Teaware can be made out of a variety of materials. These materials all have their own characteristics, which makes some materials better suited for certain purposes than others.
However, the type of material used is not the only factor to consider when purchasing teaware — material quality, thickness, and even color, are just as important for the teaware’s function. For example, a thicker teapot will retain heat more than a thinner teapot, which makes it more ideal for hotter brewing and less ideal for cooler brewing. Another example is color — plain, white interiors in brewing vessels and teacups allow you to better see and appreciate the leaves and the color of the tea liquor, as compared to dark or colorfully-designed interiors.
Whatever the case, our best advice is to have teaware that makes you want to brew tea, both for its looks and for its functionality.
Glass is a fairly common material that is typically used for tea pitchers and teacups. Glass teaware is often picked for its transparency, highlighting the appearance of the tea, and for its refractivity, adding to the tea’s lustrous appearance. This makes glass teaware a great choice for showcasing the appearance and color of the tea and the tea leaves, and a popular pick for displaying the beauty of blooming teas or tisanes.
Glass is non-porous and non-reactive, so it has no impact on the taste of the tea. Moreover, it dissipates heat quickly, allowing its contents to cool down faster. Because of this, glass teaware is most suited for brewing delicate teas such as green, yellow, or small-leaf black teas, or for serving and drinking tea.
Porcelain is perhaps the most widely-used material for teaware. There is no universal definition for porcelain, but it is generally regarded as a type of ceramic that is glazed and fired at high temperatures. Porcelain has been used as teaware for millennia, and can come in many different shapes, sizes, and colors.
Because of its glazing, porcelain teaware is non-porous, and will not react with the flavors and aromas of the tea. Porcelain also tends to hold heat fairly well while still allowing some heat to escape. These properties make porcelain suitable for brewing every type of tea, making porcelain the “standard” choice for teaware.
Clayware refers to unglazed ceramic teaware, most popularly those from Yixing, Chaozhou, and Jianshui. Clay teaware is porous, meaning it can be “seasoned” — that is, it can absorb the aromas and essential oils of the tea over time. It is also mineral-rich, which can interact with the tea and contribute to its flavor. These characteristics tend to emphasize “deeper” notes in the tea, making them more suited for darker teas and less suited for lighter, fresher teas.
Aside from being porous, clay is also highly heat-retentive. Clayware will maintain its heat for longer compared to other types of teaware. This means that clayware is more suited for teas that need sustained, high heat, such as aged white teas, larger-leaf oolongs, and post-fermented tea.