How to Use Traditional Chinese Tea Set
Brewing a great cup of tea requires a few key elements in addition to the tea leaves you choose. You will need to have something in which you can heat up the water to a steeping temperature for brewing, and you will need a cup to pour it into for drinking. How fancy, elegant, or practical these components are will be determined by your personal tea drinking ritual that makes the process enjoyable.
There are cultures that envelopes drinking tea, and one of the most popular is the Chinese tea ceremony. When you take part in tea-drinking with Chinese tea sets, you will step into Chinese culture, history, and philosophy that dates back to ancient times. The ceremony is sometimes referred to as Gongfu, which essentially means making tea with skill. Each piece used in the tea set has meaning.
Tea bowl and pitcher
In Chinese tea culture, the bowl is a lidded tea bowl, and the pitcher is called a fairness pitcher. The lidded tea bowl consists of three parts, the bowl, the lid, and a saucer. It is basically a teapot without a spout and thought to have originated during the Ming Dynasty which took place in 1368-1644. Each part symbolizes a different element, which all together symbolizes harmony between nature and man. For instance, the lid is a symbol of heaven, the bowl is a symbol of humanity, and the saucer is a symbol for the earth. These lidded tea bowls are small. Most lidded tea bowls are made out of porcelain, though they can be made from other materials. The wide opening on these tea bowls allows the tea leaves to be visible while it brews. After the tea has brewed, the lid on top is used to help strain the leaves as it is poured into a fairness pitcher which is named such due to the way the tea liquor is equally distributed throughout so that the first pouring is no more or less powerful than the last serving.
The Yixing teapot is sometimes referred to as a purple sand teapot and gets its name from the special clay it is made from giving it a purplish/brown color. Though, some appear yellow, green, blue, and red. This type of clay has a history as far back as the Song Dynasty, 960-1279, and are considered works of art with the designer signing their name on the pot. These teapots are used to brew robust teas, such as oolong, red, or black varieties since the clay absorbs part of the tea during brewing. Continuous use over time can begin to taint the flavor.
Chinese tea ceremonies, or Gongfu, are all performed using a tea tray that will collect spills that are later discarded. These trays are made of anything from a wooden box with top slats to stones that have water drains carved out on them.
A tea holder is used to measure the tea leaves which can be seen before they are scraped into the brewing vessel. The tea holder is usually made from porcelain or bamboo.
Scent and tasting cup
A scent cup and tasting cup are used together. The scent cup is tall and narrow. It is filled with the tea liquor, and then a tasting cup is put over the top of it. The heat inside the scent cup creates a suction so the pair can be flipped upside down without losing any of the tea liquor inside. The scent cup is lifted off with the tea pouring into the tasting cup. The result is an amazing aroma left behind on the glazing of the scent cup which guests enjoy.
Chinese teacups are very small and maybe white or presented with very elaborate designs and are cups without handles. Some look more like carefully crafted works of art than something you typically drink from.
Tongs are used by the servers to touch the teacups instead of using their bare hands. These are usually made from bamboo or metal and are intended for sanitary purposes.
Tea needle and Tea brush
A tea needle is used to dislodge tea leaves that become stuck in the openings of the spout in a teapot. A tea brush is used to spread out any tea that has spilled onto the tea tray or teaware to make sure any staining will be evenly spread.
Of course, no true Gongfu would be complete without the presence of a tea pet. A tea pet is usually a Chinese figurine that sits on a tea tray. These could be dragons or other symbols of Chinese culture and are usually made from purple sand clay. They have a practical purpose too. They are used as a receptacle where the spilled tea is poured to keep it from splashing back from the tray, almost as if you are feeding your pet the tea.
Ultimately, regardless of what specialty teaware you choose, brewing the best cup of tea is going to come down to using something to make the water hot, a cup, and good quality tea. If the quality of the tea is less than desirable, no amount of tea set will make up for it. Though, the cultural and ceremonial aspects are still well worth the experience.