Perhaps you’re ready to start brewing Japanese tea at home but not sure where to begin. Today’s post will share a few basic, but essential tea utensils that can help transform a mundane tea experience into a simple, but beautiful and deeply flavorful experience that can be easily replicated on a daily basis.
The best news for those new to home brewing, is that only two utensils are required to greatly enhance the taste of Japanese tea, a teapot for steeping tea and tea cups.
TWO ESSENTIAL PIECES: TEA CUPS AND A TEAPOT
First, let’s talk about the cups. Unlike most Western teacups, Japanese tea cups do not have handles. The general name for a Japanese tea cups is yunomi 湯飲み literally meaning “hot water drink.” Yunomi vary in size and thickness. Some are very small and thin for teas that are sipped, such as gyokuro, yunomi used for sencha are slightly larger and yunomi used for bancha are often taller and thicker.
The second important piece of teaware for brewing at home, is a vessel for steeping tea — a teapot. Unlike vessels used to heat water on a stovetop or via an electric kettle, brewing vessels are never placed directly onto a flame or source of high heat. Similar to teacups, teapots often match the type of Japanese tea that you are drinking.
Incredibly, Japanese teapots have all been intentionally designed to pair well with the water temperature and leaf (processing method and quantity) for a specific style of green tea. This makes it easy to achieve the best flavor and aroma for each type.
For example, small quantities of cooler water are recommended for brewing gyokuro, hence the smaller teapots that rarely have a handle. Hot water is used for houjicha, so the corresponding teapots are larger, thicker and always have a handle. Water temperatures and quantities are somewhere in the middle for sencha — and this tea’s ideal brewing vessel reflects these requirements.
Here’s a quick run down of a few teapot options. From here, you can start with your favorite type of tea and then gradually expand your teaware collection over time as you learn, and drink, more.
TEAWARE FOR SENCHA, BANCHA AND GYOKURO:
Kyusu 急須 are the most basic Japanese teapots, readily available and easily recognizable due to their single handle on one side (typically designed for right-handed users). Though this style of pot is the ideal brewing vessel for sencha, Japan’s most popular tea, it also works well for most Japanese teas in general. So, if you’re looking to keep things simple, invest in a kyusu first. The handle helps give some distance from the heat when brewing warmer teas, such as bancha, but the overall size can also adapt to gyokuro or sencha. Porcelain is the perfect option for tea drinkers who enjoy many different kinds of green tea and would like to only have one pot since it does not easily absorb the flavor or aromas of different teas.
If you enjoy gyokuro or kabusecha (shaded teas), you’ll likely be brewing your tea at lower temperature, eliminating the need for a teapot handle. There are several options available:
Houhin 宝瓶 The primary type of teapot used for high-grade sencha, kabuse and gyokuro is called a houhin. This functional teapot is easily recognizable by its rounded, handless form. There is usually a small filter built into the design of the body to prevent tea leaves from entering the teacups when pouring.
If gyokuro is your go-to drink, you might enjoy investing in a couple specialty designs.
Hirakyusu ひら急須 The hirakyusu is a remarkably flat, aroma enhancing tea pot, offering a wide, even surface for brewing delicate teas like gyokuro. These beautiful pots are visually stunning and enhance any teaware collection. They also typically have a filter built into their designs at the spout.
Shiboridashi 絞り出, literally means “squeeze out” and is flat and small, and is often used for single servings of concentrated tea such as gyokuro. There is no filter in this vessel, but small grooves at the spout to catch leaves.
WHAT ABOUT MATCHA?
If you’re a matcha fan and would like to start making this special tea at home, it’s quite easy to get started with this tea as well. All you need is hot water (around 175°F, or 79.5°C) a chawan 茶碗, a traditional Japanese tea bowl, and two other basic tools, a whisk (chasen 茶筅) and a tea scoop (chashaku 茶杓). With matcha, you simply brew/whisk the tea, which has been ground into a fine powder, right inside the chawan. That’s it!
If you’re new to the practice of making matcha for yourself at home, starter sets are readily available online. As you become more involved with matcha preparation, you’ll undoubtedly learn more about the types and varieties of chawan, chasen, chasaku — and much more — expanding your tea practice and utensils accordingly, perhaps to eventually include items such as a kama 釜, a cast iron kettle used to heat water for tea ceremonies.
ONE FINAL TEAWARE TIP:
Japanese tea is extremely delicate and all green teas need to be steeped in water that is well below boiling. Hot water can burn the tea leaves and turn a sweet and savory green tea into an astringent, bitter experience. Whether heating your water on the stovetop, over charcoal, or in an electric kettle, you might consider investing in a yuzamashi.
Yuzamashi 湯冷し This vessel might at first look like a chawan, but includes a small spout on one side, allowing you to easily pour hot water into several cups without spilling. A common shortcut for cooling off water (as opposed to just waiting) is to pour freshly boiled water from a yuzumashi into your brewing vessel first, and then into each tea cup that will be used. This not only prewarms the yunomi, but also cools down the water. Then, you’re able to pour the perfectly cooled water over the tea waiting in a now prewarmed kyusu (or other brewing vessel).
We hope today’s post makes the world of Japanese teaware feel more accessible and fun, with whatever tea you choose. Taking a little extra time to brew tea at home with a few basic pieces of teaware will not only help to deepen your experience of Japanese tea culture, but also helps create a multi-sensory experience of temperature, sight, sound — and of course — incredible taste.
Go deeper with your teaware with these helpful links: