Tea preparation styles vary across the globe. The way tea is brewed in South America or the United States is vastly different than the ways it's brewed in China or Japan. This is even more prominent when the tea is brewed as part of a traditional tea ceremony like gong fu cha. If you like to brew Chinese teas according to traditional methods, this guide will help you select the right Chinese teapot for the job.
One of the first things you should consider when choosing a Chinese teapot is size. If you like to brew a single cup of tea each morning, choosing an enormous teapot isn't going to be a good fit. Small teapots like a gaiwan or yixing cup are a great choice if you like to brew single-serving sizes. These cups also enable you to brew multiple infusions for one person. If you brew tea for the whole family, look for larger teapots to accommodate your needs.
Chinese teapots are made from yixing clay, which is derived from the Jiangsu Province of China. This region offers two types of clay known as earth clay or stone clay. Earth clay is made using mud from specially sourced regions while stone clay is made using harder rock clays.
Earth clay is used to produce mid-quality teapots. These teapots are typically white or pale stone-colored. Stone clay is a higher quality clay also known as Zisha clay. This type of clay is also known as purple clay or red clay. It can vary widely in color thanks to high concentrations of minerals like iron, quartz, and mica. These teapots have great heat retention and maintain the temperature of tea throughout the steeping process. The result is better-tasting tea when it's brewed in a Zisha teapot.
The color of the clay results in characteristics that make each teapot unique. Earth clay comes in three main colors: red, purple, and green. These are also known as Hongni, Zhini, and Luni, respectively. There are also black and yellow clays although these are far less common.
Chinese yixing pots come in a variety of shapes and styles. Some have long spouts that allow the tea to aerate when pouring while others are shorter and more stub-nosed. Clay teapots from China can also be round and plump or square and tall. In general, these teapots feature a handle 180 degrees from the spout.
Chinese clay teapots are made through a firing process. The clay is extracted from soils in China and is then fired in a kiln using low or high temperatures. To tell if a teapot is high-fired, lift the lid about one inch off the top of the pot. Gently let the lid go. You should hear a bell-like ring as the lid makes contact with the teapot opening.
The porosity of a teapot determines whether it will be fired using low or high temperatures. Clays that are very porous are fired using low temperatures in order to constrict the clay. This makes the yixing teapot more dense and sturdier. Thinner clays that are denser are fired using high temperatures. In general, high-fired yixing pots should be used for green and white teas while low-fired tea sets should be used for black, pu-erh, and oolong teas.
Clay teapots are sought-after because of their high-quality construction and their unique history. These teapots get better with age, just like a fine wine. Many affordable, but lower-quality clay teapots are lined with enamel. The enamel makes the pot more durable, and allows it to be used for different types of tea.
Premium Chinese teapots do not have an enamel lining. That's because the teapots are designed to be used with one type of tea such as oolong tea, pu-erh tea, or green tea. With each infusion, the clay gently absorbs the flavor, aroma, and color of the tea. Each subsequent brew has a richer and more nuanced flavor, which makes these teapots desirable as they age. If you like to brew one type of tea, a non-enameled Chinese teapot is the best choice for brewing loose tea leaves.
Brewing tea is an art form. Whether you like to brew iced teas in stunning glass teapots or enjoy the artistry of British porcelain teapots, there is a brewing style for you. To brew Chinese teas, use a Yixing clay teapot or a gaiwan. For the highest quality Chinese clay teapot, look for options made of purple sand, which are known as Yixing Zishas. Remember to use only one type of tea —black tea or white tea for example — if your clay teapot does not have an enamel lining.
In addition to the right teapot, you'll need the right teaware to brew properly. If you are brewing loose leaf tea, use a strainer to keep the leaves contained for easy steeping and pouring into teacups. Grab the right tools and some hot water and start brewing your next pot of tea the traditional way.