Teaware: The Teapot
With the criteria that tea should not be let soaked in the teapot for a long time, it is important to choose a teapot according to the number of cups that you need to fill in each round. For example, a normal teacup usually holds 150 ml so a 600 ml pot is ideal for a 4-person family, with some leeway.
If you do not want to buy a separate teapot for some of those rare 8 person tea parties, make two rounds of tea and decant into a separate jug. Use the jug as a decanter for into the teacups, so the quality of infusion is even for all the cups.
However, do not buy an 8-person pot while you normally make tea for 4. If you fill the pot, you have the tealeaves soaking in there. If you half-fill it, the volume of air in the pot is so large that it would cool down the water during infusion. <read more about using the teapot to make tea…>
The best shape for effective convection during infusion is a spherical one, or any derivatives of it, such as pear, bell or bowl shape.
Very flat ones, even with round bottoms, are good only for short infusion time when employing large amount of tealeaves. They are better smaller than big. They are designs borrowed from other pot shape utensils, such as oil lamps.
A tall one, especially one that is rectangular, is good only when it has a thick body wall and of good heat retention material. Convection is less effective in a tubular situation. Large tall ones were popular in the past in tea sheds where tea is soaked there whole day long and was served in big rice bowls. The spout starts at close to the bottom such that the stronger tea got poured out first. The lighter portion is then drawn to the bottom to come into contact with the tealeaves to become stronger for the next customer. Usually very low quality tea was used. They are also borrowed designs, such as wine pots.
One frequently overlooked aspect of the pot is the material thickness distribution of the body. The ideal design is to have thicker material towards the bottom and thinner toward the top. The mass of material at the bottom holds the heat, while the relative speed of heat loss is focused at the top, encouraging a complete and smooth convection current within the whole body of water inside the pot body. The current ensures optimum body and texture of the infusion.
The next best thickness distribution is to have it even throughout the body.
Because of the popularly employed half-mould bisque forming, the pot material distributes most thinly at the outmost curve of the sphere, which usually lies in the middle or near it. During infusion, water at this thinnest part would cool down quicker and cause a downward current, thereby interfering with the ideal convection route. Your tea could hardly be its best this way.
Compare the infusion effects using different pot quality with the same tea, and the results can astonish you.
To choose a porcelain pot, let a strong light shine through the body and the thickness can review itself. Opaque materials, such as Yixing clay or glazed stoneware, need to be calibrated. If you can’t bring a caliber, use the thumb and your index or middle finger. This sounds silly, but with some experiments, and a bit of focusing, you can really tell the difference.
This is a key feature of the pot. It determines how smooth and tidy tea can be poured. Also how even the strength of the infusion is when poured into the cup. Its length, curve, angle and taper; its relationship with the handle; the shape, size, and thickness of the mouth; where it begins in the belly of the pot and how high its mouth is in relationship with the tallest point of the body — all determine how good the pot is.
The handle should give an easy but solid grip and good balance when the pot is lifted. The tilt of the wrist should be easy when pouring. The spout should align perfectly with it forming the main axis of the pot, so the horizontal balance and pouring position are both as easy and comfortable. It size is determined not only with visual balance but rather leverage balance of weight of the pot body. A lot of teapots come with smaller than needed handles, I think for economy of packing space during transportation.
The Lid and Neck
In commercially produced pots, the least requirement for the lid is to have it sit comfortably on the neck or body, without much rattling when the pot is handled. Not falling off when the pot is tilted for 45° is another basic. The better lid should fit quite tight yet comfortably, allowing less hot air to escape. The specialist’s teapot lid has yet higher requirements which will be discussed in the Yixing teapot section.
The dome shape, a usual design, is needed to create an air insulation on top of the water surface, the effect in infusion quality is small yet is there.
The neck is required in mass produced pots since the lid in these pots is not able hold back the water when the pot is tilted, even slightly. The neck helps to delineate a point to stop filling water. It also reduces the surface of water exposed to air to minimize heat loss. Originally, it is structured to hold the inside wall of the lid so the latter fits easily.
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