Juliana

I feel like it's a self-fulfilling prophecy. "What do little girls like? I heard they like tea parties! Well then, as a little girl, I guess I should throw a tea party."

I don't think I knew that such a thing existed until much later in life, maybe at six. By then I was too old for the baby stuff.

Sure I had tea parties. I loved them.

Except I drank actual tea, not warm water. And I had them with my friends and my little brother, not with dolls and stuffed animals. We would sit around pretending we were having "a propah English tea pahty," and speaking with terribly posh accents interrupted by the worst table manners imaginable, from slurps to burps.

My parents were never involved.

They probably would have banned them if they knew how badly we behaved.

As for how it got started, some church lady I never met sent me a porcelain tea set. We were poor, so churches would send us food and clothes.

It was fun, though I couldn't tell you what the appeal was. Maybe it just seemed like a "grown-up" thing to do.

But then that is how they are marketed too.

Little girls aren't born knowing about tea parties or preferring them to monster trucks. They learn from their parents, friends, media, and toys what things are considered to be acceptable and fun play for them.

But then I think it is less common today. I see my little girls playing with cars as much as little boys and as many little boys pretending to be dads while playing dolls. I've never seen a tea party happen, but they do all enjoy playing in the kitchen and acting as a family doing domestic things. Which I find better.

Juliana

When I was a kid my grandmother tasked me with making tea. It would have hlped if I knew how to tell decorative teapots from functional teapots.

Sometimes pots meant for purely decorative purposes will say so on the bottom of the pot. A well fitting lid and functional spout are a must and not all of the decorative ones have these.

Also some of them have holes. But others are just fancy and they don't give you any indication.

This can be the case with some really old pots. It is just hard to tell what they were supposed to be. Another factor for me is lead. I am not sure if the old pots were lead free so I test them. If you are worried about lead in old ceramic glazes, you can buy a lead testing kit. Do not use pots that are made from pewter, as it does contain lead.

Juliana

What did I do yesterday? I spent the entire morning browsing for a travel set for tea. Excinting? Maybe. Since travel sets are very popular so there are a lot of manufacturers making them. Which is why it took me so long to find one that I liked.

You can find a lot of plain white sets that are very similar, but their quality can vary quite a bit. Even when you get to patterned sets, I've seen dragon-themed sets in yellow and in red that have the same design but are different manufacturers.

Dehua produces the best porcelain in China. It's the second most famous kiln, besides Jingdezhen - which is more popular for hand-painted porcelain. The only problem with that set is the gongdaobei - it will tend to scald your fingers as you use it.

The porcelain is very thin.

Yongli Teathings is a major retailer of tea utensils in China. Their stuff is usually of pretty good quality.

If you want to spend a bit more, my favorite travel set is this slightly larger one from Yunnan Sourcing. Used it at a mountain cabin this past weekend in fact.

It's larger than it looks (about double the size of the other mini travel sets), is extremely well padded, and had a nice pour. It's not truly gongfu cha since it uses a strainer basket but it gives an experience that is surprisingly similar, kind of like an easy-pour gaiwan does.

Juliana

So I have been searching for a new teapot. No, not the ones that our grandmother would bring out on visitis. Something a littl more modern.

I just picked up this beautiful Hario teapot and I've been brewing with it exclusively ever since, ignoring my poor porcelain pot that I got from my grandmother's estate.

What I have noticed is that I use my glass ware for only green teas as heat retention is less of an issue for a tea that prefers lower temperatures.

But honestly glass' benefit is more visual than best performance.

A gaiwan is also easier to clean.

If you want a true test, steep an equal ratio of tea side by side and see if there is a difference. I know I've noticed times I used glass the tea was much weaker.

For instance, if you drink puerh the gaiwan has the size advantage if you're brewing for one person, as puerh resteeps much more than other teas and 180ml would use a lot of leaf and produce liters and liters of tea, and might be too much for 1 person. 150ml is my max vessel size for one person.

Other types of tea would have the Hario size to be better. Apart from the size issue adressed before, pots are always a bit more ergonomical than gaiwans imo, less burns, less accidents, the heat retention might be more or less an issue considering what teas you drink and how you like them.

Pour time might also be a factor to consider. You can pour the gaiwan faster, probably. You can pour the gaiwan 1-handed. You might need your off hand to hold the lid on the pot.

The glass allows you to watch tea unfurl and expand and also look at the color of the liquor and brew it to desired strength.

Juliana

It is possible to get equally good results with either but the truth is ceramic is better. And there are reasons why.

