Friday, July 1, 2011

"What Teapot Should I Get?" Part 2

I talked about choosing the right size teapot in part 1. In part 2, let's look into the types of teapots to choose. Using the right type of teapot is crucial to brewing a good cup of tea.

In brewing Chinese tea, the commonly used teapot now are: zisha teapot (紫砂壺), gaiwan (蓋碗)(To me when gaiwans are used in gongfu tea, they are just a teapot), large pocelain teapots (瓷壺), and glass teapots (玻璃壺).

A zisha teapot with Chinese
calligraphy carved on it
ZiSha teapot, or purple clay teapot, is the traditional gongfu teapot. It is THE teapot I recommend for brewing most tea. Here's why: The clay used to make ZiSha teapot is very unique. It's slower in conducting heat and has good permissibility. A good zisha teapot is capable of concentrating the heat from the hot water into steeping/brewing the tea leaves. It is also very durable because its good permissibility prevents it from cracking. A zisha teapot that is used everyday doesn't need to be washed/scrubbed. All it takes is a quick rinse with boiling water before use and it's ready for action. Zisha teapot lets you bring the best out of your tea. But a good one now demands quite a premium.

Me having tea at LaoShe Tea House
in Beijing in May 2011. In northern
China, tea is served in a gaiwan and
you drink straight from it.

Gaiwan is sometimes used in gongfu tea as a teapot. Although it was originally meant to be drank straight from, it somehow made its way into gongfu tea. As to how that happened, I have no idea. If you know about how the gaiwan became part of the gongfu teaset, please post a comment. I would greatly appreciate you sharing with me and the readers. Gaiwan is made with porcelain. Porcelain conducts heat relatively faster, making a gaiwan very hot to touch when preparing gongfu tea. I personally don't use gaiwan for gongfu tea that much (I used to, and still sometimes do just to refresh the skill). Gaiwans are good for tea that expands a lot when steeped because of it's slight funnel shape. Sometimes I also use it to steep small amounts of Pu'erh tea leaves and drink right out of it. A warning here for those who never use a gaiwan gongfu style, practice with cold water and spent tea in it before trying with hot water. I have seen too many people break their gaiwan before. I used to joke that "Caution! Extremely hot!" really should belong to the gaiwan instead of that plastic lid.

Large porcelain teapots are not commonly used by people who care about their tea. The only exception I say is in steeping Pu'erh with small amount of tea leaves. But this requires it to be placed over a gentle heat source like a candle. They are commonly used in Chinese restaurants because they are BIG, holds a lot of water, and can take some abuse. I never have much luck with large porcelain teapots. If you are a porcelain teapot master, please give me some tips on how to brew better tea with it.

Glass teapots are good for flowering tea,
allowing you to see the beauty of the tea
as it steeps.

Finally the glass teapots. They look nice and let you see your leaves and tea color. They are especially good when steeping flowering tea (I am not talking about flower tea like jasmine tea here) because it lets you see how your flowering tea opens up. There are good glass teapots made with heat resistant glass on the market now. Make sure you buy the ones made with heat resistant glass because regular glass can shatter when suddenly exposed to hot water.

So what's my recommendation? Obviously I recommend zisha teapots over the other ones if you can only pick one teapot to have. Zisha hold heat well which works perfectly in gongfu tea's quick steep and pour cycle. Even when you steep you tea for minutes before pouring, a zisha teapot still outperforms a porcelain or glass teapot. On the other hand, if Pu'erh or green tea is what you drink often, then a good solid gaiwan will work just fine for you and you can drink straight from it. Also a gaiwan is good for enjoying tea at work. I always keep a thermos and a gaiwan in my office. Filling up the thermos with hot water and a little bit of pu'erh or longjing in the gaiwan let you enjoy great tea at your desk. Lastly if you have flowering tea to steep, then a glass teapot is definitely in order.

I will go into detail about choosing a good zisha teapot or gaiwan in future post.

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