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About Teaware [+]
As many variations as there are within tea categories, it is the same with teaware. It is to no surprise that there is an ideal teapot or gaiwan for each type of tea. Many find these through experimenting on their own, while some knowledge is more widespread. However, in general, there are a few things that are best to keep in mind when choosing the proper teaware for a particular type of tea, whether it's for Gong Fu, Chanoyu, or more casual tea drinking.
Gong Fu Cha wasn't always a thing. It took many centuries for the Chinese tea ceremony to evolve into what we know it as today. It was only in the past couple of centuries that gongfu tea began forming, with all its rituals and traditions.
Many centuries ago in China, people drank tea from big bowls, similar to modern-day chawan (in Taiwan, you can still find this style of drinking tea). When Lu Yu's book came out, The Cha Jing, paragraphs described that one should enjoy tea in small, concentrated quantities. With time local potters began developing smaller cups, gong fu cups.
What is Gong Fu Cha
Gong Fu Cha is a traditional Chinese tea ceremony. Concentrated amounts of tea leaf brew in small vessels for a short period. Translated, Gong Fu Cha means "making tea with skill".
Gongfu Tea Set
To brew tea Gong Fu style, we need a special Gongfu tea set. This set usually comprises a small teapot or gaiwan, little teacups, and a cha hai (also called gong dao bei) — at a bare minimum. Complete gong fu sets will also have tea utensils, like tea picks, brushes, a tea filter, and a Chinese tea table, Cha Pan – Gongfu Tea Tray. While having a complete set isn't crucial, it does create a great tea aesthetic for enjoying mindful ceremonies. Another unique component of a Gongfu set is a tea pet.
What is a Tea Pet?
Tea pets are small clay figurines that tea masters use during gong fu cha for various purposes. Some of these "pets" can even test water for the right temperature! Although primarily many use them as decoration, some enthusiasts also have them for good luck.
The tea pets are commonly made out of yixing clay and come in the form of animals or various Chinese good luck symbols. Many tea enthusiasts believe that tea, which has a soul, fills the tea pets with a soul.
Gong Fu Tea Cups
In Chinese, the little cups that tea drinkers use for tea are called Pinming cups. However, in the West, the term "gong fu cup" is more widespread.
Generally, these small cups vary from 20-50 ml, enough for merely a couple of sips. Indeed, having a couple of sips of tea may come off as odd to those of us used to giant tea mugs. Rest assured, once you've had gongfu style tea, you won't want to go back to the big mug. The flavor of tea is more intense, more robust. Furthermore, with each brew, it's like a whole new experience, an entirely new tea.
Aroma cups always come in sets of two — a short wide one and a tall narrow one. We use them together to smell the aroma of the tea. First, we pour tea into the tall cup, cover it with the short cup and flip them over. We drink tea from the short cup and use the tall cup to savor the aroma of the tea. This practice is most common with aromatic Taiwanese oolongs. However, you can most definitely use it with any tea.
Yixing clay (ZiSha) comes from an ancient county in Jiangsu province of China, situated by the delta of the Yangtze River. ZiSha is the most famous clay of China, and Yixing teapots are greatly revered and sought after by tea connoisseurs worldwide.
There are different types of ZiSha – Yixing Clay. The most famous is Zi Ni – purple clay, admired for its porosity and heat-retaining qualities. Because of its porosity, high iron oxide, and other minerals content, the clay interacts with tea and transforms its taste, adding to the tea experience.
The other main types of ZiSha that are being mined in Yixing and used for making teaware are:
• Zhu Sha or Zhu Ni – because of the high iron content, the clay has a bright red hue
• Hong Ni – also a red clay, ranging from dark red to red-brown, with characteristics similar to Zi Ni but a little less porous.
• Duan Ni – is a porous clay with good heat-retaining properties. Fired clay's color can vary from golden and beige to light yellow.
• Lu Ni – is a very rare Yixing clay with excellent heat-retaining properties. Its green hue easily distinguishes it.
