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Tea's True Taste: The Baseline and Beyond With Teaware Choices

Posted by Misha Gulko on

Ah, the vibrant world of tea, where passionate drinkers delve deep into the intricacies of their beloved brews. One could easily get lost for hours, scrolling through forum posts and group discussions, reading about the best teapots, the ideal cups, and the recommended ways to experience various teas. "You must get a silver tea set!" one person asserts, while another swears by the transformative powers of a ZiNi or ZhuNi clays. And yet another passionately vouches for the unique characteristics of DuanNi. Recommendations, as abundant as the tea leaves themselves, flow freely in the tea community.

But here's the conundrum: while these suggestions come from a place of love and experience, they might not be the one-size-fits-all answer we're often led to believe. For every tea lover, the journey is as unique as their palate, and what works wonders for one might fall flat for another. So, where does one begin? 

Our exploration will navigate through the vast landscape of tea, from the untainted flavors of loose leaf tea to the nuanced changes in taste achieved by brewing in various teaware. From porcelain's pure embrace to ZiSha's memory and the elegance of a silver tea set – there's a world waiting to be discovered. 


The Double-Edged Sword of Advice in Tea Communities

Venturing deeper into tea-themed forums and groups, it's almost a rite of passage to come across those staunch advocacies. Phrases like "you haven't truly tasted Dragon Well tea until you've brewed it in a silver teapot", or emotional debates on the merits of using ZhuNi or DuanNi over ZiNi for Dong Ding Oolong tea, not to mention advocacy for using Tokoname clay with Japanese teas. Often presented with impassioned certainty, these suggestions create an impression that there's a singular path to the pinnacle of tea enjoyment.

However, while such advice usually springs from personal experiences and genuine goodwill, it's crucial to remember the subjective nature of these recommendations. Each tea drinker's journey is unique, shaped by their palate, experiences, particular teas and their quality(ies), and even the memories they associate with specific brews. While a DuanNi teapot might elevate the nuances of a Taiwanese oolong tea for one, another might find the works of a Ru Yao porcelain more to their liking.

There's an intriguing alchemy between teaware, tea, and the drinker. Teas have their individual personalities, which can shine differently with various materials and either resonate with us or not. Hence, while a silver teapot might heighten the aromatics of a Dan Cong Oolong for someone, for another, the charm could lie in the beauty of a Chaozhou clay teapot.

The heart of the matter is that these recommendations are just starting points, hints from fellow enthusiasts sharing what worked for them. And while they provide valuable insights, they aren't definitive manuals.

After all, the world of Gong Fu Cha isn't about strict doctrines but exploration, where every individual chart their own course through trials, tastes, and delightful discoveries.


zisha clay teaware


The Material Influence: Brewing Vessels & Teacups

As we delve deeper into the allure of Gong Fu Cha, it becomes evident that the vessel, though silent, speaks volumes to the tea it cradles. The play of physics and chemistry in our teapots and cups isn't just an intellectual curiosity; it's the very thing that can elevate or alter our tea experience.

Heat retention, for instance, can make or break the nuances of certain teas. Materials such as silver are excellent conductors, swiftly transferring the heat, making them adept at capturing the fleeting subtleties of delicate teas like Dragon Well or Baozhong Oolong. On the flip side, the thicker walls of a Nixing or Yixing clay pot, especially those made from ZhuNi or DuanNi, possess the charm of retaining heat, allowing thicker, fuller-bodied teas like Dian Hong or Yancha to open leisurely, revealing their layered depths.

Then, there's the engaging chemistry. The mineral-rich and porous nature of some clays, like ZiNi, introduces a touch of its own character, softly conversing with the tea's compounds. These interactions can either mellow out any overpowering notes or enhance the hidden undertones, presenting a version of the brew often described as 'rounded' or 'softened'.

Conversely, the pristine neutrality of porcelain or glass serves as a blank canvas, letting the true essence of delicate Green or Yellow tea shine unabated without the slightest interference.

Understanding the material influence isn't just about picking the 'best' teapot or cup; it's about knowing how each material dances with your favorite tea, offering a different rhythm, a distinct flavor profile, and a uniquely personal experience. 


porcelain tea set


Finding the 'True' North of Tea: Embracing the Neutral Baseline

Diving deeper into the heart of our tea journey, we've recognized the value of the influence of various materials of teaware, and now it's time to meet our teas in their essence. It's like getting to know someone without any pretense — seeing them, or in this case, tasting them for who they truly are.

