What teaware to use depends on what tea you like to drink and how you like to brew. There are two main ways to brew our teas: Eastern method and Western method. You can read more about the differences here.
Japanese style metal teapot
Glass teapot with lid strainer
Chinese tea cups
Glass pitcher / fair cup
Bamboo tea scoop
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.
Choosing a Cup
The size, shape, and thickness of your teacup affects how your tea tastes. Small cups made of fine material allow the most control over how much tea to take in. The best teacups make it easy to coat the tongue and create a ‘full mouth’ feeling without scalding or excessive aeration. Large, coffee style mugs are convenient but their size and shape dull the experience - similar to drinking fine wine out of a water glass. Thick ceramic can also make it difficult to gauge temperature, resulting in scalding or long periods of waiting for the tea to cool down.
Many specialist teawares exist and it is possible for an enthusiast to amass a large collection of tea equipment. Besides a brewing vessel and cup, some of the most common and useful teawares are:
Fair cup - tea is first poured into a fair cup before being distributed to drinking cups. Using a fair cup offers a number of advantages, namely: a standardised flavor (otherwise the first pour may be weaker than subsequent pours, as it has had the shortest time to brew); a way to see the amount of tea if it is to be shared; and to cool the tea before drinking.
Tea can - any airtight can can be used to store tea. Before using a can, check that it is completely dry and free of any other smells. Some teas (such as those that arrive vacuum-packed) store better with low oxygen. In this case try match the quantity of leaves to the volume of the can. Other teas actually benefit from 'breathing room' but once awakened should be consumed within 2 months, similar to how aerating red wine improves the taste but degrades it if left exposed to air for too long.
Tea scoop - often made of bamboo, tea scoops are wider and deeper than teaspoons, making it easier to collect large tea leaves without crushing them. The open mouth also makes it easy to direct the leaves into the teapot.
Tea towel - Eastern style tea towels are made from soft, absorbent microfibre, as opposed to woven 'tea towels' common in the West. These tea towels are handy to mop up any spills, are less likely to leave stray fibres in your pot, and provide enough cushioning that they can be wrapped around small teapots for travel.
Strainer - usually made of stainless steel, strainers are convenient for brewing directly into a cup, and are a quick simple way to brew tea on the go or for use in cooking.