Best Teaware for Japanese Green Tea
When brewing Japanese green tea, it’s important to make sure you have the right tools. A Kyusu teapot is the best way to brew most Japanese green teas. It is easy to identify because of its iconic side handle which serves two purposes. First, it is hollow so it cools off quickly, allowing you to pour the tea without burning your hand. Also, it allows you to pour with more refined movements. All it takes is a simple turn of the wrist to pour a beautiful cup of Japanese green tea.
To use the Kyusu teapot, you just need to add 5 grams of tea leaves into the pot and then pour in some water to brew it. 140-160 degrees Fahrenheit works well for most Japanese green teas, but we will discuss the different brewing temperatures in greater detail later. All you need is 150-200ml of water in the teapot. This may seem like not very much compared to the western style of brewing, but for Japanese green teas, you really want to use less water and create a very concentrated brewing so you can fully enjoy the flavor. You can then let the tea sit for 1 minute and then pour it out. Make sure you don’t shake up the teapot, just allow the leaves to brew in peace.
Here you can see the tea farmer Mr. Henta prepares tea for his 4 guests. To measure out the water, he’ll pour it into 4 separate cups, one for each guest. He uses a water cooler called a Yuzamashi to cool the water off.
You really shouldn’t use boiling water to brew Japanese green tea. Instead you can either set the temperature with a water heater, or you can do it the old fashioned way. Just start with boiling water and then pour it into a series of cups. Each cup will cool the water down by 18 degrees F, and after 3 or 4 consecutive cups, it will be in the range of 150-170 degrees fahrenheit which is perfect for sencha. You can also use the specialized Yuzamashi water cooler like Mr. Henta.
When pouring tea for 4 people like this, you will want to use the alternate pouring method. Because the tea leaves settle to the bottom of the teapot, the water poured out last will be the strongest in flavor. To make sure each guest gets the same amount of flavor, you will need to alternate the pouring. First cup one, then cup two, three, four and repeating like this until the tea has been poured out. It is very important for each guest to have the same flavor of tea, so you can discuss it and truly appreciate the tea together.
You may notice people shaking out the last drops of tea from the teapot. This is actually important because the last few drops of tea are usually the strongest, because they’ve been in contact with the leaves for the longest time. You also don’t want to let the water sit in the kyusu and over brew, otherwise your next pouring will be bitter.
The kyusu isn’t the only type of teapot used in Japan. Another popular type of teapot is called a Houhin. This is typically reserved for premium Japanese green teas like Gyokuro and Kabusecha. These teas are prepared with a lower temperature and a higher leaf to water ratio. For Sencha, you can use 5 grams of leaves and 150ml of water but for Gyokuro, you may want to use 5 grams of leaves and 70-100ml of water. At this small tea shop in Kyoto, the teamaster prepares a course of three different teas, a sencha, a Hojicha and a Gyokuro. She uses very little water to prepare the teas, particularly the Gyokuro. This concentrates the teas into a smaller space, creating a richer tasting experience. To pour, she uses the 3 finger method. The points of contact are 3 fingers on each side of the teapot and one on the top lid. This makes sure that her hands are touching the cooler parts of the teapot.
Handmade pottery is still very common in the world of tea. In the small Yomitan village of Okinawa, a number of different families sell their handmade pottery, with all sorts of beautiful designs. This is a carefully honed skill that takes years, and even generations to master.
The clay can be molded while it is wet and then it is later dried in the sun and then finally baked twice in a hot kiln. While the clay is still pliable, the potters are able to sculpt their designs into the teapot. These handmade clay pots are particularly desirable because of their built in clay filters. There are less expensive teapots with metal filters, which can actually perform better because they are harder to clog, but if you are a seasoned tea drinker, you may notice a difference in flavor as the metal interacts with the tea. Minerals in the clay can amplify a lot of the tasting notes in the tea, leading to a richer drinking experience.
When we were visiting tea shops in Tokyo, we noticed a more modern take on the traditional clay kyusu. This clear teapot is perfectly suited to the lifestyle of the modern Japanese tea lover. It is made out of a heat resistant resin that doesn’t break unlike its clay counterpart. It also is dishwasher safe so it is easy to clean. In addition to this, the teapots can also be stacked on top of one another to save space. This is a great alternative to use if you are on the go.
The downside of this clear teapot is that it doesn’t allow the leaves much space to open up. The leaves are cramped inside this strainer, whereas with a teapot they have plenty of room to open up and fully release their flavor into the water. The teapot then has a built in strainer to catch them as you pour, so none of the leaves end up in your cup.
Another benefit to a clay teapot is that the clay itself can actually accentuate the flavor. Some Japanese green teas are well loved for their sweet and savory flavors. We have found that unglazed clay teapots actually push these savory flavors even further, giving you a richer tasting experience. The clay can also interact with the catechins of the tea and make it slightly less bitter.
For beginners, we recommend using a glazed clay teapot. Because there is a thin layer of glaze between the tea and the clay, there is less of an impact on the flavor. This means that you can make a wide array of different teas using the same teapot.