Ya-Ya's Tea Board

Ya-Ya's Tea Blog

Ritualizing the habit, Part One – Teapots: Yixing, gaiwan, kyusu and co.

different size Yixing potsWith this mini-series Ritualizing the habit, I intend to give a brief and practical overview of some of the basic utensils used in tea preparation.
In part one, I will focus on the most important accessory for tea preparation: the teapot. Without delving too deep into the specifics of materials, etc., I’ll explain the general use, benefits and limitations, as well as give some recommendations regarding practical sizes of some common teapot types.

It is important to note that – while most people are attracted to a certain teapot by its aesthetic appeal – different teapots can have a profound effect on the tea brewed in them. The reason for this are manifold, but some of the major ones are related to the material that the pot is made of (i.e. glass dissipates heat very well and is thus better suited for delicate green and white teas which can easily “cook” in thick-walled teapots), their size and shape.

Yixing teapots

brown Yixing potFor most lovers of Chinese Tea, life without Yixing teapots is hard to imagine. These small teapots epitomise the fusion of form and function, existing as art and tool at the same time. Yixing pots have a long tradition of craftsmanship and are made in the town of Yixing from various clays specific to this location. The specific properties of these clays (low heat-conductivity, low shrinkage and absence of heavy metals) allow for the manufacture of superior teaware. Yixing teapots are generally unglazed and the porosity of the clay allows the pot to absorb some of the essence of the brewed tea. Dragon Yixing potThis absorption, however, has the side-effect that you cannot brew vastly different teas in the same pot.
Over time, a higly desirable patina builds up on the pot, just like a in well-cured cast iron skillet. Frequent use gives a pot its shine and fine lustre, as well as improving the flavour of the brewed tea.

Size: The size of a Yixing tea pot depends on a number of factors like preparation style, amount of people to serve and intended tea. Most people use their Yixing wares to prepare gong fu tea. This preparation, which usually consists of many short steepings with a relative large amount of tea leaves, requires a comparatively small pot. To prepare gong fu tea, the pot is often filled to one third or halfway with tea leaves. Bamboo Yixing potUsing a pot that is too large can result in some very expensive gong fu sessions (of course, depending on the price of the tea you’re drinking). Most often, the same leaves are steeped for 4 to 6 (but up to 15-20) times in one session and usage of a large pot would result in excessive amounts of tea! Personally, my recommendation to a beginner would be to start with a pot in the 150-300ml range, depending on the number of people you are usually having tea with (keep in mind that the cups you are drinking from are very small, too).
Larger Yixing pots (say, 500ml and up) often brew very good tea as well, but are less practical for doing gong fu. Use them to prepare tea with longer steeping times (often refered to as “British-style brewing”).
Recommended use for Yixing pots: Gong fu tea, mainly oolongs and pu-erh (raw and ripe), as well as some black teas (but can be used for virtually all teas).

Gaiwan

Glass gaiwan cupA gaiwan (or lidded cup) doesn’t quite fit into line with the rest here, but since it is a common tea brewing vessel (and arguably the precursor to the teapot), I decided to include it.
What is a gaiwan? A gaiwan consists of three parts: a lid, a saucer and the cup itself. The tea leaves are put into the cup which is then filled with water and allowed to steep. The infusion is poured into the serving cups, whereby the slanted lid is used to hold back the tea leaves (some people even drink directly from the gaiwan; again, using the slanted lid to hold back the leaves). The gaiwan can be held by the saucer and the lid or just by the cup and lid (can be hot!) for pouring. Most gaiwan are either glazed or made from a non-porous material like glass or porcelain and hence, don’t absorb flavours. This makes them the ideal gong fu vessel for teas you only drink rarely and don’t want to commit a Yixing pot to.

Yixing gaiwan cupSize: While there are some smaller (50-70ml) and some larger (>300ml) ones, most gaiwan are between 100-150ml, which is a perfect size for gong fu tea. I sometimes use a small one (70ml) when drinking very expensive teas, but for everyday use, a regular size is just right.
Recommended use for gaiwan: Gong fu tea, mainly oolongs and pu-erh (raw and ripe), as well as some black teas (but can be used for virtually all teas).

Kyusu or Japanese (mostly) side-handled teapots, and houhin

Japanese Kyuusu with side-handleKyusu (or kyuusu, Jap.: 急須) have a very unique aesthetic. Although the term kyusu simply means teapot, it is often used in reference to the distinct side-handled version. Kyusu can be made from different materials, including clay and porcelain. They generally have a wide opening (mouth) and a built-in fine-meshed strainer at the spout (some versions have a basket-type strainer). The side-handle is usually hollow to keep it cool and allows very smooth pouring.
One of the most famous producers of kyusu come from Tokoname, one of the famous 6 historical pottery towns in Japan. Tokoname clay has a high iron content (which is said to enhance the flavour of green tea) and is very fine, which allows for intricate decorations.

Japanese houhin, teapot without handleA houhin is a cup-sized, handle-less teapot, quite similar to a Chinese gaiwan (described above). They are beautiful, small pots that you won’t see too often. I love using a houhin for finer Japanese teas like our Organic Sencha Premium or fine gyokuros.

Size: Kyusu come in a variety of styles and sizes. Generally a bit larger than Yixing pots, a good average size would be around 300-500ml. Since the drinking cups for Japanese tea are about regular (Western) cup size, a pot of this size serves 2-3 people comfortably. Houhin usually come in sizes around 200ml, which is perfect for the types of tea it is intended for.
Recommended use for kyusu and houhin: mainly (Japanese) green tea (but can be used for virtually all teas), smaller kyusu and especially houhin can potentially be used for gong fu.

