Ball Filter Phobia
(Originally published August 11, 2019)
“What kind of filter is best?” “What kind of filter do fully handmade teapots have?” “Should teapots with ball filters be avoided?” We have been asked about filter options for Yixing Teapots and hope to address some of the more common questions here. In particular the question of whether ball filters are a desirable feature or not.
Teapots with ball filters have a somewhat dubious reputation in China. For many, having a ball filter is a sign that a teapot is cheap or low-quality. To understand where this reputation comes from and how fair it is, it helps to look at where this design came from and how it has been applied.
A Brief History of Filters
There are three kinds of filter commonly found on Yixing Teapots: Single Hole filter, Net Filter, and Ball Filter.
Single Hole Filters
The earliest filter used for Yixing Teapots was the single hole filter. This filter consists of a single large hole pushed through the clay where the spout joins the body. These can be found on the earliest Yixing Teapots and were the predominant filter used during the Ming and Qing Dynasties and are still favoured by some who prefer this simple traditional design. Using a single hole filter teapot requires some care when pouring to prevent the spout from getting clogged with leaves.
The net filter was adopted in the late Qing Dynasty to solve the problem of tea leaves clogging the filter. The most common net filters use 7 holes, 9 holes and 14 holes.
There are two methods for manufacturing net filters:
1) If the spout is wide at the base where it connects to the pot, then the holes are directly pushed through the body at this point before the spout is joined.
2) If the spout is thinner, then the area on the body where the spout is joined will be carefully pushed in to form an indentation on the outside (bulge on the inside), and then the holes are pushed through at this spot. This allows for greater surface area for the strainer and a faster pour. This method is more difficult, as it is easy to damage the surrounding body when adding it to a fully handmade or half handmade teapot.
The ball filter design was first adopted in Yixing during the 1970s for teapots exported to Japan. The ball filter design was used to maximize the surface area for the trainer and provide a faster pour. It became a very popular design in Yixing after its adoption.
Most ball filters are made using a mould. A round mould is used to form the filter shape and then the holes of the filter are pushed through. There are studios today that specialize in only making ball filters. Potters can buy the completed ball filter and then attach it to the pot. Since these studios often use their own clay, some teapots with ball filters may have filters made from a different clay from that used for the body of the teapot.
So, should you avoid teapots with ball filters? No, not necessarily. Because it is a very practical design that is very easy (inexpensive) to make, it is widely available in the market. It can be found in both low quality mass-produced teapots as well as in high quality half-handmade teapots.
Are Teapots with Ball Filters Ever Fully Handmade?
Rarely. It is very unusual to find a fully handmade Yixing Teapot with a ball filter for two reasons:
1) Fully handmade teapots often follow traditional Chinese aesthetics. The ball filter, as a modern innovation, is seen as out of place.
2) Fully handmade teapots are supposed to be made without a mould for any parts, even the filter.
If you see a teapot with a ball filter that is being marketed as “fully handmade” or there are other signs added to indicate a fully handmade teapot (such as a stamp or stamps inside the body) that the salesperson is showing, then caution should be exercised, it may be that the teapot has been designed to pass as a fully handmade teapot when it is not.
Our suggestion as always, is to ask lots of questions and read widely. Any salesperson or expert should be able to answer your questions honestly and to your satisfaction.