December will be upon us before long, so it’s an opportune time to consider gifts for the tea lovers we know, whether they are casual drinkers or serious students of the art. For those interested in Japanese matcha tea, perhaps a sample of the powder or a book about the origin of the ritual would be ideal. For the more general tea aficionado, consider giving a sample pack of world teas or a tea-brewing kit. Several online shops specialize in tea-related gifts, and there are always the few hand-made purveyors (like Etsy) where you’ll find unique gifts that the big retailers just don’t carry.
Here are our selections for the best Christmas gifts for the tea lover in your life this season. In some cases, we’ve indicated price ranges and where to look online, but in most instances, you should be able to purchase these gifts from practically any of the major online retailers.
Tea service gift sets are offered in a wide range of prices and styles. You can usually find one for a specific type of tea or brewing method. For example, there are match tea gift sets that are relatively simple. They contain a whisk and whisk holder, bamboo tea spoons, handmade bowls, and usually a small (1-ounce) bag of matcha tea powder. Dozens of online retailers carry such items, specifically for matcha tea and for other varieties of tea. All come in some kind of gift box and are priced anywhere between US$20 and US$150.
Whether the person you’re buying for is a connoisseur or a “green” beginner to the world of tea, gift sets are convenient because they contain all the equipment in one place. That way, the recipient does not have to go out and buy anything else to get started on the enjoyment of the tea itself.
International sample packs
People who have been tea drinkers for many years love to receive sample packs. Fortunately, online shopping makes it easy to put together a custom pack of so-called “world teas,” like chai, herbals, black teas, matcha tea, and rarer blends from Sri Lanka and China. As with tea sets, these variety packs come at all price levels. Depending how many samples you want to give, you don’t need to break the bank in order to give a gift like this. Most sellers let you choose the teas you (or your recipients) like from a menu that often includes hundreds of different blends and brews, typically available in single-serving units. Twelve seems to be the magic number of world teas offered in common gift packs, but you can customize a set and order as many as you want within each gift box.
Tea enthusiasts understand the importance of a high-quality teapot, and some of the Japanese cast iron models are among the best in the world. In the mid-1600s, Asian metalworkers perfected the art of making iron teapots. Modern tea experts know that Japanese “tetsubin” are the ideal way to brew up a delicious serving of tea. In Asia, cast iron teapots are often handed down through the generations as family heirlooms. The well made ones last for hundreds of years if they are cared for properly.
If you’d rather give a pot made of stoneware or china, the varieties are virtually endless. Just make sure to opt for a name brand and preferably one that is manufactured by a company with a long history of making tea utensils and pots. Warning: Because so many tea drinkers are quite particular about the teapots they like to use, do a bit of investigating before you purchase a teapot for someone. Find out what kind of tea they like, and whether they already have a favorite pot. Teapots are personal, so shop carefully and take the time to ask questions about your prospective purchase.
Even the most meticulous of tea lovers sometimes lack a good serving tray. As with teapots and sample boxes, the variety of serving trays is endless. Dozens of online retailers offer low- and high-end trays, with some of the best being made from hardwoods and lightweight metals that have been treated with a gloss finish. If your gift recipient enjoys art, consider shopping for a tray that includes a nature scene or geometric design. Some sellers offer serving trays that feature original works of art or historic scenes etched onto the tray’s surface. Typical sizes are 16 inches square and larger. Bigger is not necessarily better, so remember to calibrate the tray size to the preference of the person who will receive it.
In the Western world, there are gift rituals and rules of etiquette, but they pale in comparison to the intricacies of Asian gift-giving and receiving.
For example, if you are in Japan, or intend to purchase a gift for a Japanese friend, perhaps a short lesson in that nation’s gift-giving etiquette is in order. The exchange of gifts is a complicated social interaction in Japan, ruled by strict protocols and guidelines. To name but one instance, it is considered rude to present a gift to someone using just one hand. Proper Japanese gift-giving rituals dictate that the giver use both hands when offering a gift to the recipient.
And don’t forget, aside from Japanese customs, it is always a good idea to give the gift of tea. The drink is universally beloved, good for the health, and reasonably priced. Even matcha tea can be purchased, in small quantities, for a modest sum. Enjoy the season, and make sure the tea enthusiasts in your life receive an appropriate gift this year. (There’s nothing wrong with picking up some tea delicacies for yourself while doing Christmas shopping chores!).
Shop well and do a little research before purchasing a serving tray, teapot, gift set or book. Tea lovers are some of the easiest-going people in the world, so that makes the task easy. But it is always a smart idea, especially online, to do a decent amount of price comparison before committing to a product. Happy shopping.