The rocks are mixed with water and ground by machine, then filtered. The result is called “Zisha Sand” and has the consistency of bean paste. This can be poured into molds or dried further and hand-shaped. Often the clay is folded multiple times as is done with steel when making Japanese samurai swords. This makes the clay tougher and the resulting teapots more sturdy.
  • Zisha paste comes in 5 natural colors: Purple (most common and where the name comes from — “zi” means “purple”), Golden Yellow, Red, Green, and White Beige. These can be mixed to create more colors, the way an artist mixes paints. Metal oxides are also added to change colors.
  •  Zisha paste has no lead, unlike clay. (A concern about lead in this clay was recently smashed quite literally by a dedicated tea guy. http://worldoftea.org/lead-testing-a-yixing-pot/) Statistics in China show the mineral deposits are very healthy for a person who has high blood pressure and cholesterol and that they promote longevity.
  • Zisha paste is porous, and tiny air pockets form during firing of the teapots formed from it so that glazing is not done. However, daily handling will add a shine to the pots over time. The porous nature of the material allows the tea to breathe and steep better. Each steeping adds more tea residue to the zisha and makes subsequent steepings richer in flavor.
  • Most of this tea pottery is made in Dingshan, about a three-hour drive from Shanghai. The lighter, thinner, and smaller teapots are more expensive than larger teapots, since much higher craftsmanship is needed. These teapots hold from 4-12 ounces (7-8 ounces average). They are collected and treasured by their owners with each pot being a small work of art, and some are designed by famous artists and truly unique.

There has been some concern expressed about the mines being closed. In 1995 the last mine of Huang Long Mountain was closed by the Chinese government. Then it moved to Tan Xi, another mine near Huang Long Mt. was being mined then was closed five years ago. Recently, a limited amount of Zisha came from Hu Fu but shows different characteristics that Zisha from other regions such as Fudong, Chuan Fu, and Hong Wei.

Demand for the clay and the teapots made from it is growing, though. Just be sure you’re getting the genuine article or at least something made from a decent substitute clay.

Look for the markings on the bottom.

About Janice and Stephen Shelton

Purveyors of Premium Teas
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