With so many different tea styles and culturally distinct brewing customs from around the world, it can be difficult to know what equipment is best suited for making your favorite teas. In truth, most pots are capable of brewing almost any tea. But just as geographic isolation has led to the development of many different tea styles, it has also created parallel developments in teaware. Many teas are complemented by the teaware from nearby regions, where local tastes have refined teaware designs to best suit their most common teas.
Now that modern globalization has made these local specialties available around the world, the connections between tea and teaware are more obscure. Most important distinctions between brewing vessels can be boiled down to the size, material, and strainer type. With these factors in mind, here are our top teaware recommendations for each category of tea.
Green & White Tea
The most important consideration when brewing light styles of tea is water temperature, since the tender leaves can easily be overcooked with water that is very hot. For this reason, we prefer to use thin-walled materials like glass or porcelain clay, which retain less heat over the course of multiple infusions. A gaiwan with a white interior or a glass teapot will also allow for easy observation of the leaves and the delicate color of the brew.
In traditional green tea regions, one of the most popular ways to brew is commonly called “grandpa style”. Using only a tall glass, tender spring leaves are steeped in water that is not too hot to sip. Without a strainer, the leaves are left in the glass, where they sink slowly to the bottom as they brew. The infused tea is sipped from the top, and when the glass is two thirds empty, more hot water is added to continue the brew. This is ultimately the simplest way to steep any tea, but works best with high quality teas that won’t get bitter.
Oolong teas vary so much in style and flavor that it is impossible to generalize across the whole category. If you’re interested in exploring a range of oolongs, we recommend brewing in a gaiwan, which will offer a neutral backdrop for brewing experiments. Use the wide opening to keep an eye on the expansion and color of your leaves so you can adjust your steeping time as necessary.
If you’re narrowing in on one category of oolong, you may want to invest in a yixing teapot. Historically developed with the advent of loose leaf tea, yixing pots are often associated with the most traditional styles of oolong, like the charcoal roasted teas from the Wuyi Mountains, but are now commonly used for all four different styles. When choosing a yixing pot for your favorite oolongs, consider the shape of the leaves and whether the shape of the pot will allow for full expansion. If possible, slide the lid around the rim of the opening and listen to the tone. Generally, higher tones indicate denser clay that will accentuate aroma, while lower tones indicate more porous clay that can soften the flavor of a heavy roast.
Black teas also encompass a huge range of styles, and are best brewed in glazed ceramic or glass for the purest flavor. With a flavor-neutral brewing vessel, blends or flavored black teas like Earl Grey can be steeped in the same pot as more subtle single origin black teas, without any risk of flavor contamination.
Whole leaf black teas are easy to brew in a gaiwan or small pot just like other Chinese styles, but common chopped leaf styles probably require an infuser basket or sachet to contain the small pieces. No matter how big or small your leaves, make sure they have plenty of room to circulate and expand in the infuser. An even brew will always maximize the flavor of your tea, while minimizing bitterness.
Yixing pots are often recommended for pu-erh teas, but since these aged teas can be so varied in flavor, it’s a good idea to find out what you like first with a neutral gaiwan. We generally dedicate our yixing pots to either sheng or shou pu-erh, since this usually represents the greatest division in flavor. But we always advocate tasting new teas in a gaiwan before brewing them in a yixing pot in order to make sure they fit the flavor profile selected for seasoning.
When selecting yixing pots for pu-erh tea, we often gravitate toward heavier and more porous clay, which will usually emphasize a rich mouthfeel while dulling any sharp notes. Dark shou styles are best suited to this type of clay, while brighter sheng pu-erhs might do better with higher clay density. No matter what type of pu-erh, though, we recommend thicker-walled pots that retain high temperatures for these dark teas. Make sure to heat the pot with some hot water before brewing to ensure maximum heat retention!
Since herbal teas are often made with finely ground spices or small flower petals, we recommend using a fine strainer or a tea bag to contain the tisane in the water. While most traditional Chinese teapots have a strainer built in behind the spout, it’s not usually fine enough to restrict the small pieces of herbal blends.
Of course, herbal teas should always be brewed in a glass or glazed ceramic vessel, since they can also vary widely in flavor and be intensely potent in aroma. We love to brew herbal teas in our glass teapot, which uses laser-cut slits in the glass infuser basket to strain fine bits, and offers a beautiful view of the colorful flowers or herbal blends brewed inside.
Do you use special teaware for different types of tea? Tell us all about your pairings in the comments below!
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