This past weekend, I attended my coworker Casey’s workshop on teaware. Casey is a fount of knowledge about the science and history behind tea, partly thanks to a book she loves, The True History of Tea. Casey has worked at Stone Leaf for about three years and leads most of the workshops we hold. On this particular morning she took us first to ancient China, where farmers cultivated the first tea plants millennia ago.
If you’ve been to the teahouse, you’ve probably had your tea served to you in a gaiwan, which looks like this:
Gaiwan translates literally to “lidded bowl” and is mentioned in the very first writings on tea ceremony, The Classic of Tea by Lu Yu, written around the 8th century CE. People used to drink tea right out of this bowl, much like one would out of a matcha bowl today. The pitcher, filter, and cup, which complete the gongfu style of tea drinking, is shown below. “Gongfu cha” translates to “making tea with skill.”
As tea-makers developed more elaborate vessels for serving tea, certain styles of teapot became associated with different cultures. The yixing, for example, is a clay teapot in which oolongs are typically served. The yokodenokyusu (Japanese for “side-handled teapot”) is used to steep Japanese green teas.
a clay yixing
We used glass and porcelain gaiwans, yixings, and yokodenokyusu to brew several different types of teas and discover how the teaware affected the taste. I was intrigued to discover that when brewing black, green, and oolong tea, the glass gaiwan tended to produce the cleanest taste–the lighter and more delicate flavors in the tea were abundant–whereas the porous clay yixing often muted those notes. The ceramic gaiwans and yokodenokyusu provided the most balanced cup, hinting at the brightness present in the teas while encompassing the depth of the flavors. Some people extended the teaware experiment to cups as well, contrasting the effect of porcelain versus clay cups on the taste of their tea.
So, is the answer to brew all your teas in a glass gaiwan? Not necessarily. You can use teaware as a tool, the same way you use water temperature and steep time, to fine-tune the taste of your tea. If you prefer to experience the sweet honey notes in Jing Shan Hong Cha, you may prefer a glass gaiwan, but if you crave it for the darker cacao and fig notes it contains, a clay yixing might be better. If you like a balanced cup, a ceramic kyusu could be your vessel of choice.
If you want to learn more, peruse one of our many books on tea next time you’re in, or order a pot of tea and see for yourself!
Have you had different experiences brewing with a variety of teaware? Let us know in the comments section below.