So you want to brew tea properly? You need the right teaware. This is my basic overview of considerations when buying your treasures!
GONG FU OR WESTERN
You should all know that in my opinion Gong Fu Brewing is the default way that everyone should make tea. You can read and watch why if you missed my explanations.
So I am going to be assuming here that you are reading this with the intention of brewing Gong Fu. All of the following advice does apply to Western style too but will have less of an effect because Western style is lo-fi brewing.
TYPE OF MATERIAL
Perfect for watching the leaves brew. Glass produces a bright, pure, uncoloured taste of the tea. The heat conductivity of glass tends to be quite fast which means that the water will cool quickly. This makes it more suitable for short brewing tea and leaves that should not be extracted hot and long.
Suited to Green, Yellow and other low temperature teas.
PORCELAIN OR CERAMIC
Perfect all rounders for tea appreciation.
Glazed porcelain produces a pure, uncoloured taste of the tea. Porcelain and ceramic can be used for all teas but the quicker heat conductivity of Porcelain means that it cannot brew leaves requiring sustained high heat quite as well as clay.
Ultimate for high heat teas.
These are unglazed and full of minerals which react and contribute to the taste and texture of the tea. Clay has a high heat retention so these pots are more suited to teas that require high heat and many infusions like big leaf Oolongs and PuErh tea. It is fundamental that you source an authentic, high-quality clay pot as there are many imitations out there made with undesirable material.
There are a variety of clays that are suited to different styles of tea, however the most popular is Yixing Clay from Yunnan Province. To learn more about Yixing Clay pots and how to brew with them, please watch these videos.
There’s so much to discuss when it comes to clay types and the teas they suit, and so we created a masterclass video for our teahead community to find the clay perfect for your sessions:
CAST IRON, SILVER AND OTHER METAL
These were not traditionally used to brew tea. The famous Tetsubin Cast Iron Pots and metal pots are traditionally used to heat up water (adding minerality to the water too). Recently there has been a lot of enameled Cast Iron Teaware being made which is suitable for brewing tea but they are not usually made in Gong Fu size and so it is more suited to Western brewing. The commonly held myth that Cast Iron has a superior heat retention is not actually true. Clay has a much higher heat retention than Cast Iron.
THICKNESS OF MATERIAL
The thicker the material the higher the heat retention capabilities and therefore the more suited to hotter brewing teas with longer infusions. Thin materials are perfect for brewing teas in an arc (hot moving to cool water) such as green tea.
SHAPE AND SIZE OF TEAWARE
The perfect brew ensures that the leaves are free to expand and extract in the water. This is one of many reasons why tea bags produce low quality tea but it extends to those ball infusers and any small brewing baskets. Conversely, too much space means that there will be areas of the pot with water but hardly any leaf which means a weak extraction.
Ideally, the shape and size of the brewing pot should allow the leaves (when brewed) to almost fill the space. Circular shaped pots are pretty much universally suitable for all teas but teas with a lot of buds tend to prefer taller and thinner pots as they occupy space upwards rather than outwards (unlike ball rolled Oolongs).
DIFFERENT TYPES OF TEAWARE
Classic and easy to use way of brewing.
The most functional and controllable way to brew tea.
Brewing on the go.
DECANTER (PITCHER, FAIRNESS CUP, GONG DAO BEI)
This is the container to pour off your infusion into form your brewer. This is done for a couple of reasons. The first is to ensure that everyone is tasting the same liquor. When pouring directly from a pot into cups it is unlikely that everyone will get the same strength tea. The second is to have a place to pour your tea to keep warm ready for serving. This means that you don't have to wait until everyone has finished their cups before brewing another infusion.
These long cups are sometimes used to catch the aroma of the liquor.
Fundamental to the tea experience is the cups that you drink from. The shape should allow easy sipping. The size and material should allow the tea to cool quickly to perfect sipping temperature without waiting.
An essential piece of teaware to remove any unwanted broken tea leaves. You may want to experiment with not straining if you have a good enough strainer in your pot or you are skillfull with your Gaiwan, as this can add more texture to the tea but it is important to have a strainer around for more broken tea.
This allows you to brew at your desk or with your guests therefore enhancing the tea experience. Do not underestimate the sensorial pleasure of being part of the brewing process - watching and smelling the aromatics of the leaves is a huge part of tea appreciation so you want to brew WITH your guests.
You can never have enough teaware but we all have to start somewhere. Here is my advice on the teaware that every aspiring teahead should have in their collection:
CONNOISSEUR TEA BREWER - start Gong Fu Brewing with hardly any investment with this all in one brewer and decanter. This takes away the need for a water catcher and allows you to brew Gong Fu style instantly. Perfect for the office or to take away on a holiday.
A FEW GLASS OR PORCELAIN 30-50ml TASTING CUPS - You have to drink out of something!
To take your teaware game to the next level...
GLASS GONG FU TEAPOT - Your go-to pot for all tea especially White, Green, Yellow and light Oolong tea.
YIXING CLAY POT - For hotter and longer brewing teas like Oolong and PuErh.
A GONG DAO BEI - Either porcelain or glass (porcelain has slightly higher heat retention).
A FEW GLASS OR PORCELAIN 30-50ml TASTING CUPS - You have to drink out of something!
FINE MESH STRAINER - To ensure crystal clear tea.
WATER TRAYS: INTRODUCING THE GONG FU CODE AND GONG FU CODE: SATELLITE
So now you know all of the tools and utensils needed to become an expert in Gong Fu tea brewing. But what are you going to serve your tea on? And what about disposing of tea rinses and excess water?
The most common method of tackling these issues is by using a water tray, which is as simple as it sounds: A tray to serve tea from, typically with holes on the surface to allow excess water to be collected inside for later disposal. The benefit of this is you’re now free to be as messy as you want! Spill any water, the tray will catch it and take it away from your serving surface to the container below.
A few years ago, we meticulously designed what we considered the ultimate water tray with all the utility you could ever need, called the Gong Fu Guru. Of course we couldn’t stop there, and after hundreds of sessions of using and scrutinising our Gong Fu Guru, we came up with our upgraded lineup of premium water trays, with emphasis on improving the aesthetics and functionality.
The Gong Fu Code is the pinnacle in brewing, using excellent materials crafted with precision. The Gong Fu Code manages to express what we love about Tea: Beauty, simplicity, passion, and a way of life: a Gong Fu Code.
Featuring a stainless steel water tray laser-cut with our cryptic yet aesthetic morse code design electroplated in rose gold, ABS plastic liner and waterproofed bamboo outer with a streamlined, minimal profile, strainer, towel, and infusion counter frog teapet. We believe this tray to be the best tray we’ve designed to date, meeting all of our criteria for a solid tea brewing experience.
The Gong Fu Satellite was designed to work in conjunction with the Gong Fu code as a serving tray for your guests, however performs just as well as a standalone tea tray for more minimal, smaller sessions.
We decided to give this tray an all-bamboo outer design to complement and differentiate from the Gong Fu code whilst retaining the natural, minimal and premium aesthetic. Like the Code, the Satellite features an eye-pleasing morse code design with a hidden message, as well as infusion counter, ABS liner and tea towel for mess-free sessions. Super low profile for the ultimate sleek look!
For an even more compact and minimal set up, we’ve designed and created our most versatile tea tray ever: the Gong Fu Vessel.
With a super small footprint perfect for desk brewing, and a large capacity bowl for water or spent leaves, we find this tray excellent for brewing and working or using as a pot stand to really highlight your beautiful teaware! Check out our introduction video here:
Now that we’ve explored all the tools needed for an excellent tea experience, let's continue this look at brewing basics with Length of Steeping.