‘Tea drinking is a way to indulge our senses — just like art’

Ahead of Yixing pottery from The Irving Collection being offered in a special online sale, Christie’s specialist Rufus Chen discovers how to brew the perfect cup of tea in a Yixing teapot


Tea Drunk, a traditional Chinese tea house in East Village, New York, was the ideal location to present the contemporary Yixing teapots from The Irving Collection — offered in an online sale between 19 and 26 March — and also to find out more about the best practice for brewing tea in a Yixing purple clay teapot.

‘Generally speaking,’ explains Rufus Chen, a Chinese Works of Art specialist at Christie’s, ‘there are two main categories of Yixing purple clay teapot. The first one is called guanghuo  (plain ware), which could be used for brewing tea; the second is huahuo  (naturalistic ware).’

Although naturalistic ware is designed as a teapot, it should be cared for as a piece of sculpture. The Yixing Tall Ginger teapot by Lu Wenxia (b. 1966) and Lu Jianxing (b. 1958), for example, looks like a piece of ginger, while the Well teapot by Zhou Dingfang resembles the head of a well. 

‘Tea drinking is an essential experience to connect with the past and the present,’ explains Shunan Teng, founder of Tea Drunk. ‘It’s also a great way to indulge our senses, which is what I think great art is all about.

‘When you’re brewing tea,’ she adds, ‘it's important to pour the water around the rim, rather than directly into the centre of the teapot. Always run the water over the outside of the teapot as well, in order to push out the air from inside.’

Despite such ceremonial pouring practices, the first brew of tea is not drunk; it’s used instead to warm the drinking vessel. ‘The fulfilment of the tea’s potential is really brought out by the teapot,’ says Teng. ‘It's a perfect match. It’s a spiritual union.’

A Yixing teapot and cover, ‘Nesting Bird’, Wang Yinxian (1943-2018). 5¾ in (14.6 cm) high, cloth box. Estimate: $30,000-50,000. Offered in Contemporary Clay: Yixing Pottery from the Irving Collection , 19-26 March 2019, Online

Among Chen’s favourite teapots in the forthcoming sale is the bird teapot made by the master artist Wang Yinxian (1943-2018). ‘Yixing potters are known for drawing inspiration from nature and daily life,’ he says. For this teapot, Wang Yinxian was inspired by a nesting bird.

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You can read more about Yixing teapots in our guide — ‘Everything you need to know about Yixing pottery’.

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