Gear (teaware) Reviews, Misc, Pots & Cups, Tea Culture, Tea Extras

Going Gong-Fu: Teapots for beginners.

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It all starts with the tea

Teapots are proving to be an art and science all their own. I set out a couple of months ago to lean a more traditional gong-fu style and purchased two pots then ordered five more. What I’ve learned since then could fill a book, but since I’m writing a blog post I’ve done my best to give a logical and concise presentation to the best of my ability (I’m no expert yet).

Since this is a tea blog, the logical place to start talking about teapots is with the tea itself. One of the first things I learned is that not all pots are suitable for every kind of tea. While any teapot is quite capable of brewing whatever you put into it; getting different kinds of tea in a single teapot can be problematic.

Teas come in a large variety of shapes and sizes from big and natural to small, twisted, or pressed. The wonderful diversity of tea is one of its greatest joys. However, this can also present a problem when it comes to teapots. They are just as varied in their form and not always suited to every kind of tea.

Matching Teas with Teapots

The key to choosing the correct teapot is to take a look at the shape of the tea you intend to use and the opening of the teapot.

Gong-fu teapots are small and depending on their shape can have an even smaller opening. This is fine for small teas like the Laoshan and white pot depicted above. But for the larger shou mei, you can see this white teapot has such a small opening 1.25″ you practically have to put each leaf in one-by-one.

Depending on the tea you have to make sure that the opening of your teapot will accommodate it. If your favorite tea has a small rolled shape then a small opening is fine. But if you looking for a pot for a big tea or a cake that you don’t want to crumble too much, you will need a teapot with an opening large enough to accommodate it.

Above are my three most versatile pots. The first has an opening of 1.25″ (175ml) that works. The last is 2″ but at 200ml more tea that I prefer to brew for myself gong-fu style. The center teapot is my favorite right now. It’s tall, has 1.75″ opening and is 175ml. I also like the spout, more on that later. When looking to accommodate big teas I’ve found that squat short pots have the larger openings. For smaller rolled teas, I like taller pots that give the leaves plenty of room to bloom. As with all things tea, you will find many variations to this.

Multipurpose Teapots

There is also one other thing to consider when choosing a multipurpose teapot, the material. Along with having a large opening, a good multipurpose teapot also needs to be glazed on the inside of the pot. Unglazed pots are best suited for one type of tea only (white, green, oolong, etc). With a glazed pot, there is no problem brewing green and black teas in the same pot so long as you clean between use.

Porcelain is an excellent choice and always glazed on the interior of the pot, it’s also a bit more expensive. Ceramic is a more economical choice, but not all of them are glazed on the inside. When choosing ceramic teapots for multipurpose use be sure to check that it is glazed inside and out. When shopping online always contact the vendor or move on to another pot if you cannot see inside and the interior is not covered in the description.

The Strainer

The next thing you want to look at is the strainer. Any type of metal should be out as it will effect teas taste. No strainer I suppose is fine, but I’ve yet to come across one. Most teapots have little holes in the wall of the pot where the spout is attached and this is one of those instances where more is better.

Take this first example above, while a nice looking 200ml teapot (kyusu), there are too few holes and it takes almost a minute to decant. A dime would cover all of these holes they are so small.

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This one above is the kind I’ve found works the best. Pushed out in a half ball shape and pierced with holes. It’s about the size of a quarter and, even though the holes are somewhat irregular, of all my pots it’s one of the better ones.

Here are two other styles that also work well. You’ll notice the one on the right is similar to the first one I told you to avoid above. The difference is that the holes are larger and there is more of them.

The Spout

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So, on the spout. I’ve found it all over the place from top to bottom. Personally, I like those where the spout is placed lower on the pot best. They have a stronger pour and most important less prone to drips and mess. The dark teapot on the left must be held almost upside down to decant all the tea and if you forget to hold onto the lid you’ll be cleaning up rather than enjoying your tea. While it may be an adorable pot, twisting my wrist it to get all the tea out is not very comfortable.

The Lid

The lid is also important. You want it to fit securely. However, when ordering online it’s not something you can really judge. If however it looks poorly fitting, pass on that pot.  I’ve only seen one vendor that was forthright about lids not fitting tightly. All my pots leak from around the lid. As I’ve learned the individual characteristics of each and how best to use them, drips from the lid have improved over time.

Shopping for teapots

So far the most frustrating part of learning gong-fu flash-brewing has been waiting for my teapots to ship from China. You won’t find these little beauties at your local Walmart. However, I do encourage you to check out your local thrift stores. Westerners often confuse them for decorative items, and I’ve heard stories of some amazing finds out there for the thrifty shopper.

The best place to start is with an internet search for “local tea house.” If you want your teapot quick that’s the best place to start. But be warned, you also going to be looking at a hefty retail mark up.

After some serious frustration at not being able to find anything online that shipped locally in my price range, I eventually turned to Alixepress. It was there that I found Tangpin. Their customer service is top notch! They also have a huge selection with very reasonable prices. I was also very impressed with their shipping, its same day and on average about TWO WEEKS from China with FREE SHIPPING – YEAH!

In my next post for Going Gong-Fu A Beginners Guide, I’ll be talking all about the pour and the effect it can have on our tea.

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