The Japanese cast iron kettle, Tetsubin, is meant to be used as a kettle for boiling water rather than as a teapot. These days, you see these kettles sold and marketed as teapots, but this is just done for aesthetic purposes.

Cast iron has a lower heat capacity, which means it heats up faster but also releases that heat more quickly. When infusing a delicate tea all that heat the iron absorbed will be released back into the tea which often results in bitter infusions. It takes a lot of experience to learn how to precisely pre-heat cast iron pots and add the right temperature water so the desired infusion temperature is obtained. Or you just use very sturdy and durable teas that don't mind a bit of scalding, but most of those aren't very Japanese.

Ceramic on the other hand has a very high heat capacity.

They are slow to warm but retain that heat well without releasing it back into the tea too quickly. You have better control over the water temp and thus better control over your infusion results particularly with delicate teas.

There's two things going on that make it seem that way:

  • The first is that people assume it's retaining heat because whenever they touch it, it feels extremely hot. That is because it is releasing the heat quickly to your hand, not because it is retaining the heat.
  • However, despite the low heat capacity it is keeping the tea hotter. This is because the pot is releasing its heat into the water very rapidly, but being in an enclosed container it has nowhere to go except back into the pot. So the tea is over-heated and kept hot, at least for a while.

The other side of this coin occurs when you do not pre-heat the cast iron pot: underheating. Try infusing tea in a cold testubin-style pot. It will absorb most of the heat from the water into the pot so your tea will be infused at a temperature less than you expected.

I'm using "heat capacity" in the technical sense rather than common usage. Materials that take a low amount of heat to heat up (absorbs heat quickly and thus release heat quickly) have a low heat capacity. Items that take a long time to heat up and a long time to release (essentially act as heat storage) have a high heat capacity. Iron is the former and ceramic is closer to the latter, not particularly high but far higher than iron.

Iron has a heat capacity of 0.45 which is pretty low. Compare it to other substances like glass (0.84), sand (0.835), brick (0.84), and gypsum (1.090). I could not find a listed heat capacity for ceramics, but it's close to the range of these higher heat-capacity materials.

This all sounds very complicated, and tea is a lot more complicated than most people think. But unless the pot is preheated to a higher temperature than the water, it won't release heat inward. As the water cools by evaporation, the iron pot will release heat back faster to maintain the temperature, but that should be offset by the fact that ceramic is a better insulator.

Juliana

What kind of tea set I should get? I know that it can be hard finding the right type. Afterall there are many differnt types to choose from.

  1. Clay: you would usually use for a single type of tea and have multiple pots where each one is for that specific tea. Make sure you clean them well though since they will stain. Baking soda with a little bit of vinegar or other acidic liquid does too, with less smell since baking soda absorbs smells. Wonderful combo for cleaning up grease stains on pans too.
  2. Porcelain: Easy to take care of and wash. Can really get any kind of design you want. Shouldn't be too expensive. For a first pot would be tied with Glass.
  3. Glass: awesome for showing off blooming teas. should be decent price. easy to maintain and wash. Tied with best best for a first pot. if you are worried about heat transfer for glass get a double walled set like the ones bodum sells. This will minimize heat transfer.
  4. Cast Iron: I'm really just getting into these now. They are more effort to take care of because they can rust if you abuse them or let liquids sit in them. These also require more prep time than glass and porcelain. (also I see you are planning on buying from teavana, I have on of their cast irons i received as a gift. They are nice but really overpriced. I bought a second one that is nearly identical to on they sell for 160$ for 30$. I'd suggest going glass or porcelain with teavana.

A note on the cast iron ones though: Be careful about buying cast iron for so cheap. Sometimes they can have lead mixed in either with their paint or with the iron itself in casting. Teavana's are so expensive because they're guaranteed to come from Japan and are guaranteed lead-free.

I am a huge fan of cast iron pots, especially for larger amounts of tea since the iron stores heat and helps keep the tea warm and brews it very nicely.

The heft is kind of nice, too, it forces you to slow down more. I'm not too fond of cast iron cups, however, since they get very hot and most have a black enamel finish inside that doesn't let you see the color of the tea. Ceramic/porcelain cups are my favorite.

Yixing pots are wonderful, but (as mentioned by plenty others) only for one type of tea, and they typically make smaller amounts (which is nice for multiple steepings without having to drink a gallon of tea).

If you're feeling a little more adventurous, I would also recommend a porcelain Gaiwan. It's a Chinese saucer/cup/lid that only brews a couple ounces at a time, so it's great for drinking by oneself and getting multiple steepings in a shorter amount of time.

I've also heard that, like food, tea is best when prepared in smaller portions as it allows more of the subtle flavors/aromas to stand out.

Just be safe!