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Roundtable Topic: Pairing Teas with Teawares

Roundtable Topics
Roundtable Topics

Another roundtable hashing of a topic of concern to you tea lovers. Do you invest heavily in specialized teawares so you can properly steep the growing array of teas in your stock? Or do you stick with your tried and true teapot or mug? Tea bloggers weigh in here, and your thoughts are welcome, too.

As for me, my motto is “Tea is not just a beverage – it’s a way of life.” As such, as I learn more about tea, my array of teawares has increased, to the point of threatening to take over the house. Yikes! Is it really necessary? Let’s see what these folks have to say:

Lainie Petersen of Lainie Sips!
Upon seeing my teaware collection, some people ask if I like to drink certain types of tea in certain cups or mugs. The answer is a resounding “yes!” Here are some of my favorite pairings:

  • Large Mugs and Cups: When I am drinking “gulpers,” teas that seem to taste best when gulped down in large quantities. Some Ceylons and breakfast blends fall into this category.
  • Curved Side, Wide Mouthed Porcelain Teacups: These cups not only add a touch of class to tea drinking, they also help the tea cool down quickly. I’ve noticed that some black teas, particularly Darjeeling, benefit from being allowed to cool a bit, as this draws out some of the tea’s flavors. White and green teas can also be quite delicious when served in a traditional teacup.
  • Straight Side Ceramic Mugs:If I want to keep my tea hot, I drink it from a straight side mug, which holds in the heat better.  I particularly enjoy Assam and some African teas extra-hot, but will drink just about any tea from a straight side mug if it is chilly enough.

    Campfire Logo Mug - Maize
    Campfire Logo Mug – Maize
  • Gaiwans (Chinese covered cup): I love to drink high-quality oolongs and green teas from a gaiwan.  Not only does sipping out of the cup feel elegant, I enjoy the convenience of brewing and drinking from the same vessel.
  • Tiny Gong-Fu Teacups: These are great for drinking “sipper” teas. Like a gaiwan, these tiny cups add something special to the tea drinking experience and remind me to slow down and savor each sip. I tend to only drink Chinese teas from these teacups, however.
  • Chinese Tea Bowls:  I have a few of these, each with different characteristics. Some are made from thick stone while others are made from thin porcelain and have an extra wide mouth. I like to drink pu’erh and Chinese black teas out of the stoneware bowls, while the very delicate, wide mouthed bowls are best suited to delicate green and white teas that are tastiest when brewed, and consumed, at cooler temperatures.

William I. Lengeman III of TeaGuySpeaks.com
According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, a purist is “a person who adheres strictly and often excessively to a tradition.” Using that definition I can say that when it comes to teaware I’m definitely not a purist. While I can certainly appreciate the aesthetic values of a fine piece of teaware – especially the Asian-inspired ones – my interest doesn’t extend as far as using them in my daily tea-drinking routine.

Flowering Tea Gift Set
Flowering Tea Gift Set

When it comes to drinking tea, one hard and fast rule I do enforce is to make sure the vessel I use is made of clear, uncolored glass. I won’t rehash this one much, since I wrote about it more extensively here. Suffice to say that, for me, part of the overall package of tea consumption is to be able to see the colors and the interplay of the light shining through the tea I’m drinking.

When it comes to preparing tea, I’ve used a variety of methods over the years, none of which are particularly traditional. When I first made my acquaintance with tea-drinking, I was content to drop a cheap tea bag into a mug and shove it into the microwave for a few minutes. As I graduated to loose tea, I switched to a tea kettle for boiling the water and various types of infusers for steeping.

From ball and other type infusers I moved on to using one of the more spacious infusers that allows the water plenty of room to circulate among the leaves and then sits on top of the cup to release its contents. Over the
years I’ve also experimented with electric tea kettles and all-in-one tea-making gadgets like the Zarafina.

I’d certainly never go so far as to suggest that it wouldn’t be beneficial to have several Yixing clay pots, each “seasoned” for a different type of tea, but it’s an area I haven’t yet summoned up the energy to delve into. Ditto for the gaiwan and various other traditional methods of tea prep and consumption. These days, regardless of what tea I’m drinking, I take the non-traditional route of heating water in the microwave in a Pyrex measuring cup and infusing in one of the aforementioned gravity infusers and that’s good enough for me.  

Janis Badarau of TeaGuide.net
Many years ago I started dividing tea into two categories: “drinking” teas and “thinking” teas.

The former group comprised teas that you have when you want a good cuppa without distraction: maybe while you’re reading or at the computer, to accompany a meal, or teas you’re already familiar with. In the latter category were teas that required more of your attention: a new tea you’re sampling, rare or higher-end teas, a tea that you want to carefully experience, study, and perhaps ruminate on.

While not a hard and fast rule, flavourful black teas were usually “drinking” teas. Oolong, green, and white teas, and First Flush Darjeelings, with their more subtle flavours and aromas, were generally “thinking” teas. Normally I use larger cups for “drinking” teas, because I want more at a time, and smaller cups for “thinking” teas, which satisfy in lesser quantity.

I enjoy tea’s visual aesthetics in glass teacups, and have no problem re-purposing glassware for tea. In the photo above, the two cups on the far right – the full-size pressed glass cup in the front and the tall Irish coffee cup behind it – are two of my favourites for “drinking” teas. To the left of these are a small Israeli-made podstakinnik (tea glass with metal holder), and a grapevine-patterned punch cup that I found all by its lonesome in a second-hand store. These are just right for oolongs, although they do cross over into Darjeelings, Nilgiris, and Nepals on occasion.

tea glasses
A selection of "drinking" and "thinking" glass teacups from Janis' collection.

Next to the left are two hand-painted handle-less glass cups from Japan. Each arrived in sets of five – the one in front purchased from a tea vendor, and the former juice glass behind it from a shop selling Asian tableware. These are mostly assigned to green teas, and the occasional pouchong or oolong.

Finally, on the far left, are the two cups I use most often for white teas. If I’ve steeped the tea in a teapot, I’ll drink it from the cordial glass in front – the small size slows down my consumption so I can spend more time appreciating the tea, while the cylindrical shape concentrates the aroma. Otherwise I’ll steep the tea in the gaiwan at the rear. White teas rarely get bitter even with lengthy or multiple steeps, so they work well in a gaiwan. Similarly, pouchongs are also natural companions of gaiwans.

Before I buy a new teacup – or a drinking vessel that will become a teacup – I consider carefully which teas it will best complement. You may think it’s a little bit nutty, but I firmly believe that teacup size and shape really do effect the taste and enjoyment of tea.


Romantic Rose Fine Bone China  4-Cup Teapot
Romantic Rose Fine Bone China 4-Cup Teapot

Okay, your turn.  Glass gaiwan or cast iron teapot. Fine porcelain or rugged stoneware. Sturdy mug or delicate teacup and saucer. Which do you prefer, and does the tea you’re drinking make you pick one type of teaware over another?

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

One response to “Roundtable Topic: Pairing Teas with Teawares”

  1. […] Roundtable Topic: Pairing Teas with Teawares […]

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