Great tasting tea starts with the right teapot. Fortunately there are only a few different kinds of teapots, so the selection process is more a fun challenge than a chore. After selecting the perfect teapot for your needs, it helps to learn a few of the little-known tips for keeping it clean. Restaurant owners and professional tea houses have special, and simple, methods for maintaining teapots. Unlike matcha tea, which is prepared in a totally different way, most every type of tea uses a teapot full of hot water to steep the leaves before serving. Since matcha tea doesn’t use the steeping method, the following information pertains to non-matcha blends.
Preparing tea is more an art than a science, but keep in mind that there is a bit of science involved too. Knowing whether you need a cast iron, ceramic, glass or yixing (pronounced ee-shing) pot is a key decision that requires forethought. When setting out to buy a teapot, most consumers also think about whether they want to buy just the teapot or the pot and accessories. Typically, anyone who wants to go all out will end up selecting a teapot, a tea cozy, a trivet, a tea kettle, a warmer, coasters and cups. First, the lowdown on the four types of teapots and how to clean them.
Yixing pots are made from a special type of clay from China. They are a uniquely beautiful type of teapot but are also limited in the way they can be used. Because the clay retains some of the tea flavor with each serving, yixing pots can only be used for a single kind of tea. You can’t prepare black tea one day, for example, and green the next.
Except for that one, rather considerable limitation, yixing pots are among the best in the world. The only recommended cleaning method is to rinse with warm water after each pot of tea is prepared. Using soap or cleansers will detract from the special properties of the clay and its ability to hold flavor. Yixing teapots can be pricey, considering that each one is hand-made in China, but are well worth the investment for those who value excellent tea.
Ceramic teapots are the most common tea-serving utensils in the world, likely due to their low cost, huge variety of designs and incredible functionality. Ceramic is easy to clean, does a decent job of keeping tea warm (though a cozy is highly recommended), and come in thousands of personalized patterns and designs. Some amateur potters and ceramists even make their own ceramic teapots.
Most retail ceramic pots come with a removable infuser, which makes cleanup a one-minute chore. But after a while all ceramic teapots will show some staining and discoloration. It’s easy to remove. The smartest way to do so is with cream of tartar. Otherwise, dissolving one denture tablet in a liter of water and then filling the pot with the water will work nicely. Let it sit about 30 minutes before rinsing.
Cast iron teapots are preferred by tea enthusiasts everywhere. They look great, last forever, are easy to clean and have been used in Asia for thousands of years. Good cast iron pots cost quite a bit more than an average ceramic pot, but again, it’s a wise investment. If you are thinking about buying a cast iron pot, the ones that are hand-made in Japan are the absolute best of the best in the genre.
Cast iron keeps tea hot for a long time and some swear by the flavor of tea prepared in them. Besides adding to the ambiance of any kitchen, iron pots are virtually indestructible, which means if you drop it, the biggest danger is fracturing a toe. Cast iron also has an almost magical way of distributing heat, which makes for better tasting tea. Cleaning cast iron is simplest of all. Rinse with hot water after each use and wipe dry.
Getting more popular by the year, glass teapots are all about looks, especially for those who enjoy artisan teas and enjoy watching them steep. But, though prices are reasonable, glass pots don’t hold heat very well so it’s a good idea to have a warmer in your tea-making arsenal. Glass cleans up easily with warm water and a tiny bit of dish soap after each use. Be certain to give the glass pot a final, thorough rinse with cool water before drying in order to remove all traces of soap.
All good students of tea drinking know that water is never, ever boiled in a teapot. That’s what a kettle is for. After tea steeps in a pot and is ready for serving, most people like to use a protective metal trivet so the hot pot doesn’t harm the table surface. Tea cozies, usually made of a thick or knitted fabric, slip over the teapot to maintain temperature.
Tea warmers come in all shapes and sizes. Some are electric but many have a small candle in the center-bottom to help keep tea warm during a meal. Note that too much warming and re-warming will usually degrade the flavor of tea. Coasters and cups are a matter of style and personal preference but it is common to buy them as a matching set along with a teapot.
You don’t need any or all of these accessories, but a quality set that includes at least a teapot, kettle, cozy and cups will last a lifetime if properly cared for. Electric and flame-lit warmers are frowned upon by tea purists, who contend that a good cozy will keep a pot warm as long as necessary.
An ancient Mongolian-Siberian method of keeping tea hot was this: Brew the initial pot of tea doubly strong and add about four ounces to your drinking cup. Then, pour freshly boiled water to fill up the cup. Most everyone reading these words already owns a kettle or electric boiler, which can of course be used for many purposes other than making tea.
Shopping for a teapot can be a lot of fun, and is a process that will reveal much about a person’s tea-drinking style and preferences. It’s also a good way to learn about tea preparation and some of the rituals involved with everyday tea-making. Happy shopping.