Frequently Asked Questions

Tea and Culture

What is a tea brick and is the tea drinkable?
What is a gaiwan and how do I use it?
What is yixing pottery and how do I care for it?
What is a tetsubin teapot and how do I care for it?
What is the Japanese Tea Ceremony?



What is a tea brick and is the tea drinkable?

The Chinese invented the earliest banking system with coins and paper bank notes, but later found that their currency had no value when trading with people in foreign lands like Mongolia and Tibet. Their solution was to create a different method of bartering; by compressing tea into evenly scored bricks, they made a standardized form of currency that could also be broken up to make change.

Today, these sculpted tea bricks with traditional Chinese motifs are used for decoration. We don't recommend brewing tea from tea bricks.

Tip: You may want to apply a coat of clear lacquer to your tea brick to protect it from humidity.

What is a gaiwan and how do I use it?

Gaiwan are Chinese tea cup sets—most often a cup, saucer and lid—used to prepare tea in small quantities. The tea leaves are placed directly into the cup, which allows them to fully unfurl in the water. Gaiwans are meant for Chinese white, yellow and green teas, but can certainly be used with other types of tea as well.

To drink from a gaiwan, simply place the tea leaves inside, pour hot water over them and place the lid on top, allowing it to steep. After the steeping is finished, you can either pour the tea into another cup (using the lid as a strainer), or drink directly from the gaiwan. To drink, hold the saucer, leaving the lid on the bowl at a slight angle to strain the tea leaves. The ideal form is to hold the gaiwan in one hand, with the saucer cupped in the hand and the thumb and second finger holding down the lid.

What is yixing pottery and how do I care for it?

Yixing pottery is a special type of artisan teaware that comes from China. It is made from zisha (“purple clay”), a special material that can only be found in Jiangsu Province.

The most special attribute of yixing pottery is that over time the porous clay will absorb the flavors of what is brewed inside, allowing it to “season”, which will cause the color of the teapot to darken and the flavor of the tea to improve. Traditionally, one would brew only one type of tea (usually green or oolong) in each yixing teapot.

To care for yixing teaware, you must be careful never to wash it with any type of soap or cleaning solution. The clay will absorb the flavor and affect the tea you brew inside. Simply rinse out the teapot or mug and set it upside-down to dry.

What is a tetsubin teapot and how do I care for it?

A tetsubin is a type of cast iron Japanese teaware. The teapots were once kettles, but are now used for brewing tea. In addition to their simple, understated elegance and design, tetsubin teapots retain heat very well and last for a long time. Continual use of the tetsubin will season it, which will improve the taste of the tea brewed inside.

Caring for a tetsubin teapot is very simple. Before using it, you will want to first fill it with boiling hot water a few times to remove its metallic odor. Tetsubin teaware should not be washed with soap or any type of cleaning solution; simply rinse it out with water after each use and wipe dry with a clean cloth. This should prevent the exterior from becoming rusty.

What is a Japanese tea ceremony?

Introduced by Zen Buddhist priests, the Japanese tea ceremony originates from the philosophy that only through Zen meditation can a person achieve enlightenment. Based on the four principles—purity, harmony, respect, tranquility—the tea ceremony, known as chanoyu, is used to teach discipline and instill respect for others. Tea schools in Japan continue to teach the etiquette and art of tea-making.

Starting after a traditional Japanese meal, the ceremony can last from three to five hours. Each element in the tea room is carefully selected by the host and is significant in its meaning. In addition to tastefully selected scrolls and flower arrangements, as many as twenty-four utensils may be used for the tea ceremony.

A small black lacquer container (natsume) contains the Japanese matcha (powdered Gyokuro green tea), which is measured out with a special bamboo spoon (chashaku). The matcha is then mixed with water that is heated to 85°C (185°F), then lightly whisked with a chasen (bamboo whisk) to make a rich, frothy liquor. The tea is served in a china bowl and presented to the guest. The guest turns the bowl three times before it is consumed in three sips. The bowl is then wiped three times with a silk cloth, refilled, and passes on to the next guest.