The color of the bowl is one of the important criteria. The goal is to find the right color to make the tea 'soup' beautiful.
During the Tang dynasty (618-907), Lu Yu was the first one to study this point. At that time, the tea was cooked and of a transparent green. For Lu Yu, green bowls (see pictures in my article in French and in Teaparker's article) would make the tea look more vivid. This experience can easily be done with white and green tea cups.
During the Song dynasty (960-1279), green powdered tea was more common. It is known as matcha in Japan nowadays. Also green, but hardly transparent, this tea will shine its splendor in a black bowl. Hence, the beautiful Tian Mu bowls crafted in China during that time.
A second criteria is to choose a rather thick and glazed bowl. This will help to keep the temperature high.
A third criteria to succeed brewing tea in a bowl is to choose quality leaves that don't turn bitter too quickly.
The brewing method follows the general principles of gongfu cha:
- preheat the bowl (hold it in your hands to feel that the heat is well distributed,
- make a first brew with a rather quick, 10 cm over the bowl high. Then turn the water around the bowl and let it hit the edges instead of the tea.
- use a chinese soup spoon to take the foam away. Use it also to fill the tea cups and smell the fragrance of the tea.
- hold the water closer to the bowl and let it flow slowlier for the following brews.
This 'tea bowl' method can be quite convenient when the guests are more than 4. It will give them a tea show: the sight of the tea leaves slowing unfurling!