There is a famous Chinese saying：‘工欲善其事，必先利其器’which means, if you yearn to excel at the job, you must prepare the right tools.
Indeed, this saying is true in many ways, including brewing of Chinese tea.
It is a common misperception that the most expensive tools would be the best for the job. Indeed, newcomers often assume that Chinese tea utensils begin and end with the ‘Zisha’ or ‘Yixing’ clay pot. At least it is the most well-known in that circle as well as generally the most expensive.
However, the ‘right’ tools actually depends on the job on hand, does it not?
No doubt a hacksaw is more expensive and powerful than a simple saw but would if precision work were required you quickly would shelf your hacksaw.
So it applies with Chinese tea brewing. The most important determinant for which type of utensil to use would the type of tea you are using.
Suitable Utensils for Brewing Green Tea
For green tea, the first choice is actually a simple glass. Yup, you read that right- a normal run-of-the-mill tall clear drinking glass. Well, not entirely any tall glass but one with heat resistant properties at least.
Clear glasses are most suited for green tea since a big part of the pleasure of drinking green tea is observing and appreciating the leaves.
What the Chinese call 茶舞- ‘The dance of the tea leaves’.
Indeed when hot water is poured into the glass, the convection currents begin. Then the leaves unfold, expand and swirl and sashay in beautiful, relaxing motion that feels at home in the ballet performance. That in itself has a soothing therapeutic effect on the drinker.
Another reason for the choice of tall glasses is the space it affords for the green leaves to expand unobstructed and release the fullness of its taste; necessary since green tea leaves are often bigger than other types.
It is a shame to deprive the drinker the pleasure of observing the ‘tea dance’. But if for whatever reason glass is not chosen, then a compromise would be the use of white porcelain ware. The white color accentuates the faint, clear liquid for the drinker to admire.
Suitable Utensils for Brewing Pu-er
To determine which type of utensils is suitable for brewing Pu-er, we must consider how Pu-er was processed- storage and aging being a big part of its unique taste. During this stage, Pu-er would inevitably take on a hint of ‘aged’ smell, like the wood or surroundings of its ‘aging room’.
Hence ‘rougher’ ceramics or ‘Zisha’ is well suited for Pu-er as their material absorbs the peripheral smells accumulated during this build-up, thereby retaining only the natural taste and smell of Pu-er.
Suitable Utensils for Brewing Black Tea
Generally, black tea (as the English call it) is paired with fine bone china and other ceramics. The white clear material is suited for admiring the beverage before consumption. Glass pots work just as well. Just a note is that black tea leaves tend to be smaller and more prone to seeping through the spout of the pot so keep your filter handy.
A notable exception is the beloved lapsang souchong which has a distinct smoky taste due to its unique processing. Unlike other black teas, ‘Zisha’ pots are favored for lapsang souchong as its porous nature can mitigate the smoky aroma, leaving a more mellow yet fuller flavored brew.
Suitable Utensils for Brewing Oolong
For oolong, considering it is most distinctly Chinese- you would not be wrong to pair it with the most distinctly Chinese material- the ‘Zisha’ pot.
Indeed, given the full, rich aroma of oolong, especially those from Wuyi district, the ‘Zisha’ pot is a natural match. Well ‘nurtured’ pots will accentuate the flavor and aroma of oolong.
In addition, ‘Zisha’ tends to retain heat better- an integral part of enjoying oolong since heat causes the aroma to permeate its surroundings more readily and the hotter liquid smells and taste more fragrant，allowing the drinker to better appreciate the qualities of the drink.
White porcelains are frequently used as well since they too are conducive to allow the aroma to spread and white surfaces are excellent for admiring tea liquids.
Suitable Utensils for Other Types of Tea
For white teas, yellow teas and flower teas, generally ceramic or glass works well.
There is a lot more to be said on tea utensils but consider this a primer.
We have dealt mainly with material here; in a later post we would consider the advantages and drawbacks of types of brewing utensils like ‘Gaiwan’, pot and other newer variations.