I was inspired to do this post by a recent tweet from one of my fellow bloggers Kimberly from Tea Is A Wish Your Heart Makes. Turns out she had a great find at one of her local charity shop: a beautiful Japanese Kyusu for only £2.50. That’s about $3.25 in the US. With that in mind, I set out today to finish building out a new set at my local thrift and discount stores.
The Chaxi or “tea setup” for Gong-Fu style brewing can be a bit daunting for those considering it for the first time, especially in regards to cost. Many sources out there swear by yixing pottery which can get pricey. But relax dear reader, I’m here to show you that you can get started without having to drop hundreds of dollars. I did, and this is what I came up with.
A basic Chaxi will consist of the following:
Tea Tray and/or Boat
While this might seem like a lot of stuff, most of it you’ll already have or as I will show can be found locally without having to resort to expensive sets. Elegant, meditative, and producing a superior cup of tea, Gong-Fu also allows the practitioner to add their own personal style to their Chaxi. And I think doing so on a dime only enhances the beauty and fun surrounding Gong-Fu. In this post, I’m going to go through all the basics needed and how I put an entire set together under $40.
The Mat ($1.25)
The mat or cloth you lay down provides the foundation or backdrop for your Chaxi and can be just about anything. Have a favorite shirt or dress that you can’t wear anymore? Well, you’ve just found a new use – cut to size or just fold out nicely. I picked up some bamboo placemats because I can roll them up) for $1.25 each at Ross (a discount retailer in the US). Your options are endless, just remember that along with presenting a beautiful backdrop its purpose is to catch any stray tea, which does stain.
The Tray and/or Boat ($7.98)
Most of us know what a tea tray is but in Gong-Fu its a bit more than just something to carry things. Its main purpose is to catch the wash and tea. When purchasing my first set I made the mistake of getting a small bamboo tray that can hold liquid. The problem is that I drink tea before bed and left it wet for too long resulting in mold. To remedy that I found a wooden tray also at Ross for $4.99 and a wooden bowl at the Goodwill (used thrift store chain) for only $0.99. I also picked up a loofah for $2.00 and cut a round out so that my pot does not have to sit in any water caught my tea boat. The tea tray I’m now sorry I purchased cost me three times what this beautiful set did! Check your cupboards though, while I was looking to match a tray with similar pieces, most of us already have a tray and bowl that will work just fine.
Coasters, depending on size can be multipurpose. I have a small 75ml Kyusu that I use this same coaster for as a tea boat. Generally speaking though, they protect the drinker from burning themselves on a hot cup and add another layer of elegance and personal style to your Chaxi. Again I went to Ross, my local discount store, and picked up a set of three for $1.50 each that matched the look I was going for.
Also called a fair cup, it is an important component of your set. You will notice that when you decant from your teapot most often the tea will go from light to dark. Pouring it all into a pitcher before serving into cups ensures each cup is receiving the full flavor profile. Here again, my local thrift store provided a beautiful glass pitcher for $1.99. I prefer glass as it allows a better appreciation of the color. Another option is the cream pitcher that comes with western tea and/or china sets – these work great too and are easy to find if you don’t have one.
When it comes to cups you can go fancy or not. Many tea vendors offer free shipping for orders over a certain amount and one way of taking advantage of this when your very close to the minimum free shipping is to throw in a cup. I got this beauty for $4.80 from Seven Cups for just that reason. I actually saw some decent ones at the thrift store today for only $0.99 so look around.
So this is by far the most important component of your Chaxi. If you google gongfu teapot the price range can go from reasonable to outrageous. When you’re just getting started, I recommend trying to find the best price you can before diving deep into yixing and their considerable price points. I searched for weeks before I found a company called Tangpin. They offer a huge selection with reasonable prices that allowed me to purchase a number of different styles to find what I liked. The also ship the same day and have great customer service. I’ve received five so far with a sixth on the way. This handsome pot has turned out to have the best pour and is my favorite (here’s the link). It’s 180ml and the perfect size for Gong-Fu. After a kind discount, I got it for $17.98 and retails for only $19.98. I highly recommend this particular pot, but there is a lot to consider when choosing one. If this style does not suit you, be sure to check in on my next post where I’ll go over all the particulars of teapots and share what I’ve learned in choosing the right ones along with the mistakes I made.
The Cha-Ching ($35.50)
Add it all up and I put together my own Gong-Fu Chaxi for $35.50. Not bad! What makes it special though is that it’s entirely my own; a one of a kind that expresses my personal esthetics. I LOVE IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!
If you look around at repurposing what you already have, it’s entirely possible that you can put together just as nice a set for even less! So don’t let those big fancy Gong-Fu sets that cost hundreds of dollars turn you off. Gong-Fu style brewing is just as wonderful done on a dime!
You may have noticed I did not include a tea strainer. The truth is I rarely ever use one. If you’ve got good whole leaf tea you really don’t need one – any stray bits generally get taken care of with the wash. You might also be wondering why I went with a pot rather than a gaiwan. While I do have one, It’s too big for my grip and I have trouble using it. There is some serious skill to master the gaiwan but all I ever make is a mess. A smaller one is on my shopping list. After trying to squeeze big leaf teas into my small pots, I do see an advantage there. If that is your preference I recommend starting off small, no larger than 100ml. You might also need something for the wash, but just about anything will do. I’ve used vases and pitchers but even a plastic bucket works.
While not essential, there are also some nice add-ons that you might want to consider if your budget allows. Tea pets are great and I have the cutest little Monkey King on my desk. A little vase is also nice for some floral arrangements. Currently, I’m using a bottle from Lucky Buddha Beer. Ceremonial tools are also something to consider. While I have them I really don’t use them much and I keep getting free tongs along with free tea towels as my collection grows. I also have a serving vessel for weighing/presenting tea, but as I’ve gotten to know my pots and teas better I usually just fill them up to about 80% capacity for large leaf, 40% for rolled and 20% for pressed tea. It seems to work out fine. I only measure when I’m doing a review.