Clay pot styles

Unglazed clay pots are an important part of a tea lover’s teaware collection. It’s a big topic that includes many aspects, for example: how they change the taste/texture of the tea, what kind of clay they’re made of (e.g. yixing, jianshui, nixing), and how to clean and care for them. This post will only look at the various common styles many of them are based on.

Clay pots come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, however there are some prominent classic styles that most of them are based around. The ones I’ve covered here are:

  • shuiping (water level)
  • xishi (lady Shi of the west)
  • shipiao (stone ladle)


Shuiping (水平) or “water level” is the most common style of teapot and has the most variants based off it (clay or otherwise). It has a long, level spout and typically a “helmet” or “puffed” lid.

Its name apparently comes from one of the criteria for quality control: if it can float in a water bath and remain level, it’s well-balanced.


Xishi (西施) or “(Lady) Shi of the west” was the name of one of the four great beauties in Chinese lore. It has a near-spherical body with a short spout.

This style of pot was apparently named such due to its aesthetically-pleasing shape, which is said to resemble a woman’s (Xishi’s?) breast.

A similar style where the shape is more egg-like (narrower at the top) is called wendan (文旦) “pomelo”, or perhaps more generally called yuanqiu (圆球) “ball”.


Shipiao (石瓢) or “stone ladle”/”stone scoop”/”stone dipper” pots have a distinctive flat “bridge” lid with a trapezoidal body and three “feet” on the bottom.

The body shape (straight lines, narrow at the top, wide at the bottom with three equally-spaced feet) is apparently meant to represent stability and simplicity, attributes often associated with stone.


There are many other designs out there – some inspired by the classics mentioned above or completely their own creations. If I’ve overlooked one of the classic designs, please let me know!