Even before I took part in the tea masterclass in 2010 that changed the direction of my life, I have been accumulating tea cups, tea pots and various tea tools.
Dispersed within my cupboards at home, I have 17 bone china cups from my Nan, 19 tea pots, nine Chinese gaiwans (along with tasting cups), two Turkish teacups I bought in Istanbul, 44 other tea cups (including a Fortnum & Mason cup and strainer gifted from colleagues in England); two beautiful handmade canisters from Kaikado in Japan, 12 other canisters; 10 infuser nets/strainers, three temperature variable kettles, two tea thermoses, a matcha set, an extra matcha bowl and one re-usable takeaway cup. Phew! A total of 124 tea items. And I’m sure I missed some!
Do I use all of them? You can probably guess the answer is no 😊. Not all of the time anyway. Over my years immersed in tea I have found myself gravitating back to the same tools time and time again.
After making this count, I sat down to think through what you REALLY need to prepare and enjoy tea. I was slightly shocked when I thought about this carefully and came up with my answer.
If you are generally preparing tea just for yourself, you only really need four things:
1. A highly functional tea steeping vessel for oneWhile the English-style teapots that are commonplace in New Zealand often look pretty, they're not really practical unless you're hosting a tea party. They are generally too big for day-to-day use and don’t have a quick and easy way to remove the steeped tea from the leaves. As most of us drink tea alone for at least part of the day, the single most important item to have in your tea armoury is a small teapot with a capacity of between 150 – 300mls. It needs either an inbuild strainer or a large removable infuser net (large is very important as this provides enough space for your leaves to fully expand). The strainer/net allows you to completely separate the leaves from the liquid as soon as your steeping time is up. A tea vessel this size also allows for multiple steeps of your leaves.
The gaiwan. This traditional Chinese tea vessel is brilliant as the bowl allows the leaves to expand properly. It has a lid that doubles as a strainer. You gently pull the lid back when you pour, which keeps the leaves inside the gaiwan and out of your cup. This is a fantastic vessel but it can be tricky to use.
The Hario Kyusu Maru teapot. This glass teapot has a large, removeable infuser net which again allows the leaves to fully expand. This teapot is 300mls so you can fill it halfway for one, or to the top for two. And its glass walls make it easy to admire the colour of the tea.
The Finum Hot Glass system. This ingenious German-designed vessel is made up of a beautiful double-walled glass, an infuser net that fits snugly inside and a lid that then turns in a drip tray for the net. Without fail, I take this with me when I go away for night or more.
2. A variable temperature kettle
Different types of teas require different temperatures to draw out their best flavour. It’s hard to guess that you have your water at the right temperature when you have a standard kettle that heats to boiling only. My customers who have invested in a variable temperature kettle tell me that it has changed their life! Being able to pre-set the temperature takes all the guess work out and makes you feel like a seasoned tea professional. Most of the variable temperature kettles look wonderful on your bench top too.
There are so many more kettles available than there were even five years ago, such as the Brewista, Bonavita, Breville, Cuisinart and Varia for example.
As there is both an art and a science to steeping tea, your leaf-to-water ratio is really important. Having a small set of scales on hand that you can sit your teapot or gaiwan on (press tare to reset it to zero) means you can quickly and easily measure out the correct volume of leaves. Because specialty tea comes in so many shapes and sizes (open leaf, twisted, tightly rolled pellets...) estimating with a teaspoon is often inaccurate.
What you want to look for is a small scale that goes down to points of a gram. The one we stock and use every day is the Rhino Pocket Scale.
4. A cup created for tea (not coffee!)
Are you like me and hate it when you order tea at a cafe and they bring you a coffee cup?! Arrgh...
There is so much pleasure drinking good tea out of a 'proper' teacup. And there are a number of elements that make a tea cup great.
A white interior or a double walled glass means you can notice and admire the colour of the liquor. You want the cup to feel comforting in your hands, so look for a smooth, round bowl or if you prefer a cup with a handle, make sure the handle fits your index finger comfortably. And finally, a thin but rounded lip helps you take small sips so you can then appreciate the tea’s flavour in your mouth.
The exact 'perfect' style of tea cup will vary, depending on your personal style as an individual. I personally love bowl-style cups without a handle, such as our Kinto Kronos double-walled glasses, as I love how closely these nestle in my hand and how I can feel the tea's warmth on my skin.
So that's my take on the essential tea tools you need if you are, or want to become, a serious tea drinker. But I can't finish without adding two more that are ‘nice to have’ rather than essential. These make your tea steeping ritual feel more enjoyable and complete.
A long-handled tea spoon. This is one those items you don’t realise how useful it is until you start using one. A long handed teaspoon makes it really easy to scoop your leaves out of your pouch or canister. I use this one every day.
A tea tray. I have a big collection of tea trays and I always use one even if I am making a cup of tea just for myself. Using a tray elevates your tea ritual experience, making your daily cup feel even more special.
Of course, none of this matters if you don’t start out your tea ritual with good tea leaves. No matter what tools you have, its impossible to made good tea out of poor quality leaves. So first, invest in good quality, loose leaf tea from a trusted supplier (like us 😊).
p.s. Will I have a clear-out of my teaware? When counting everything up that’s exactly what I thought I needed. But then I realised that most of my teaware items have meaning beyond being a simple, functional tea tool. They represent the countries I have travelled to, the places I have seen, the people I have met and made friends with over my lifetime. Making them very difficult to get rid of no matter how much I could use the cupboard space!
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Thanks to Phillip Glickman on Unsplash for the beautiful image in the header.