Best Chinese Tea Cups and Sets

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Every respectable tea lover will pay attention to not only the quality of their tea, but also to the preferred collection of tea utensils and tools. Tea kettles, teacups, and other, additional tools play a rather important role in the tea culture of many societies across the globe, especially in China. The tea ware in China carries special symbolism, beauty, and stands for time and patience needed to make and serve tea. As one would assume, the first tea ware can be traced to China, dating back thousands of years. The tea ware was based on bowl-like vessels in which people would brew tea leaves. Now, that tradition has expanded across the world, just as the tea ware has. Therefore, in the following paragraphs, we are going to take a look at the best Chinese tea ware, teacups, and tea sets. Hopefully, this will inspire you to become a tea lover, or if you are one already, then to expand your collection of teaware with a new beautiful teacup or tea set.

Chinese tea ceremony is perfomed by tea master in kimono

Quick Summary of the Chinese Tea Ware

As mentioned above, tea ware has been used for thousands of years in China. Tea ware has become the unique and symbolic part of tea ceremonies and other special occasions in the Chines culture and lifestyle. Because teapots, teacups and other tools carry an important ceremonial message through design, tea ware became almost as important as the tea itself. The tea ware, especially teapots and teacups are elegantly hand-painted or decorated intricately to show a sign of class and sophistication. Tea ware can be of different size, shapes and can be made of different materials. It can also be made for special occasions, ceremonies, or for different tea making process, like brewing tea leaves or using teabags. Chinese tea ware usually consists of teapots, types of teacups, tea tray, kettle, pitcher, tea scoop, strainer, and other, additional but not indispensable tools.

Different Types of Tea Sets and Teacups

When it comes to variation in types of tea sets, teapots and teacups, it all boils down to the materials these items are made of. Teapots and teacups, for example, can be made from a variety of materials, like porcelain, glass, cast iron, silver, and stainless steel or unglazed stoneware. Chinese tea sets, especially, are traditionally made of clay or porcelain. Therefore, we’re going to take a look at the best tea sets and teacups in regards to the material they’re made of and their types.

Tea Cups

Gaiwan or Zhong

Brewing Chinese tea in ceramic gaiwan during the tea ceremony close-up. Gaiwan and other tea tools for the ceremony -

Gaiwan or Zhong literally means ‘a covered cup’ in the Chinese language. This is, therefore, a lidded bowl that does not have a handle. It can be used to infuse tea leaves or it can be used to drink tea after it has been infused in the teapot. Gaiwan covered cup always comes in a set of three pieces, that include a bowl, a lid, and a saucer. These are usually made out of porcelain, but can also be made out of glass. They can be used to brew any type of Chinese tea, and you can also buy them as a part of the Yinxing or the Chao Zhou tea sets. Gaiwan covered cups were invented during the Ming Dynasty and ever since are a part of the Chinese tea ritual or tea ceremony. These cups are also beautifully designed, often depicting Chinese dragons, handwritten poems, calligraphy, and other Chinese symbolism. Here are some of the best lidded teacups on the market you can currently choose from;

Pin Ming Bei and Wen Xiang Bei

Pin Ming Bei and Wen Xiang Bei are a pair of the so-called aroma cups. These are a rather new appearance in the Chinese tea ware, originating in Taiwan in the 1980s. The Pin Ming Bei cup is smaller, and the Wen Xiang cup is a taller one; the smaller cup contains the tea and while the tea is being infused, the cup is covered with the taller, Pin Ming Bei cup. Once the tea brewing/infusion is done, the cups are inverted, firmly and smoothly to prevent the tea from spilling. If you’re afraid the tea will spill, just remember that these cups are sealed to each other due to the temperature and vacuum effect. Once the tea is ready, make sure to bring the Wen Xiang cup to your nose, where you can fully appreciate the aromas of the tea; hence the aroma cups title.

Filtering Tea Cups or Infuser Mugs

Loose Leaf Black and Herbal Tea with Metal Ball Infuser

Filtering teacups are a relatively new innovation in the world of Chinese tea ware, but also increasingly popular among tea drinkers. As the title suggests, filtering teacups are vessels/bowls or mugs that are designed to contain an internal filter. Some of the best filtering teacups include the Poet filtering teacup (a Chinese porcelain mug with internal filter), and the Yixing clay filtering mug (a Chinese clay filtering mug that is slow to conduct heat and is incredibly durable). Filtering cups are extremely practical and are being used in Chinese schools or even in offices across the country.  These cups can vary from cups with ball infusers, collapsible basket infusers, and even clip-on infusers. Regardless of which one you choose, you can be sure to get exquisite tea, as if you’ve prepared it in the best Chinese clay kettles.

