Let's Talk Tea - Teaware
Brewing tea can be as simple as plunging a tea bag into a mug of hot water, but it can also be much more, there is no right or wrong way! Finding the approach that works for you and the teas you enjoy is all that matters. We are going to discuss some of the various types of teaware and will have future articles on a number of different aspects of brewing tea. Feel free to ask questions in the comments.
Yixing Teapots and Teaware: Yixing teapots are unglazed ceramic teapots made from purple clay (also known as purple sand or zi sha) found in Yixing, China. They are small and, because they are not glazed or sealed, are meant to be dedicated to one tea. The teapot will absorb the aromas of the tea over time and after years of use the fragrance of the tea can be detected just by pouring hot water over or into the teapot to warm it before use. They should only be rinsed with clean water and dried without any soaps or detergents. They require the most care and time of all of the types of teapots but hold heat well and really allow the tea to shine through to the fullest. Traditionally, they are used to brew oolongs, black teas, and Puers, but can also be used for more delicate teas like white or green tea.
Gong Fu: The photo at the top is an example of a simple Gong Fu tea set consisting of a Yixing teapot, tea cups, and a bamboo basin. This method of brewing uses a small Yixing teapot that is filled with a larger than normal amount of tea but shorter steeping times and multiple infusions. Hot water is poured over the teapot and tea cups to warm them and open up the pores of the clay before brewing, the water is caught by the basin they sit atop of and helps to keep everything warm throughout the process. The tea is added to the teapot and the appropriate temperature water is poured in to brew the tea. After a short steep time, the tea is poured into another vessel to stop the brewing process or can be poured directly into the cups. This process is repeated many times and the flavors and aromas of the tea change throughout the multiple infusions.
Gaiwan: This is a three-piece vessel consisting of a saucer, a bowl, and a lid. Gaiwan are most often made from porcelain or glass, and are well-suited for white, green (especially fragrant types like jasmine), or oolong teas. The tea is added to the bowl and the water is poured in for brewing. The lid holds in the heat during brewing and can be slid slightly to one side to allow the tea to be drunk directly from the bowl, or poured into another cup, acting as a strainer to keep the leaves in. There is a bit of a learning curve in how to hold the gaiwan but it is a very versatile method that is great for a single cup or multiple infusions.
Tea Infuser Mug: Sometimes you don't have time for a more elaborate process, a tea infuser mug is a perfect solution. These mugs feature a large removable strainer to stop the brewing process and allow the tea leaves to expand fully during the brewing process. Double-walled mugs help to retain the heat better for delicate teas that require lower temperatures or to keep more robust teas hotter for longer periods of time, but single-walled mugs are also an option. They can be used to brew any type of tea and work well for a quick single cup or multiple infusions over a longer period of time. Travel options exist with a removable strainer or ones that work similar to a French press to stop the brewing process while on the go.
There are also specific vessels for different types of tea or teas from specific regions or countries. Kyusu teapots for Japanese green teas. Competition tea sets, which work similarly to the gaiwan, for directly tasting and comparing two or more teas. There are also range of materials such as glass, cast iron, porcelain, stainless steel, and stoneware which each have their own purposes and properties. Finding what works best for you and the teas you prefer can make a big difference in the final result and can add to the enjoyment. The world of tea has a very long and diverse history and there is always something new to learn or explore!