We often get the question 'what kind of teaware should I get?' from customers who want to know the best way to prepare tea. The answer is really to look for something that makes you enjoy preparing and drinking tea, whether that's some hand thrown pottery mug or a glass french press so you can see the tea leaves as they brew.
All the teas sold on Athena Teas can be brewed Western Style and Eastern Style, as you prefer (blog coming soon about this!). Apart from drinking out of your favorite cup, the most important choice is whether you use a teapot or a gaiwan (lidded bowl).
Choosing a Teapot
Traditional, unglazed clay teapots are favored by tea enthusiasts for their ability to absorb flavors and aromas. Clay teapots become ‘seasoned’ over time and enhance and smooth the taste of new teas. For this reason, you should use a clay teapot to brew only one type of tea. Rinse with plain hot water after use and leave to dry with the lid off. Clay teapots come in a wide array of shapes, sizes, and quality, with the best for being less than 150ml and handmade out of special ‘stone clay’ that has a high mineral content. If you are using a clay teapot, be sure to smell the pot after the liquid and leaves have been removed. The aroma should 'cling' to the clay, smell pleasant, and linger.
Glass and ceramic teapots do not absorb aromas the way clay teapots do and so the same pot can be used to brew any kind of tea. Glass and ceramic teapots are favored for brewing green and white teas as they do not interfere with the teas' delicate fragrance. Glass also offers the appeal of being able to watch the leaves infuse. Glass and ceramic teapots disappate heat more quickly than clay or metal teapots which prevents delicate leaves from 'stewing'.
Metal teapots should be glazed on the inside to prevent rust and a metallic taste from entering the tea. Metal teapots are suitable for brewing black and pu'er teas.
Whatever the material, a good teapot should feel comfortable in your hand, have a snug-fitting lid, pour smoothly, and drain completely. It is best to get a teapot of the size you most frequently prepare, as opposed to a larger teapot that you half fill. This will help the tea retain its aroma while brewing.
Other Brewing Vessels
Gaiwans are perfect for brewing small amounts of tea. Typically made of porcelain or glass, gaiwans are held in one hand when pouring with the lid tilted to allow liquid to pass. It is possible to drink directly from the gaiwan but most prefer to drink from a separate cup to better control the steeping time and cool the tea down. For the tea novice there is some risk of burnt fingers the first time you use a gaiwan!
Tea strainer spoons and other tools designed to be packed with leaves and dipped into hot water are not recommended as they do not provide enough room for the leaves to unfurl. Larger vessels with inbuilt strainers such as flasks or pitchers do provide enough room but are more suited to cold brewing or traveling, due to the temptation to allow the leaves to overbrew.
What we don't recommend is using a ball strainer or other brewing device that packs the leaves into a small space. As tea leaves absorb water they expand, and they need that space to provide the full flavor.