Tuesday, June 28, 2011

"What teapot should I get?" Part 1

My friend T called me this afternoon to tell me he broke his only zisha (紫砂) teapot and wants to get a replacement. He wants a small teapot but is unsure exactly which is right for him. So he asked me what kind of teapot he should buy.


"What teapot should I get?" is one of the FAQs I come across often. It is a question with many answers. To find the right teapot, a few key factors should be considered, such as: How you prepare your tea? What tea do you drink? or How many people you have tea with? etc. In this post I am just offering what I know about teapots and my way of choosing the right teapot. If you have other opinions about this subject, please post your comments to share your thoughts with me and the readers.



The typical large teapot used
in most Chinese restaurants.
Before I write further, let me just say that most seasoned tea drinkers have at least 3 or 4 teapots of different shapes and sizes. I am not saying you need a few teapots to be a serious tea drinker. It's just that in order to make the best out of your tea leaves in different settings, you need to use different teapots.




My 1-cup teapot. Great for testing
samples.
Getting back to the topic, let's first talk about size. Teapots come in sizes/volume from 1 gongfu teacup to about 1 liter. The ones used to make Chinese tea typically aren't bigger than 500mL, like the ones used in Chinese restaurants. Big teapots of this size usually cannot make very good tea. (There are exceptions when steeping aged fermented tea like Pu'er). In gongfu tea, the right teapot size depends on the number of cups of tea to make in each steep. The teapot should be just big enough to make the number of cups needed. The reason here is that a teapot too small will not produce enough tea in one steep. A teapot too big will produce more tea than you need, which results in waste if you pour the excess away or you "destroy" your tea leaves by oversteeping if you leave the excess in the teapot. (In traditional gongfu tea we pour straight from the teapot to the cup, so there is no other pot to collect the tea from the teapot).


In Minnan and ChaoShan
Area, people traditionally
pour tea straight to the
teacup, without using the pot
shown on the lower left of
this picture. This pot made
its presence in gongfu
teasets less than ten years
ago.
Another aspect here is that most tea expand when steeped and take up space, reducing the available water volume. How much the tea expands depends on the type of tea and the amount of tea leaves you use. Tea like Gunpowder and Tie Guan Yin expand more, while dragon well and Pu'erh don't expand much. If you like to make strong tea, you also need a slightly larger teapot because the more tea you use, the less room there is for water in the teapot.

Okay I need some tea now. I'll be back for Part 2.

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