Each of these main types of ZiSha clay has a couple or several sub-groups of clay; some are very rare, sought after, and therefore may cost a fortune.
Yixing teapots with thinner walls and lower porosity pair best with light and delicate teas: green, white, and yellow. And teapots made of more porous and thicker clay with good heat-retaining qualities can profoundly transform the taste of oolong, black (red), and pu-erh teas.
Chinese clay teapots from Yixing are almost never glazed, to allow the tea to interact with the clay and the tea oils to build up inside the teapot. The unglazed clay smoothes the tea taste and transforms it. With time, a yixing teapot starts producing unique flavor notes from the clay's accumulated tea oils and minerals. Considering this, many tea connoisseurs prefer not to brew different teas in the same yixing teapot unless the teas are from the same family or type of tea.
And not to ruin the amazing clay's interactive qualities, yixing teaware (and teaware in general) should never be treated with detergents, but rather with water only.
Jian ware (also known as Tian Mu Porcelain or Jian Zhan) is Chinese black porcelain originating from Jianyang, Fujian province. When drinking tea from a Jianzhan teacup, the brew's temperature will stay pleasantly warm for a long time, yet without burning you. Furthermore, teacup's qualities soften the water. In turn, making it more alkaline, flowing, and smooth.
The difference doesn't go unnoticed when comparing the water side by side with a regular porcelain teacup. The precious aroma of the tea becomes more evident. It is common to use Jian Zhan teacups with Chinese green teas. However, we recommend pairing these teacups with simple brewing vessels made of porcelain or glass. This way, you can truly notice the effects of Jian clay.
Teapots and Gaiwan
There are two main ways to brew Chinese tea gong fu style: a teapot and a gaiwan. Chinese teapots are also small, usually ranging from 120-150 ml. Artisans typically make them from clay, like Yixing clay (ZiSha), porcelain, or glass.
What Is A Gaiwan?
A gaiwan is yet another Chinese brewing vessel. It consists of the main bowl, a saucer, and a lid. There was a time when people brewed and drank tea directly out of the gaiwan. However, nowadays, we use them almost exclusively for brewing. Most gaiwan are 110-130 ml and made of clay, porcelain, or glass.
Purchasing Teaware By Tea Type
Each tea is unique and requires an individual approach. Some teas have big broad leaves, which require more space and heat to expand properly. Others have delicate small tea leaf tips that don't require much space but may need a quick-pouring spout. Not only the size but also the material of the teaware plays a crucial role in tea brewing.
White teas come in two main types — young and aged.
Young White tea is refreshing and graceful. We use a teapot or gaiwan with thin walls as not to overbrew it. Yixing clay may overpower the delicate flavor of the young tea leaves, so we don't recommend it for this tea category.
Aged white tea, on the other hand, benefits from thick-walled brewing vessels. For this category, we recommend going with a Yixing clay teapot or gaiwan. However, we do advise keeping it for just this tea type.
Yixing clay teaware is relatively porous. Thus, it absorbs the tea's aroma and tea leaf oils. For this reason, many tea enthusiasts choose to keep their Yixing clay teaware for one type of tea only. For example, you can use one Yixing teapot for various hong cha, but perhaps not for hong cha and pu-erh.
Green Tea & Yellow Tea
Thin porcelain or glass teaware works best with green and yellow tea. Green tea is fresh and delicate. It's best to highlight these notes with quick brews. It's also helpful to make sure the teapot has a quick pouring spout, which will lessen the chances of it over-brewing.
Many light oolongs, for example, Taiwanese oolong, come in a tightly rolled shape. These tea leaves are big and wide. Furthermore, they need ample room to expand. For this reason, we recommend using tall and round teapots and gaiwan. You can use porous clay; however, porcelain and glass work best.