Tea Sets

Clay Tea Sets

Chinese tea ceremony. Clay teapot with green oolong tea Tieguanyin on a black background and a cup of hot tea with vapour

Traditional Chinese tea sets are usually made of pottery materials, such as clay. They are also hand-fired and have been done so for thousands of years now. These sets are also very famous and believed to be best suitable for brewing tea leaves. Clay is known for its ability to store and release the fragrance and taste of the tea therefore, it is considered to be the best material for the Chinese tea sets. The Chinese clay, especially, is believed to enhance stronger flavors of Chinese green teas and smoked black teas. The first, official clay tea set and the teapot is believed to be the 16th-century Yixing teapot, that was accompanied with appropriate shallow teacups, now characteristic of the Chinese tea ware.

The best Chinese clay tea sets and teapots are made from the ‘purple clay’, also known as Zisha, and are high-fired in order to achieve a finer, thinner clay used for green teas, or are low-fired to achieve a thicker clay used for black and Pu-Erh tea. Nowadays, the Yixing clay tea pots and tea sets are the most famous ones, and they come in three basic compositions; Yixing Zisha, Yixing Pingni (mixed clay) and Yixing – artificial color. There are also Yixing Earth Clay and Yixing Stone Clay qualities of the aforementioned teapots and sets.

Porcelain Tea Sets

traditional Chinese blue and white ware in teapot and teacup on old wood with cement plaster background

Of course, since China is widely known for its porcelain, porcelain tea sets and teapots are the most widespread in this country. Porcelain has been used for the creation of Chine tea ware ever since the 13th century when it was refined to perfection. This translucent, white ceramic is made of ground china stone and kaolin, known as the china clay. Then, the ingredients are usually fired at a high temperature until the mixture achieves that true porcelain appearance.  Sometimes, other materials can be added to the porcelain mixture, creating other types of porcelain tea sets in China. The main tea sets, in regards to the porcelain type, include painted porcelain, white, black, rice-pattern porcelain and celadon. The difference between these tea sets refers usually to weight, as well as to translucency and thickness of the porcelain.

Porcelain tea sets are usually used for lighter teas, unlike the clay teas sets which are used for black teas. Lighter teas include different Chinese green teas, oolong teas, or lighter black teas, like Darjeeling black tea from India. Porcelain tea sets are definitely pricey, but despite the premium price tag, they are still favored not only in China but across the world. Porcelain tea sets are elegant, sophisticated and a visual delight that you and your guests can enjoy during the afternoon tea.

Other Material Tea Sets

  1. Glass tea sets: even though these are not as popular in China, they are definitely gaining the mainstream attention due to their exceptional tea-brewing process. Glass tea sets are perfect when it comes to brewing flowering teas, for example, as they offer a spectacular view of the leaves infusing in the pot or cups.
  1. Metal tea sets: these types of tea sets are the Chinese old school implementation rather than a modern use and adaptation of tea ware. However, metal tea sets have been used by so many dynasties (like Qin and Han dynasties) for a reason; they have the ability to capture the quality of the tea and block off any additional moisture or light in the pot or cup.
  1. Enamel tea sets: during the Yuan Dynasty, the technology known as enameling was introduced to China, and during the Ming Dynasty, enameling became the best choice when it comes to creating tea sets. The Chinese-style enamel tea sets are known to be the most durable, the smoothest, scratch-resistant and overall some of the most beautiful tea sets in China.
  1. Wood and bamboo tea sets: wood and bamboo tea sets are the cheapest Chinese tea sets you can buy. However, this does not mean they are bad. Wood and bamboo are known for their exceptional quality of not polluting the tea, and being extremely healthy, practical and economical to use.

Tips on How to Brew the Perfect Cup of Tea

Tips on How to Brew the Perfect Cup of Tea

Now that you know which Chinese tea sets and teacups are the best, it is time to brew that perfect cup of tea. Here are some basic steps and additional tips coming straight from the Far East and the best Chinese tea makers.

  1. The first step to making the perfect Chinese tea is warming the teapot. The reason this step is important lies in the fact that by pouring boiling water in a cold teapot, the temperature will immediately lower down. This won’t help the tea leaves brew properly and fully. Instead, by warming the teapot, it will retain as much heat as possible and get the best flavor from the tea leaves. So, boil some water, pour it in the pot and swirl around to warm it. Then, pour the water away.
  1. The next step is pretty logical; it is time to add the tea into the teapot. Choose your favorite Chinese tea (Pu Erh Tea recommended, a personal favorite), and add the required number of teaspoons.
  1. Then, make sure to fill the teapot to the desired level with the correct-temperature water. It is important to cover all the leaves, and if some leaves are floating, just stir with a teaspoon to cover them all with hot water. At this point, leave the tea to brew for the desired time (Black and Pu Erh teas should brew between 3 and 5 minutes, and green teas up to 3 minutes).
  1. Once the tea is brewed, make sure to pour it over a strainer into the teacup. If you’re using a teapot with a built-in filter, then make sure to remove the filter before tea consumption.

And, that’s it. Now that your tea is done, find a cozy place in your home, put on your favorite TV show, or record, and enjoy some of the ‘me time’ you truly deserve. If you want, you can add some milk and sugar to your tea, but even without any addition, tea is a simple joy we all can share and enjoy equally.

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