Imagine savoring a loose leaf green tea like the famed Anji Bai Cha. Its inherent qualities are its chestnutty aroma, citrusy notes, and refreshing taste. Or, let's consider the floral and fruity undertones of a Dancong Oolong. Before we start enhancing or modifying these profiles, shouldn't we first understand and appreciate them in their authentic form?

After all, to understand the works of various materials, it is essential to know and understand the baseline – the tea's original, unaltered taste. Because only when we truly know something can we appreciate its transformation.

This notion brings us to the importance of a neutral baseline in tea tasting.

Porcelain stands out as the gold standard here. It acts like a blank canvas, not imposing its own character on the tea, allowing the drinker to experience its unaltered flavors and aromas. Think of it as listening to a song with noise-canceling headphones; you hear every note in its raw, undistorted form. With porcelain, whether it is Green tea's grassy notes or Hong Cha's maltiness, every nuance is laid bare, giving you a benchmark to compare against when you use other brewing vessels.

This is the time to play with different water temperatures or varying steeping times. Using a neutral material lets you know precisely what these parameters do to your tea.

Glass, too, finds its place in this quest for purity. And its transparency lets you visually enjoy the dance of tea leaves as they unfurl. But while it might be neutral in flavor interactions like porcelain, its high heat-conductivity can be a double-edged sword. While it's great for cooler infusions or delicate teas requiring a quick steep, it can sometimes be challenging for those robust leaves that demand a more consistent high temperature. And be careful not to burn your fingers!

In this chapter, our emphasis is clear: before we start playing with tea's flavors by altering them with various materials, it's paramount to get familiar with the tea first, to get to truly know it. And what better way than starting with the neutral vessels made of porcelain or glass?


Glass Teacup


Venturing Beyond the Baseline: The Journey of Experiments & Discoveries

Once we're firmly rooted in understanding a tea's original, unadulterated profile, the world of experimentation opens up. It's akin to knowing the base melody of a song by heart and then exploring various renditions and improvisations. The journey from comprehending a tea's genuine essence to fine-tuning it for personal contentment is one of the most rewarding experiences for a Gong Fu Cha practitioner.

Different teawares, with distinct properties of their materials and shapes, can either subtly or significantly alter a tea's flavor. For example, while porcelain, with its neutral nature, might let the vibrancy of a Dragon Well Green tea flourish, brewing the same tea in a silver tea set could accentuate its mellow undertones due to the reflective quality of silver. Now, when it comes to the intricacies of Sheng Pu-erh, ZiSha teapot can work wonders. The porous nature of certain ZiSha, like ZiNi, can help smoothen out the edges of these teas, accentuating their mature notes.


However, not all teas are suited for all types of vessels.


Brewing Yello, Green or White tea in Yixing might not be the best choice. The porous nature of Yixing clay may muffle the fresh, sharp notes we so cherish in Green teas. Also, by retaining heat, Yixing teapot may overcook and destroy their delicate nuances.

Such nuanced shifts in taste profiles are why personal experimentation is pivotal. It's through these trial brews, sips, and moments of revelation that we find our unique tea preferences. These realizations are subjective and personal, and while it's fun to share and compare notes with other enthusiasts, at the end of the day, the perfect cup is what tastes right to you.


Personal Experience over Popular Opinion

Embarking on this tea journey, with its various experiments and revelations, places us in an interesting space. It's not just about knowing teas and teaware; it's about understanding oneself. We often emphasize the science and art of tea, but at its core, tea is a personal experience.

Every sip we take and every vessel we use contribute to our ever-evolving preferences. Over time, as we brew various teas using diverse teaware, from Chaozhou clay to Nixing, we're not just becoming tea connoisseurs but also paving our unique tea road. The treasure trove of experiences, from tasting the sharp freshness of a loose leaf Green tea to the warm earthiness of a matured Hei Cha, guides our future choices and deepens our understanding.

Yet, it's imperative to remember that there's no definitive "right" in the world of tea. The harmony you find in a gaiwan-brewed Dragon Well might differ from someone who swears by their silver tea set. In fact, even when two individuals have similar tastes, the minute details — like the brewing time, water temperature, or even the ambiance — can lead to different perceptions. Among other things, it's this subjectivity that makes tea tasting an art rather than a strict science.

It's good to listen to others and to learn from them, but let your own palate and experiences craft your personal tea narrative. Because in the end, it's your tea journey.