Chinese Tea Sets
China has a profound tea culture. If you get to the bottom of Chinese tea culture, you will find that even the tea set has a rich culture attached to it. Here, we would like to introduce Chinese tea sets and their usage to you, particularly the tea sets used for Chinese kungfu (gōngfu /gong-foo/) tea.
Generally speaking, a set of tea utensils can include a tea tray, a teapot, a teapot base, a tea scoop, a tea strainer, a fair cup, teacups, saucers, tea tweezers, and a tea stirrer. Already confused? Now, we will introduce them to you one by one.
Here, we only describe the most commonly used tea set among Chinese families. When making tea, you can use an electric kettle to boil water as most Chinese people do.
Chinese: 茶盘 /chaa-pan/ chá pán
Suggestion for purchasing: A tea tray (table) should have enough flat space for all items of your tea sets. Your tea tray should go harmoniously with the rest of your tea set, and the size should be balanced with the size of your living room (tea room).
A Chinese tea tray is a hollow platform with a container inside which can contain all the water that will be spilled during the tea ceremony. A tea tray can be made from many materials, such as wood, bamboo, stone, a tree stump, metal, ceramic, and jade. Common tea trays are made in fan, square, and moon shapes.
Chinese: 茶壶 /chaa-hoo/ chá hú
Suggestion for purchasing: A teapot should not be too large, and a common teapot always has a volume for four people. It should not be tall but round, so that the fragrance of tea leaves can be well circulated in the teapot. One more key point is: the pot’s mouth, and top of the handle should be the same height.
You might come across some very small teapots. The very small ones are used for brewing tea for one person. Most teapots are made of violet sand earthenware or ceramic.
Chinese: 养壶垫 /yang hood yen/ yǎng hú diàn
Most teapot bases are made by wood or bamboo. When brewing tea, placing the teapot on a teapot pad can stop the teapot from forming rings on the tea tray, protect the bottom of teapot, and soak up drips that might otherwise fall into the teacups when pouring.
Chinese: 茶匙 /chaa shee/ chá shí
Wooden (or bamboo) tea scoops are used for scooping tea leaves into a teapot.
Chinese: 茶漏 /chaa loh/ chá lòu; also called 茶斗 /chaa doh/ chá dǒu
Common tea strainers are made from wood or stainless steel. Ceramic tea strainers are also available.
Chinese: 公道杯 /gong-doww bay/ gōng dào bēi; also called 茶海 /chaa heye/ chá hǎi
A fair cup looks like a small jug or pitcher with or without handle. What is its function?
When making tea, especially oolong tea, the taste of tea is easily influenced by even a few seconds of brewing time. In order to avoid a difference of taste between cups in a round of tea, people pour the tea into the fair cup first, and then serve the tea to every guest.
A fair cup can also function as a teapot when making tea. If you are not concerned about the difference of taste between cups, you can just use one of them.
Chinese: 茶杯 /chaa bay/ chá bēi
Generally speaking, there are two kinds of tea cups: big ones for making tea and holding tea, and small ones for tasting tea.
Most tea cups are made of ceramic or violet sand earthenware. In Chinese tea culture, people choose tea cups according to the color of the tea.
- For light-yellow oolong tea white ceramic tea cups with a decorative pattern (especially gold pattern) are better.
- For bohea tea (the color is a little deeper than oolong tea) simple white ceramic cups are more suitable.
- For black tea (with a bright transparent red color) celadon ceramic tea cups are best.
- For green tea simple glasses cups are best, because appreciating the tea leaves unfolding in the water is another enjoyment during tasting green tea.
- For yellow tea glazed ceramic cups are best.
- For white tea (similar to a variety of oolong tea: Tie-guanyin) use simple white ceramic cups for deep-color tea, and cups with a light color and decorative pattern for light-color tea.
- For dark tea choose light-color tea cups to highlight the deep-color of the tea.
Chinese: 茶托 /chaa twor/ chá tuō
Saucers are usually ignored by people, who make tea in their own houses. Chinese saucers are always made in flower shapes or with a corrugated edge. Their functions are: for aesthetics, and for protecting surfaces from drips and rings from the cups.
Chinese: 茶夹 /chaa jyah/ chā jiá; or 茶筷 /chaa kwhy/ chā kuài
A pair of tea tweezers is made from bamboo or wood. It is used for washing teacups in hot water and for removing tea leaves from the tea.
Chinese: 茶簪 /chaa dsan/ chá zān
Tea stirrers are made from bamboo or wood, with one end pointed, and the other flat. Generally speaking, a tea stirring is always used for stirring tea leaves (with the pointed end), and is washed in the first round of tea making (especially in making Pu’er tea). The flat end is used for skimming the dross during the tea making progress.
Chinese: 茶荷 /chaa her/ chá hé
A tea holder is used for holding tea leaves ready for scooping to the teapot, and for showing tea leaves to tasters for appreciating and evaluating. It can be made from wood, bamboo, ceramic, or metal. An exquisite tea holder is really a work of art. However, most families and even tea houses don't bother with it.
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I updated this article on April 9, 2014
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