The modern definition of teaware (Cha Ju, 茶具) is different from the ancient times. Teaware used to refer to the various tools used in tea production and consumption, including tea picking, making, drinking, storage etc. Nowadays, teaware only refers to tea utensils, including tea cups, teapots, tea bowls, saucers, trays and other drinking utensils.
The usage, maintenance, appreciation and the collection of teaware have become specialised knowledge. According to the different materials, teaware can be divided into 7 categories. You must have heard of Yixing Zisha (purple clay) and Jingdezhen porcelain. But what else is available? Let’s take a look now!
Though we often speak of a Chinese tea culture, there’s a high diversity of sub-cultures. This isn’t strange as China is a large country with many small minority groups. Within China, 7 types of materials are regularly used to produce Chinese teaware.
Clay teaware mainly means Yixing made purple clay teaware (Yixing Zisha). It first appeared in the Northern Song Dynasty and flourished through Ming and Qing Dynasty. Till this day, Zisha teaware remains popular.
Yixing Zisha teapots are elegantly shaped with unique colour. Not only the looks made Zisha famous, but also its special qualities: low thermal conductivity, high density, unglazed surfaces that allow the tea to breathe. All these qualities help improve colour, fragrance and taste of the tea.
Because Yixing clay is appreciated for it’s great isolation, it’s often used to prepare oolong and pu erh tea, which require high temperatures.
Unlike Yixing clay, this type of material doesn’t affect the taste of tea. Therefore, it’s perfect for teas with mild flavours such as green, yellow and white tea.
Glass, together with porcelain and Yixing, are among the top 3 most used teaware materials in China. Glassware perform poor when it comes to isolation. However, this doesn’t matter if you prepare teas that doesn’t require high heat, such as green tea.
The great advantage of glass teaware is its transparency. Tea enthousiasts love to stare at teas with beautiful appearances. When water is poured into a glass or teapot, once can see the leaves swirling around. This is often referred to as ‘dancing leaves
Glassware also allow you to better observe the colour change the tea liquor. In other words, glass teaware allows you to see clearly the entire brewing process, just like enjoying a dynamic art performance.
Lacquarware are objects decoratively coated with the dyed, treated and dried sap of Toxicodendron vernicifluum or closely related trees.
Lacquer teaware first appeared in Qing Dynasty, mainly produced in Fuzhou, Fujian Province. It is famous for the beautiful colours. It gets more appreciated among the collectors after the creation of the new crafts like “Red Jade”, “Gold Sand” and “Shadow Flowers”.
Teaware made of metals such as gold, silver, steel, copper, and tin has its moisture proof, leak-proof, antioxidant, anti-odour qualities. Tin is especially good for tea storage. Silver and copper is often used to produce water boilers, while gold is mainly used for decoration. At last, stainless steel is often used for tea strainers.
Historically, the vast majority of rural people used bamboo or wooden bowls to make tea as they were inexpensive, strong and light.
Today, it is still loved by many for its natural and unvarnished looks. Often times tea scoops, storage jars and the handle of tea knives are made from bamboo or other types of wood.
Enamel teaware refers tools which usually have a metal base which is coated with a durable surface (enamel).
Enamel teaware is practical, anti-corrosion, light and not costly. It was popular throughout China in the 50’s and 60’s. But it has one flaw: high thermal conductivity. In other words, the teaware can become very hot to hold.
As people’s living standards gradually improved, enamel teaware has been slowly replaced by other kinds of teaware.
One more teaware material that we shouldn’t forget is Bone China. It was discovered by Thomas Frye in the 18th century in the United Kingdom. Today, there are 3 types that we need to distinguish: