Our Tea Blog | Camellia Sinensis


Yixing: The Hallmark of the Fire Dragon

27 November 2015

photo yixing

Produced for over five hundred years with clays from the Yixing mines of Jiangsu, these teapots were shaped according to distinct styles, and an impressive variety of forms, some evoking nature, others more classic and faithful to the ideals of harmony. Winning over the enthusiasts of the Ming and Qing dynasties, for their aesthetic and poetic refinement as well as the quality of the liquors they produced.

Teaware collectors and enthusiasts of recent decades have rediscovered an appreciation for them, reviving and revitalizing their modern use.

With this renewed popularity, some potters have taken the opportunity to experiment with new creative techniques.  Ms Shen is a great example, she makes our Duan Ni teapots in clay she has fired six times!

The intensity and duration of kiln firing have a direct effect on the final result. Whilst a regular double firing of  Duan Ni clay produces a pale yellow result, optimum firing gives it a more rich yellow.  Additional firings bring the colour towards a deep orange and the same clay if reduction fired will even display shades of grey.

The clay’s character is defined by its composition, varied proportions of  constituents such as silica, quartz, kaolin, mica, iron etc. The iron content is one mineral that will effect the final colour.  Low concentrations of 4-7% will produce yellow shades  At 10% more grey will appear, 13% darker brown, and deeper red at 14- 18%.

15488311135_06acaa153bAfter 5 gas firings and a final wood firing Ms. Sheng’s pieces develop a dark orange appearance, with small specks bordering on brown/grey, These are the typical indications of iron micro-clusters.  Astonishingly these teapots actually respond to magnetic force!

By digging a little into history we realize that until quite recently firings were performed in the multiple chambers of the Dragon Kilns, installed in hillsides, and operating long duration high temperature firing over several days (and nights). The results naturally varied according to conditions within the kilns. With modernization and the use of gas and electric ovens,  two shorter firings became possible and enabled the correction of  certain defects that appeared after the first firing.

Recently these multiple firings are sometimes referred to as Duan Ni or “high temperature” in connection with the use of “ancient dragon kilns”. Artisans are inspired to reproduce these original methods and conditions. While the majority of yixing are now fired with gas, final wood firing is a respectful nod to the traditional technique.

Aside from the more technical aspects enthusiasts focus on the aesthetics and flavour qualities these pots have to offer, seduction of both eye and palate. These porous teapots improve with age and repeated use. A clear  invitation to check out some of these unique pieces in one of our stores.

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