A Quick Look at How Tea is Prepared Around the World
When the weather outside is cold enough to make you want two extra pairs of socks, we at MEM think it’s a good time for a party. What kind? --a tea party of course! For many of us, sharing tea is an essential part of enjoying it. How it’s shared is personal for everyone, but many teas have traditions associated with them beyond the classic teapot that are tailored for a specific drinking style, situation, or the unique qualities of the tea being consumed. Here’s a look at a few varieties of more traditional tea-ware you can use next time you share a cup!
Material: Yi-xing clay, glass, porcelain, jade
Teas: Greens, whites, oolongs, pu-erh
Developed during the Ming Dynasty in China, a gaiwan is a versatile lidded cup which allows for users to easily steep small amounts of tea. This makes it ideal for enjoying certain oolongs, whole-leaf greens, pu-erh teas and other long-leaf varieties which lend themselves well to multiple infusions. Traditionally, the gaiwan is seen as ideal for steeping more delicately-flavored white and green teas, as the thick porcelain absorbs excess heat and lowers the water temperature while the thick lid traps the tea’s aroma until the top is removed. Using a Gaiwan is easy; simply add the loose tea leaves, add water, cover, and steep. When the tea is ready, the top is used to strain the water out of the cup and into small tasting vessels, leaving the leaves intact and relatively undisturbed for later infusions.
Since there is no filter basket in a gaiwan, it can be seen as difficult or messy to pour from. Our solution is more tea and more practice, but they are also often used in conjunction with a slotted bamboo tea-tray, or cha pan, which catches any spills or unwanted steeps of tea. It’s a lot of fun to work with a partner to see who can get the cleanest pour while exploring how the tea inside evolves in taste, appearance, and smell after each infusion.
Material: Clay pottery with stainless steel mesh
Size: small to large
Teas: Japanese greens such as sencha or gyokuro
The word “kyusu,” which can roughly be translated as “teapot,” generally refers to a covered, side-handled style pot which is used to steep small-leaf japanese teas such as Sencha or Gyokuro. A fine mesh encircles the inside of the teapot, preventing all but the smallest particles of leaf from being poured out through the thin spout. The unique shape allows the pot to be used one-handed, and the angle of the handle was designed so kyusus could be poured low and close to the ground, in the environment of a traditional tatami room where tea-drinkers would sit on the floor to make and serve the tea.
Since a kyusu is so easy to use with one hand and a small amount of tea, it’s a great tool to use when learning more about adjusting Japanese green teas to your tastes. With a buddy and a watch, you can use it to easily master the art of multiple steeps so you’ll be a tea expert next time you want to show your pals how to make gyokuro “just the way you like it!”
Size: small to medium
Teas: Matcha or other tea powders
This round bowl is generally considered to be the originator of most clay and stoneware tea-making devices in east Asia. The form is simple and stems from a tradition of hand-thrown pottery used throughout classical China and Japan. In the period when the chawan was first popularized, tea was generally powdered to be more easily transported. Because of this, a chawan generally had a rounded bottom, enabling the powdered tea to be whisked smoothly into water and removing any lumps. The matcha we are familiar with today hearkens back to this powdered tea tradition, where the leaves are consumed as well as the broth. In tea ceremony or when preparing matcha traditionally, a chawan is still used to mix matcha and water, creating a thick, frothy beverage of the same style utilized for the last several hundred years.
Much attention is still given in tea ceremony to the quality of a chawan, with several types being seen as more distinguished and revered since the Edo period. Raku ware, Hagi ware, and Karatsu ware remain the most reputable styles, and many populate museums, the homes of collectors, and historic tea-houses, where they are prized not only for their beauty but also as important historical artifacts. Learning to make matcha using traditional methods is an engaging alternative to consuming it as a latte or in a smoothie, especially since the traditions associated with Japanese tea ceremony are interesting, rich, and full of delicious snacks made to be shared.
There are as many ways to enjoy tea as there are tea-drinkers, but next time you get together for a cup, think outside the pot and give one one of these awesome pieces of traditional teaware a try. You may just find a new favorite way to #steeptogether!