Making tea for one’s self or for others is a process made up of several small steps and decisions. One such step, which is also a decision, is selecting what vessel will be used to contain the tea leaves as they infuse hot water. While the uninitiated may perceive this as an inconsequential decision, those of us who would apply the term “serious tea drinker” to ourselves know otherwise.
The most obvious examples of specific vessels being used to brew tea are Yixing teapots. I happen to have seven of these and each one is used with for a unique type of tea. My own collection is small when compared with that of others, but I intend to grow it more as time goes on and as money allows. A well-seasoned Yixing teapot is a tool thatcan be used to create a “one of a kind” tea drinking experience.
However, it does not stop there. There are many teas that are not normally brewed in Yixing. These teas are usually of the green variety, Dragon Well comes to mind, but they too can benefit from use of more appropriate brewing vessels. I’ve never enjoyed Dragon Well tea more than when I drank it from a tall Collins glass in the company of a good friend. While my friend’s presence clearly increased my enjoyment of the tea I was drinking, the Collins glass did as well. If you pressed me to explain why this is, or how I know, I would not be able to give any sort of substantive answer. I’d just tell you to try it for yourself, then get back to me and we’ll talk more about it.
Plain white porcine cupping sets provide yet another clear example of a brewing vessel which has been designed to brew tea for a specific purpose, which is of course the unbiased evaluation of a tea. Many people in the tea industry use cupping sets as tools because these cupping sets lack the qualities of other brewing vessels, namely uniqueness. The story of one cupping set is no different from that of of the next. When tasting samples of teas which I’m considering buying and selling through my own small company (Scholar’s Tea). I use cupping sets as opposed to one of my main gaiwans, because I value the objectivity the cupping set provides.
I have a small gaiwan that I bring with me almost everyplace I travel. I have many other gaiwans which I could travel with, but this gaiwan is the right one for me. Why is this? Again, I don’t really know. Perhaps it is because of the sum total of the experience of my travel with this gaiwan, which lives in the form of memories in my mind’s eye. Perhaps it is just a familiarity that I find comforting. Perhaps I’m mistaken, and this gaiwan really has noimpact on the tea whatsoever. I don’t know. But I do know that this gaiwan seems to make a difference when it is used.
In the end what I guess I’m trying to say is that the tools used to make the tea do have an impact, and one of the best things that people can do to improve their knowledge of brewing tea is to experiment with the different vessels as much as possible. Play with them! Make tea from India in a Chinese gaiwan, or pair a green tea with a Yixing teapot. See what happens, because you never know… You may be more than pleasantly surprised.