Wuyi Rock Tea & Dan Cong Oolong
Yancha and Dancong Oolong are a type of oxidized, dark oolong that comes in the form of long twisted tea leaves. The roasted, highly oxidized qualities of this tea type make it good with heat. You can use flat and short teapots with thick walls. Furthermore, porous clay teapots like Yixing are perfect. With time, the teaware will become coated with the oils and aromas of exuberant Dark Oolong. Moreover, the clay helps round out some of the more robust flavors of these darker, more oxidized teas.
Black Tea (Hong Cha)
Chinese black tea interacts well with high water temperatures. Thus thick-walled teapots and gaiwan are just right for it. Yixing teaware is excellent for hong cha, but be sure to brew more robust teas, like Smoky Lapsang Souchong in porcelain or glass. This way, it won't get absorbed into and overpower the porous clay.
Raw Pu-erh (Sheng Pu-erh)
Pu-erh is a fermented tea from China. It is unique, yet the teaware we use to make it can be pretty simple.
Young raw pu-erh is still somewhat strong and astringent. It's delightful when brewed just right, with quick infusions. For this reason, choose teaware with thin walls.
Aged raw pu-erh, however, is better with heat and benefits from teaware with thick walls and even Yixing clay (ZiSha).
Ripe Pu-erh (Shou Pu-erh)
Thick teapots that are good at retaining heat are perfect for ripe pu-erh. Ripe pu-erh works well with hot water temperatures and has aromatic woody, sweet notes.
Since pu-erh is compressed and the tea leaves aren't usually as big, teaware of any size will work fine.
Hei Cha and Liu Bao
Heicha and Liu Bao, similarly to pu-erh, showcases intense notes of earth, bark, and tobacco. When well-rounded and in balance, these qualities are the top attributes of the tea and what many tea enthusiasts savor. For this exact reason, porous teapots that can absorb any over-powering notes and nicely bring together all the flavors are the top choice.
Matcha has a special place all on its own in the tea world. The teaware for matcha is like no other. For example, beautiful yet simple handmade Japanese tea cups called chawan are iconic in the Japanese tea ceremony.
We make matcha by whisking the green tea powder with hot water. For this, we need various tools: a chawan (matcha bowl), chasen (matcha whisk), chashaku (matcha tea scoop), and also a tea strainer for sifting the matcha powder and making sure its lump-free. At a bare minimum, you will need a bowl wide enough to whisk the matcha and a special whisk to make matcha tea. Investing in a traditional Japanese tea set is a sure way to know all your matcha needs are met.
Japanese Green Tea
Japanese green teas have small, delicate leaves. They require unique Japanese teapots for optimal brewing.
A kyusu is a traditional Japanese teapot made of clay. It has one side handle. In Japan, kyusu means teapot. However, in the West, we call specifically Japanese side-handle teapots kyusu. A typical kyusu teapot is made of clay and can be anywhere from 120-350 ml.
In Japan, you can find a kyusu teapot in most homes. People use them to brew casual teas, like sencha, genmaicha, hojicha, and more tender teas, gyokuro or kabusecha.
A shiboridashi looks similar to a gaiwan. However, it has a spout. Since Japanese teas are fine, the spout is there so that the tea lid can hold the tea leaves, ensuring a smooth pour.
Most tea enthusiasts use shiboridashi for umami-rich teas that require lower brewing temperatures, like gyokuro green tea, shincha, and premium sencha. A shiboridashi will provide you with the best-tasting Japanese green tea.
A tetsubin is a traditional Japanese tea kettle. It is made of iron and is excellent at retaining heat. Traditionally, people used this kettle to heat hot water and wouldn't brew tea directly in it. Nowadays, a modernized version of this popular Japanese teapot exists called a tetsu-kyusu. While it is iron on the outside, it's enamel-coated on the inside. Use tetsu-kyusu for brewing teas in it, but don't put it on a stove not to damage the enamel coating! You can use it for most types of Japanese tea, and it is especially good for robust teas like wakoucha and hojicha.