On Opening an Yixing Pot

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As I mentioned on Tuesday, I treated myself to an inexpensive Yixing pot the last time I was at Ching Ching Cha. While this wasn’t my first foray into traditional, unglazed Chinese clay, it was the first time I really made any kind of effort to “open” or “season” the pot, so I thought I’d share a little bit about my trial and error process.

My first clay pot, a Da Hong Pao Chaozhou pot from Bitterleaf Teas was specifically purchased for my Yuan Mei video, so I decided to dedicate it to yancha. This one, I was a bit more vague about, but I had the idea to use it for lighter Taiwanese oolongs. I tried it with some Eastern Beauty teas I had and was unimpressed, so I tried seasoning it by soaking it in tea. I was still unimpressed with the performance, so I tried a different tea. I tried a lightly roasted Cui Feng oolong from Wang Family Tea and was much more impressed. Sadly, I ran out of that tea pretty quickly, but I still had some of their medium-roasted Bagua Shan honey scent oolong, and had recently reordered a larger amount of that, so I tried that and also found it enjoyable. So I decided to continue my seasoning with that.

So on to my “process.” Before using the pot for the first time, I rinsed it well with warm water, and then brought a pot of water to a boil, dropped the heat, and placed the teapot in a ladle in the water (to keep it out of direct contact with the bottom of the pan) and let it sit in simmering water for about twenty minutes. Then I made some tea in it, found it lacking, so I used those leaves to steep a large pot of tea in a glass pot and poured that into the pot leaving it until it cooled. When I decided to switch to the honey-scent oolong, I decided I would give it a more proactive tea bath, so I brewed my tea with the pot in a bowl, simply pouring the brewed tea into the bowl each time. Then, I removed the leaves from the pot, filled it with brewed tea, and used a brush to wash the top of the pot with tea. I let this, again, sit until it was cool, and then emptied the pot and let it dry.

It’s been a rather slap-dash production, with me largely learning as  I go. I think if I had it to do over, I wouldn’t have even made any evaluation about what kind of tea I wanted to use it for. Once I started brewing oolong in the pot, I felt like I couldn’t fully switch streams, and it’s entirely possible that this pot would prefer to be brewing something else. That said, I mostly drink oolong, so if it wanted to drink something else, it would either be disappointed or neglected, so I chose the former. One thing I have learned is that Yixing enthusiasts referring to their pots like they are living things with preferences is not just an affectation.

So I look forward to more experimentation and getting to know this little pot. And hopefully this is not the beginning of a new collecting habit.

NB: Nothing to disclose.

Outings: A Tea Date at Ching Ching Cha

Be sure to check out my giveaway on Instagram, where I’m giving away one of Nazanin’s lovely pomegranate gaiwan pins!

This past weekend, I was lucky enough to finally find the time to meet up with my friend Nazanin from Tea Thoughts. We’d been meaning to meet for tea at a tea house in Washington, D.C. called Ching Ching Cha for a while, so when we both had time this weekend, we jumped at the opportunity. It’s such a unique space, both as a business and the space itself.

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Ching Ching Cha is on Wisconsin Ave. in Georgetown just next to one of the crossings of the C & O Canal. The storefront is shared with a salon upstairs and is rather unassuming. In fact, from the outside, it looks quite dark, and the only sign that there’s a delicious tea house inside is the small chalkboard of specials. When you walk in, there is a corridor with benches that leads into a row of teas and books for sale, and then you turn to see the tea room and the rest of the shop.

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The first thing you notice when you get into the tea house properly is how much natural light it gets. The building has a large skylight to provide entirely natural light in the main area. On one side of the shop is a platform with two low tables and cushions. You’re supposed to take your shoes off before stepping up onto the platforms, so it stays clean. There are also about eight additional tables with chairs. It is small and gets busy quickly, at least on a weekend, so I was glad we showed up right when they opened at 11 a.m.

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Each table has a traditional burner with a pot of water over it. The water stays very hot and is replenished by the wait staff so you can refill your own tea as much as you want. We looked at the menu and each decided on a tea. We both got oolong. Mine was a greener rolled Alishan oolong, while Nazanin got a roasted Phoenix oolong. They both came on a draining tea tray in a traditional clay pot. We were well-versed in the style of steeping, but we saw the staff showing others at the tea house how to steep the tea.

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We also got several plates of shareable foods: dumplings, tea egg, curry puff, and some sweets. All the food was delicious and went wonderfully with the tea, but the tea remained the star of the show.

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My Alishan was very delicate and creamy with a beautiful floral aroma and flavor. It had a silky mouthfeel and almost smelled like a milk oolong, but without the rich buttery notes. I lost count of how many times we steeped, but we sat there steeping and sipping and nibbling over the course of two hours. I had so much fun playing with the clay pot, since I’ve never used one before and I’ve wanted to buy one.

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After we finished and it became clear that the tea was finally exhausted, we paid and moved into the store to browse. All of the teas that they have on the menu were available pre-packaged, though they also have big cans of them stored toward the back of the shop. They also have an impressive array of teaware, ranging in price from just a few dollars to several hundred.

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They also have tea trays for sale that are the same as the ones they use for their service in the tea house, so I bought one, since I no longer have a wooden deck to use as a giant tea tray. I also got a strainer for my sharing pitcher and a cake of pressed dried roses that smells amazing. It was a thoroughly enjoyable outing and one that I highly recommend to anyone who loves tea or knows a tea lover. I know I will be back again, hopefully soon!