There's so much more to it than just your favorite mug and strainer. The deeper your appreciation for tea, the more you'll dive into the details of each item. Just like you would choose a specific glass for a specific wine, there is reason and tradition behind each choice. Here's a basic breakdown of the primary utensils, and what to look for.
First and Foremost, it's all about the Pot.
The kettle is where you boil your water, it's designed to withstand that heat. The pot is for brewing, and unless you're brewing a specific Japanese tea, it should not be placed over the heat. Therefore, the pot is more important. Glass and porcelain pots are appreciated for not absorbing the taste of the tea, so they can be used for a host of different leaves. While it might be pretty to look at, remember that glass does not hold heat as well as porcelain. Porcelain brew pots and serve pots are especially good for Oolongs, Blacks and Herbals that require a higher heat (brew pot for steeping, serve pot for cooling and serving). Clay pots (i.e. Yixing) absorb the taste of the leaves, and are typically not "broken in" for at least 6 months. Since the clay absorbs flavors, remember to not use soap when cleaning, just let it air dry after you've wiped it clean. Metal (iron) pots are typically used with Japanese teas that do not require as much heat. Remember that metal will hold the heat longer, so be mindful of your water temperature. Gaiwan is a type of pot with three distinct pieces, the stand, body (or cup) and lid. It's not uncommon to see them made of different materials, yet porcelain and ceramic seem to be the most favored and appreciated. These pots are appreciated for the ability to handle the more complex and dramatic teas. Their design lends itself to the larger leaf teas, and since you'll be sipping from it directly (allowing you to take in the aroma via how it should be handled) you'll obviously want to avoid the smaller teas. The Kyusu is a Japanese style tea pot with a separate handle and spout. Typically, they have holes before the spout so an infuser is not needed. Most Japanese teas should be poured a little each time, in each cup, to even out the taste for everyone at the seating.
Remember to always pre-warm your pot and cups with a heavy splash of boiling water that you swish out. Pre-warming helps maintain the heat, and flavors.
Strainer or Infuser?
Infusers are made to be fully immersed in the water, allowing the water to complete encircle the leaves and a more thorough flavor. Green, White and Oolong typically have larger leaves, and will require a larger infuser. Cramming them into a smaller infuser might "suffocate" the leaves and diminish the flavor potential. That said, you should probably have two infusers handy - a large and a small.
Strainers are used to catch the tea as it comes out of a tea pot from where it was steeped. If you're using a small strainer as an infuser, meaning that you're just pouring the hot water into the strainer where your leaves are, you're not really doing anything wrong, but then again you're not doing it right. Strainers can lead to over brewing, in addition to not bringing out the full taste of the tea. Traditionally speaking, strainers should only be used in conjunction with a tea pot, be it an unglazed clay, gaiwan, or pitcher.
Spoons & Tongs: Stainless Steel, Bamboo?
Bamboo is quite impressive. Did you know that it's actually a grass, stronger than wood and naturally anti-bacterial and anti-fungal? It's the ultimate heat resistant, green utensil and tends to not deform as quickly as wood. When choosing Stainless, look for grade 304 - that's the kitchen grade, food safe classification. Porcelain is also a good choice, but tends to be more fragile.
Cups: Glass, Ceramic, Cast Iron?
Ceramic, porcelain and cast iron are preferred as the hold heat longer than glass or plastic.
Hope that helps! If you have a specific tip or tool that you love, drop us a note!
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