Saturday, January 07, 2006

What teapot or gaiwan for what tea

Teaparker has an article about this question. He gives these 3 rules to choose a teapot for a particular tea:
1. For teas that have flat dry leaves (like WuYi Mountain Shui Xian oolong), a rather flat teapot fits best so that tea and water are close together,
2. For teas that are knitted like small round balls (like Taiwan oolong), a round teapot is best to let the leaves open up,
3. For heavy roasted teas, the teapot should be made of softer clay (like zisha or duan ni), fired at a little bit lower temperature. (My picture, for example, shows a small round duan ni teapot that would be best with old Taiwan oolong or with roasted Tie Guan Yin).

A reader also asked me to write about this subject. So let's add the other 'rules' to help you make the best pairing of tea and teapot.

You will choose a gaiwan instead of a teapot to drink:
- (white, yellow and) green teas, or any tea with light and fine fragrance,
- any tea that you want to test, evaluate, compare, (for instance before you purchase it),
- and start learning gongfu cha. It lets you better see and smell the tea while you're doing it.
- tea in a hurry and have little time to clean the teapot.

Other principles to guide your choice of a teapot:
- Thick walls will retain temperature longer and are better fit for teas with long aftertaste, like roasted teas,
- Thin walls fit very fresh and fragrant teas.
- The yixing clay employed should be pure, or even come from a stone that has been grinded into powder so that it contains natural minerals and pores,
- The temperature at which the teapot is fired should be over 1150 degrees in order to reduce the water content of the clay below 2%. Such teapots have a high pitched sound when you open the top. This ensures that the zisha pot fulfills all its functions. Zisha clay will filter the tea: reduce its astringent and sour taste, and make it more round and mellow. It will also keep the tea and the leaves warm and it woun't burn your hands.

In conclusion, to know which tea will be best brewed in which of your teapots you should test it yourself. With a good teapot your tea will have a better fragrance as well as a better yun (finish) than with a gaiwan.


Nadim said...

Thank you Stéphane for your infos - your new teapot is a beauty by the way.
Sorry for harassing with question, but I have one more : how do you "raise" a new teapot ? With the ones I already have, I just made them spend the night with brewed tea and water inside of them - but I've seen so many different versions I can't tell wich one is the best...

Stephane said...

Everybody seems in such a rush to 'raise' (yang) their new teapots! For my part, I like when it happens naturally, little by little, with every brew I make.

Or let me ask some question in return: do you have better results with a raised teapots than with a new one? Can you taste the difference?

I will say more about it later, but I would first like to read your experience.

Nadim said...

Doing nothing seems to be the best idea I've ever heard about raising teapots - I will make the test as soon as I receive the new teapots : I'll compare between my old, raised (manually as well as naturally) teapot with the new one.

Stephane said...

As you can read in the article, the function of making tea better comes from the pure material, the high temperature and the adapted shape & thickness of the teapot. If these 3 parameters are OK, then your teapot will make better tea than a gaibei from the first day.

Of course, as you dedicate a teapot to a certain tea type, with time, it may get even better (on the condition that you have made the right choice in the first place). But the drawback is that different teas will start to taste similarly and not as 'pure' as in a new teapot.

Besides, if your new teapot is well rinsed after you have used it, you can more easily experiment with different teas to find which will fit it best.

The advice I give is still to be taken with some limitations. Nowadays, too many teapot makers in China use cheap clay mixes to obtain a certain color, or they even add chemicals for that purpose. If they ask you to boil the teapots for long periods of time (with or without tea leaves), they may have their reasons...

Just think about it: you take a pure clay and fire it at 1250 degrees. No germ, bacteria... can survive. That leaves just the dust during storage, transportation and display. Boiling water and a quick clean with cold water are all it takes to have it cleaned. Then, as you use it, you may clean the outside it with a clean tissue. Et voilà!

Anonymous said...

What's your feeling/opinion re: the size of the spout opening on a zisha/yixing? I have one that pours in what seems like a very fine stream; others have said that the tea should pour more freely. Any thoughts?

Stephane said...

Hi Mike,
Size matters! You check what I wrote about pouring in this lesson:

As the speed of pour influences the taste, it's best to have a relatively big sprout so that you can control the speed with the inclination of the teapot.
But the flow should also be nice to watch and give you a sense of calm, beauty and harmony.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Stephane!

Daniel said...


I've got a question about heavy roasted oolong. What about softer clay makes it a better teapot for heavy roasted oolong? How can you tell if a clay is softer? Do different colors (like yellow and orange) mean softer clay? I just seasoned a heavy roasted oolong in a thick-walled brown pot. It's not going so tea is tasting much better in my gaiwan.

I appreciate your advice and help!

Stephane said...


Important is the clay, the pores. That's where tea is in contact with the clay's minerals. A good pot will make the tea smoother, finer, without erasing the fragrances (too much). So, it's not about seasoning. Still, it's very complicated. Therefore, to make it simple, you are right to compare the tea coming out of the pot and of the gaiwan. If it's better from the gaiwan, then the pot is not fit brewing this tea. Change to a different tea, maybe less roasted or a puerh. And if none works well, then you can recycle your teapot.

Daniel said...


I will consider using the pot for something else. But, right now, my main focus is finding the right pot for my heavy roast oolong. So, if a softer clay is the way to go (zhuni?) then that's what I'll use to make this tea. I just don't understand why softer clay is preferred for a heavy roast oolong. And what about softer clay distinguishes it from harder clay?

Nicolas said...

"Any tea with light and fine fragrance" : en disant cela, penses-tu aux oolong failement oxydés ?

Il est vrai que sur ces thés, le zhong marche à merveille : la théière apporte un plus au niveau du moelleux et de l'épaisseur (la liqueur est plus concentrée), mais les arômes sont parfaitement préservés. Outre le fait que le zhong possède cet avantage que l'on peut surveiller l'éclosion des feuilles de thés et l'évolution des parfums à même le couvercle !

Stephane said...

Oui, c'est aux Oolongs faiblement oxydés que je pense.

Lauge Brixvold said...

"- The temperature at which the teapot is fired should be over 1150 degrees in order to reduce the water content of the clay below 2%."

What you are referring to here is the degree of sintering; higher temperatures will lead to a more dense ie. sintered ceramic.

When clay is brought above 600°C all chemically bonded water in the clay is driven off and the clay is now irreversibly ceramic. So the 2% is definitely not about water the way you describe it.

Stephane said...

Thanks for reading my blog so far back (2006!). And thanks for your comment. Indeed, high baking temperatures are about making the glaze more dense.

miig said...

Thanks for this article, which has aged nicely. It's curious that teapots seem to have to be made out of clay. What would you say, Stéphane, about small porcelain teapots? Obviously they don't have the advantages of purple clay, but is there any advantage a Gaiwan has over one of these?

Thank you very much in advance!