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by Kevin Horan 8 min read

When venturing deeper into the world of tea, one may find a staggering and confusing amount of different types of pots to use. There are glass pots, pots with infusers, clay pots, steel pots. What is the difference? And which one is right for me? Of course this depends on taste, and no, not just your personal taste, but your tea. How do you like its taste?

 

Why are there different types of pots?

               To begin let’s start with the origin of all teapots! The first teapot was invented in China during the Mongol-ruled Yuan dynasty, sometime in the 1300’s. But there is some scholarly debate as to whether the teapot was used in previous dynasties. Though tea had been consumed in Chinese culture going back thousands of years, the typical way to drink tea was to pour water heated in a kettle or cauldron directly into a cup with either full or ground leaves in it. We see the legacy of this ancient style in the use of gaiwan style cups, which feature a lid. We also see the descendents of the ground leaves that would be whisked or stirred around the cup with matcha powder, and how it can be prepared all in the same bowl where the tea is prepared. The design of the first few teapots were small, and for individual use. The smaller size of the kettle allowed for the flavors to be concentrated and conserved more efficiently. This also allowed the same leaves to be reused a few more times.

               So the next thought one might have is, why are there so many different types of tea pots? There are many different factors that come into play when it comes to brewing tea. The temperature and quality of the water, the type of leaves one is using and the type of tea in question. Because tea has been enjoyed around the world, the different tea pots that exist are all designed and adapted to suit that particular culture’s style of enjoying tea and the type of tea that they enjoy. For example, the Yixing earthenware pot is used for highly aromatic teas, especially the fermented teas like Pu’erh. When a certain type of leaf is brewed in a Yixing continuously the clay of the pot will absorb that flavor and imbue every subsequent brew with a unique and dynamic flavor full of character. Or another example would be the Turkish style of tea pot and brewing, where two kettles stacked atop one another, known as a, “çaydanlık” is used. The large pot on the bottom of the stack is boiled and used to fill the smaller kettle on top, which is filled with a strong dosage of tea leaves. The water that remains in the larger bottom kettle is then used to dilute and temper the strong tea on an individual basis. This is a good way to conserve heating when both kettles are stacked.

               The diverse styles and types of pots do not stop with these two examples. And the different types of pots do not stop here, either. There are so many different types and styles of pots to be had and used, but for today the focus will rest on glass teapots, clay teapots and cast iron teapots. Hopefully by the end of this article, it can become a little clearer which type and style is right for you!

Cast iron Teapot

 

Glass Teapots

               One of the more contemporary teapots in our review, these pots came into use in the twentieth century and so by comparison are still quite nascent compared to say, the ancient legacy of the cast iron pot, used for centuries. This does not belie their own aesthetic beauty with some pots crafted to be reminiscent of pots and styles from an antiquated past. If aesthetic quality is what you are looking for in a pot, the glass pots carry their own artfulness that the other styles really cannot replicate.

Glass Teapot

 

               And that is of course being able to see your tea being brewed. Many types of tea are exquisitely beautiful when they are allowed to fully unfurl, this is especially true of the dried and rolled varieties like Oolong. The process is important to the brewing process in general, as this is the leaves being able to release their full flavor, aroma, potential and of course healthy nutrients that tea does possess, such as theanine and the highly coveted antioxidants.

                In addition to being beneficial to health and to help improve the taste and experience of tea, the process of the dried leaves unfurling in the boiling water looks beautiful, too. It has the rather morbid sounding name of, “the agony of the leaves”. This is because some view the leaves as writhing in pain as they twist and unfurl in the boiling water, and possibly “bleeding” out color as they infuse the liquid within. However, some may prefer to imagine the leaves dancing and frolicking in a euphoric joy, as being released into the freedom of the water, allowed to once again stretch to their fullest length and live again in their fullest potential, after having been dried and stuffed into a claustrophobia-inducing shriveled state…or to use less flowery or violent wording, the leaves look cool while they brew!

               That is definitely something to consider in terms of the pot you want. Because glass pots allow you to see your brewed contents and the exceptional color it can release, then glass is ideal for infused tea enthusiasts. The brilliant vermilions and violets from floral and fruit infused teas will look really great with glass pots. Many glass pots also have built in infusers to make this process easier, too. Glass pots can potentially be (check with the manufacturer first) microwave and dishwasher safe, and the glass will not leech flavors or aromas from other teas, so you can use virtually any type of leaves in them. Though glass pots do not retain heat as well as other types of pots, this can be ameliorated with a tea cozy!

