Thinking Outside the Teapot

Get ready to think outside the teapot. There are other ways to steep your teas. It’s time to explore a few of them.

Just as the most creative and imaginative people tend to “think outside the box” when they are facing a tricky issue or new situation, you can approach tea steeping with the same resourcefulness. What you steep in and how you steep can be dependent on the tea being steeped, but the rules aren’t hard and fast. Some are simply a matter of tradition, another way of saying they are habitual. There’s plenty of room for you to be creative.


Whether full leaf or matcha powder, whether white or oolong, whether loose or in a bag/sachet, teas are added to hot water in some vessel. For many of us, teapots are most often the type of vessel chosen for steeping teas.

First, a bit about teapots. They come in a variety of sizes and materials but are basically all the same. They have a body to hold water, a hole in the top for adding the water and tea, a lid for the hole, a handle, and a spout for pouring the liquid.

Yixing teapots are made from a special clay and usually hold about one cupful of tea. Porcelain teapots in a variety of styles, shapes, and sizes abound. Glass teapots are great for a visual tea experience, especially when steeping a “flowering” tea. Metals and pottery are other materials used. There are teapots as small as about half a cup or so. On the large end of the scale are supersized teapots used in British tearooms. Then, there are Russian Samovars that are actually large urns holding hot water and a smaller teapot filled with a strong tea brew that sits on top of it through the day.

Now, to consider some alternatives. After all, there are teas and tea customs in various countries that employ other vessels for the proper preparation and enjoyment of certain teas. Full-leaf green teas are one example. You can put a few tea leaves in a specially made bowl with a lid, let the tea steep, move the lid back a little, and sip the tea, leaving the leaves in the cup. Then, add more hot water for a second, third, fourth, or even fifth infusion. If you don’t have one of these special cups with lid, try a small bowl and some lid from a plastic container.

Another tea that inspires tea drinkers to expand beyond the teapot is “flowering” tea. Meant to be as much a visual spectacle as a taste sensation, flowering teas are full tea leaves and often flower petals “sewn” together with thin string. Dry, they are most commonly shaped like balls and mushrooms. Steeped, they open into a large blossom. Using a glass teapot is one obvious choice. An open glass bowl is non-teapot option. (I used a bowl from a florist shop, well washed of course.) There’s no pouring spout, but a ladle can be used to move the liquid into the cup.

Still another alternative is found in your kitchen cupboard: a glass measuring cup. It has about the same features as a teapot: a body, a hole in the top to add water and tea, a handle, and a spout (a bit short but serviceable). You can heat the water in the microwave, test the temperature with a thermometer, add the tea to the water, cover with some impromptu lid such as from an empty plastic container, and watch the tea steep.

These are just a few possibilities. Explore your kitchen cupboards for a suitable vessel for your next teatime adventure — just for the heck of it!

Make sure to check out A.C.’s blog, Tea Time with A.C. Cargill!

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