Western-style teapots

Glass tea potThe ubiquitous Western-style (large) teapot is a very versatile option for tea preparation. Made from porcelain or glass, these teapots are suitable for virtually any tea type. The visual aspect and high heat conductivity of glass teapots make them a great choice for green and white teas which are often beautiful to look at and require a lower brewing temperature. Like their glass cousins, porcelain teapots don’t absorb any flavour from the tea brewed in them. That makes them the ideal choice if you only want to own one tea pot and intend to brew many different types of tea.

Size: Generally, a size of around 400-800ml is ideal. You can easily serve 3-4 people with a 800ml pot.
Recommended use for western-style teapots: any type of tea, but especially good for green, white and black teas (I brew almost all my Darjeelings in a porcelain pot). Usually not suitable for gong fu due to the large size.

If you have any questions or additions, please leave a comment. We have all teapots on this page (and many more) for sale. If you click on an image, you’ll see a bigger version of the picture and the price. If you are interested in purchasing a teapot, please send us an email.

7 Responses to Ritualizing the habit, Part One – Teapots: Yixing, gaiwan, kyusu and co. »»


Comments

  1. Comment by Bamboo Forest | 2008/07/30 at 15:01:54

    I use a a small gaiwan for my Taiwanese oolongs. I use 5 grams per about 3 ounces and brew for 60 seconds for the first infusion. Some people use even more leaf and do more of a flash brew gong fu, but I prefer not to do it this way partly because I don’t want to be bouncing off the walls. And I think my method produces a very full and flavorful cup.

    For sencha, which I drink a lot of, I use kyuusus that are 6 ounces and only fill it with 5 ounces. 5 ounces being my ideal size for green tea. I often brew sencha at 4 grams per 5 ounces for 1:40. Water temp around 165 F. Though some senchas I brew differently.

    For darjeeling at this time, I use a kyuusu still, and always make an 8 ounce mug worth. I have a kyuusu dedicated to darjeeling like teas. Darjeeling, generally 3 grams per 8 ounces for 3 minutes.

    This entry has truly gotten me in the mood for tea. Tomorrow morning tea is in order!

  2. Jo
    Comment by Jo | 2008/07/30 at 17:02:30

    Hi Bamboo Forest,
    the measurements for the Darjeelings and sencha sound about right (most people are amazed by how much sencha to use for a great cup, but it certainly pays off) and are similar to the amounts that I use.
    I brew my oolongs and pu-erh mostly in Yixing pots, but use a gaiwan from time to time. I have stopped measuring the leaf amount and let my intuition guide me. The same is mostly true for water temperature, except if I’m brewing a new tea I don’t know yet.

    Thanks for your comment, I know that some of our readers are very interested in the way other people prepare their tea.

  3. Comment by Soïwatter | 2008/08/18 at 21:20:56

    This is a really good article, full with many interesting informations.

    My tea habits seems quite similar to yours:
    *I reserve my Yixing teapots for middle to high fermented oolongs and pu ehr. I prefer smaller teapots, 80cl for pu ehr and 100-120ml for oolongs, but it must be linked to my tea habits: alone or tête-à-tête tea times. And it’s better to extract the very substance of a old shu. Recently, I tried a taiwanese red tea in gong fu style in a Yixing teapot. Strangely, it revealed the best from this tea, even if it is a red tea.

    *My gaiwan is dedicated to new tastings, to white and green tea and Baozhongs, except the japanese tea. I brew them in a traditionnal teapot. But I’d like try a kyusu. I’ve seen so pretty ones lately.

    For tea quantities and temperatures, I generally follow my nose and it generally scores. When you know your pot, you generally know how to feed it… Nope?

  4. Jo
    Comment by Jo | 2008/08/19 at 06:52:06

    @Soïwatter:
    I’m glad you enjoyed the article. The next one in the series will focus on different teacups and should be online in a week or two…

    I think the similarity of tea habits is less than coincidental. As most serious tea drinkers will find out on their never ending tea journey, there is always an ideal combination of pot and tea. This works on a tea-type level as well as for individual teas. On a tea-type level, the guidelines in my article (and in your comment) generally apply. But just like your experience with the outcome of gong fu with your red tea from Taiwan, I had similar experiences with Darjeeling First Flush and Second Flush teas. But these are exceptions and only work with certain teas.
    Using an appropriately sized kyusu (depending on your habits and the tea you intend to brew) can have a similar effect on your tea experience, especially if you’re drinking high-end teas. Fine senchas and gyokuro require short steepings with a lot of tea leaf (not dissimilar to gong fu, think of it) and can produce ethereal infusions in the right pot.

    I agree that you’ll know how to feed it when you know your pot; the problem is that most people never get to know their pot…

  5. Jo
    Comment by Jo | 2008/08/19 at 06:54:14

    @Soïwatter:
    BTW, love your blog (if only my French wasn’t that rusty, but I usually get the gist of it). And I really like the photo in your post about teapot or gaiwan…

  6. Comment by yixing teapot | 2009/04/04 at 03:59:50

    very beautiful teapot, i special like the yixing teapot you show on the website


Trackbacks & Pingbacks »»

  1. […] This article includes a lot of great information on the types of teapots used for various types of tea brewing. I would be remiss for not sharing the knowledge.  For the full story… […]

Leave a Reply »»