 

Clay Pots; porcelain, ceramic and earthenware

               On to the next style of pot, the clay pot. This category may get an unfair level of representation due to including porcelain and ceramic along with the classic unglazed clayware pots like the Yixing. The history of these pots also goes back centuries and they were some of the first few pots to be introduced to Europeans, igniting the European craze for tea, with the porcelain teapots. Within this category each of the three main clay ware styles have their own strengths and differences among one another.

Porcelain Teapot

 

               The clay ware style pots are believed to go back to the Tang or Song dynasty of China, with the actual Yixing pots that we recognize today believed to have originated in the 15th century, during China’s Ming dynasty. These pots look amazing and have a noble and genuine character to them. They are designed to brew fermented teas like Pu’erh, because the porous nature of the clay absorbs and leeches the deep and peerless flavor Pu’erh and other strong and fermented teas possess. This can be a problem when you want to enjoy other types of tea, however, because these pots should only be used with one type of leaf, otherwise the flavor and taste may become a bit bizarre or off. They also cannot be washed with detergent or a dishwasher, but they retain heat decently well.      

               Ceramic pots are the next in this noble lineage of tea pot styles. Ceramic pots are versatile in their aesthetic, ranging from modern and nondescript, exuding a simpler personae, or crafted in a traditional or ornate style to match whatever tea experience you are trying to create for yourself, or whoever you enjoy tea with. Ceramic pots are great because they are not only durable and hardy compared to other materials, but because they are glazed, they can also be used for any type of tea. Unlike their unglazed cousins, the flavors will not leech into the pot itself. So you can brew a thick and deep Jasmine (one of my personal favorites, and yes, I love my Jasmine tea deep, dark and bitter!) or even a tea bag of Earl gray and not get an odd mixed flavor taste. Aside from the virtues of its exterior, the pots also retain heat better than porcelain or glass pots.

               Speaking of porcelain, the highly refined ceramic clayware style, these items were popular in Europe and called for heavy export and increased trade with Asia. Porcelain items and tea sets are still popular and produced in Europe today. Porcelain items are among the higher tiers of aesthetic designs for teapots, and many exquisite and elegantly designed porcelain items are out there to be enjoyed. Porcelain shares many of the virtues that other ceramic pots hold, with the exception that they do not retain heat as long as standard ceramics can. A tea cozy can solve that problem, too, but if you have a more decorative pot you would like to show off with some matching cups, then perhaps save green and white teas for a porcelain pot only.

 

Cast Iron Teapots

               It’s time for some heavy metal! The cast iron pot is an ancient invention in the Way of Tea from China, perhaps even predating the clay pots mentioned above. The cast iron pot maintains a stoic and robust aesthetic. These types of pots are handsome and striking. They can range from a modern, minimalist design to a more traditional style complete with painted designs and Classical Chinese characters written on them. The cast iron pot was popular in East Asia, especially in Japan, where it was also used to help heat a room. Cast iron pots truly are heavy weights in the tea world. They are durable, heavy and can even be used for generations! The cast iron pots are also usually glazed and will not retain flavors from other teas if washed properly, though staining can occur with leaves steeping for too long. The cast iron pot excels at retaining heat and can stay hot for far longer than the aforementioned pots. This can pose a problem if one is brewing a more delicate tea like white tea or Oolong, because once the pot gets hot, it stays hot for a long time! But it is perfect for hardier black teas. Also, cast irons are not kettles, so do not put them on the stove or wash them with detergent!

 

In Conclusion

               After reviewing this fine assortment of different types and styles of pots, I hope the choice of which one is perfect for you has become easier. Variables such as design, ease of use and what types of teas are optimal are all factors. For me personally, I have a few different pots at home. My personal favorite is my kyusu clay pot I got in Fukuoka, Japan years ago. But I have a porcelain one on hand as well. And for making iced infusions, I will use a glass pot filled with ice cubes and place in the fridge. So, there is no pressure to choose just one. I hope whichever pot you pick next is perfect for you!

Sources:
How To Choose The Right Type Of Teapot To Suit Your Needs
The History and Design of Teapots
What Is the "Agony of the Leaves"?
The Agony of the Leaves: The History of Tea
The History of Teapots

Kevin Horan
Kevin Horan

Currently living and working in South Korea with my wife and our grumpy cat. I love tea and always try to sample as much local tea when I travel as much as I can. I am originally from the United States.



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