Thrift Store Gongfu Cha Part 1 - Using What You Already Have
The dizzying world of teaware can put a dent in your wallet quickly. Beautiful teapots, gaiwans, kettles, water pitchers, and tea utensils of all kinds are enticing objects of form and function. The colors, textures, shapes, and combinations of teaware can add a lot to your tea practice. They can be a beautiful expression of your values and your sense of style. They can also really break the bank or disappoint you if you're not careful.
If you are just beginning to explore the world of fine tea appreciation, you might not even know what a gaiwan is. I sure didn't when I first got started! In this series of posts, I'll introduce you to some tips for using stuff you already have on hand, to the teaware I use most frequently, what their purpose is, and how you can go about sourcing basic teaware if you're on a strict budget (or if you just want to save more cash for the tea itself). In this post, we'll focus on evaluating what you already have at hand.
The Basics: Form Follows Function
With whole leaf teas, the basic function of any tea infusing setup is
- To allow the leaves room to fully expand and unfurl to release their flavor.
- To control the amount of time leaves are in contact with the steeping water to control the resulting flavor and aromas.
- To not react with the flavor of the tea in a negative way.
- To allow infusion of correct volume of tea in reference to number of individuals that will be served and the volume of tea per inidvidual served.
- To decant steeped tea in to a drinking vessel. (Optional)
Using What You Already Have
First, start with looking around in your kitchen at what you already have that could serve a dual life in your tea practice.
Forget the Tea Ball
A tea ball is actually NOT ACCEPTABLE!
Contrary to popular use, tea ball infusers/cages are not well suited to your whole leaf tea. These tools are often sold to accompany blended flavored teas, which do not expand much when infused. The tea material used in flavored teas is often finely cut whole leaf tea blended with fruit and spice pieces. These teas are not intended to be infused multiple times. Whole leaf teas, depending on their processing style, can expand 5-10X or more of their dry size.
Wet measuring cups are a great source of options. They fit many of our needs since they a designed to neatly dispense liquid with a spout. I've often used Ceramic, Pyrex, or Glass measuring cups, barware, or mugs to infuse tea. Simply pre-warm the vessel, drop in your dry tea, rinse the tea, and then infuse!
Some items to consider as you experiment:
- Does the vessel hold heat or does it dissipate heat quickly?
- How will you pick up the infuser? Is there a handle? Will you need a potholder or towel?
- Do you have a strainer of some kind you can use to keep the tea leaves out of your drinking vessel? A cocktail strainer or a mesh strainer of some kind will work. I've even used a colander or a lemon/lime juicer in a pinch.
Drinking vessels and cups are a matter of personal taste. If you are starting to brew gongfu cha style, the resulting tea will be in a small quantity and much stronger since you are brewing with more tea and less water. Therefore, vessels like shot glasses, deep saucers from coffee cups can serve as great introductory teaware.
Why am I suggesting such small cups? The purpose of small cups in gongfucha is
- To enhance the pleasure and appreciation of the flavors and aromas of the tea.
- To allow focus and nuance on the small quantity of tea brewed.
Once you understand the basics of how certain tea infusing and tea serving devices are used, you can get creative with what tools you use to fill those purposes. As you learn more about tea cultures and see the tea practices of others, you might discover new tea utensils or art objects that inspire how you set up your tea practice. Be creative.
it's YOUR PRACTICE.
What have you repurposed in your tea practice from around your home? Sound off in the comments!