So you want to brew some of your loose leaf tea. How do you select your teaware?
For many, it is simply an emotional choice, but if you want to get the most out of your tea, let’s look at an important thing to take into consideration: teaware material.
Before you narrow down the right teaware, take note of the kind of tea that you feel like preparing for the day. Are you in the mood for a good West Lake Dragonwell green tea? Maybe you think it’s a Sichuan Imperial black tea kind of day?
In either case, you are looking at very different teas as far as steeping requirements go. For example, in general, green teas will call for lower steeping temperatures than black teas.
So how do you choose the right teaware for the job?
Teaware comes not only in a variety of shapes and sizes, but also in different materials. You can find porcelain and glass teapots alongside other types of teapots, such as yixing clay or iron. Although aesthetics play an important role, there’s more to the material of a teapot than just aesthetics.
An Iron Word of Caution
There are some popular tea companies that try to persuade customers to purchase iron teapots, alleging that they are the best vessels in which to prepare tea, regardless of type. This is a very mistaken claim though for a couple of reasons. If you’ve struggled to make optimal green tea and you’ve been using an iron teapot, this post should help you.
The density and thickness of iron make it slow to heat up but slow to cool down.
For one, this means that unless you preheat your iron teapot, it will quickly drop the temperature of the water poured in by 10 degrees or more. For example, if you were aiming to steep your tea at 205°F (96°C), you will risk using the wrong temperature.
For two, and more importantly, iron retains a lot of heat. For lighter teas especially, such as greens or whites, heat retention results in over extraction of your tea leaves, essentially turning your tea into a stew of sorts. This leads to undesirable characteristics, such as astringency.
Lastly, we believe that teaware has its own “character” that it imparts to the tea. For unglazed pieces, this will be the seasoning that inevitably builds up with frequent use of the same kind of tea. But even for glazed pieces, the clay still manages to affect the flavor, which is why tea tastes different out of a Jian Zhan teacup as opposed to a Treasure Porcelain teacup. It’s not that one is necessarily superior to the other in terms of taste; they’re just different, each bringing something subtle and interesting to the experience. The same is true even if we choose glass teaware, no matter how ornate and stunning.
In the case of iron, it seems to bring a little too much to the tea drinking experience. Iron has a tendency to overwhelm the flavor rather than complement it. In almost every case, it is inferior to clays, porcelains, and glass when it comes to preparing and enjoying loose leaf tea. Of course, there is merit relating to iron tea pots that are unseasoned inside for heating the water. This is a topic not covered in this article.
The Union of Teaware and Tea Type
The way forward is to try to think of the union between tea leaves and teaware as one of harmony. More delicate teas require more delicate teaware, while more resilient teas require more resilient teaware.
What this means for you is that you should try to pay attention to two things when selecting your teaware.
First, look at the surface area of the exposed leaf, prior to its first steeping. Is the leaf twisted? Rolled? Flat? The more compressed a leaf is, the more heat is required to unravel the tea leaf for the best flavors.
For this reason, your teas with pearl-shaped tea leaves, such as our Tieguanyin Oolong Tea, benefit most when steeped in a teaware vessel that promotes heat retention, such as one of our yixing clay teapots. Similarly, tea leaves that are flatter, such as our Tai Ping Hou Kui Green Tea, benefit more when steeped in teaware that dissipates heat better, such as a glass teapot.
Second, be mindful of tea type. While there are always exceptions, in general, green and white teas call for more delicate treatment (which means teaware that dissipates heat) while the more heavily oxidized teas, such as oolongs and black teas, call for more resilient teaware (the kind that retain heat).
Heat retention vs heat dissipation is also something to keep in mind when selecting a teabowl or tea cup for preparing tea grandfather style. This is why Tai Ping Hou Kui will almost certainly taste best in a tall borosilicate glass tumbler as opposed to a stoneware bowl.
What happens when you have a green tea that is pearl-shaped? I personally err on the side of the first criterion, but I highly recommend that you simply experiment to see which kind of teaware brings out the best flavors for you!