PS: These posts portray the opinions of the author. Strong they may be, always be aware “to each their own.” If you want to do things ‘wrong,’ do it wrong. Happy steeping!
There are clays that can change the taste of tea. You may have heard of a “Yixing” 1 teapot (more about those in another post). Clay can contain many different compounds that affect taste, Iron being a common and strong one, Copper, Zinc & Tin being other strong contenders. Here I describe some simple rules and guidelines on going about comparing different clays.
There are many types of clays out there, and even the way they are fired can change its effect on tea. I have a collection of Japanese clays I have bought over the years through Hojo Tea; many of which he no longer offers. My biggest problem is deciding which clay to use for which tea. Yes, they all have their differences, sometimes subtle and other times they can drastically change the experience.
Determine which clay vessel2 most pleasantly effects the target tea. All opinion based of course.
What You’ll Need:
You won’t need much to compare the clay vessels you have. I would suggest you don’t compare more than 3 clays at a time, it can get too daunting with more.
- Your clay vessels
- ‘Neutral’ vessel (I use glass)
- Pitcher, like a gōngdào bēi 公道杯
- 1 cup per each clay and an additional cup
- Palette cleansers. e.g. rice crackers
Those are the main necessities.
Things to Keep in Mind:
- The clay effects the water as well, not just the tea
- Don’t expect drastic differences
- It doesn’t take long for the clay to take its effect
Let’s begin by choosing a tea, just one tea at a time. Don’t go all out and use special water. Hopefully, you will want to use the clay vessels more often than just on special occasions, so use the water you normally use.
- Start with the neutral vessel
- Only steep the tea in here to control the strength of the tea and keep it a constant.
- Begin to steep this neutral vessel as you would for your tea’s usual drinking.
- When finished steeping pour into the pitcher
- From there we will distribute the tea into the several clay vessels!! Make sure to not only have equal amounts of tea in each clay
- !! Make sure to not only have equal amounts of tea in each clay vessel, but keep the same amount in the pitcher !!
- For the clay to take its effect on the tea, you only need to keep it in there for 10 seconds or so.
- From there, pour into your tasting cups and begin the evaluations.
- REMEMBER, you will also pour a cup from the pitcher
- This is a control variable to keep tabs on the ‘pure’ tea or how it tastes without clay interaction.
- This is a very important step as many times the tea you are using may not work well in any of the clays and could very much taste best in a neutral vessel.
There are many factors to evaluate. Try not to think only about taste, but the texture it imparts, the fragrance it releases on both an in and out breath., how long it that lasts, where in the mouth the taste is most prevalent. How to taste and evaluate a tea and its different qualities is indeed a large subject worthy of a later post. It’s a good idea to take notes here and keep a record as to which teas you enjoy with which clay and which teas do NOT work with which clays.
I would love to hear your findings and what you think of these steps. How would you change this? I’ve done things differently in the past, but I now stick to this. When I have several people with me for this evaluation, I sometimes don’t use cups but pour the tea from the vessels into a bowl and hand out spoons. Some people enjoy that and it makes for a more close and friendly inspection. Also, a benefit from using spoons is that continual pouring can cool down the tea too much. When the tea is in a larger bowl and not in tiny individual cups, it stays warmer.
1Yixing is the place where the clay comes from. Many clays are named after their place of origin, but the thing to note is that one place can source many types of clays, just like Yixing.
2I use the term ‘vessel’ as a simplification because you could be using a clay gaiwan, teapot, tea bowl, tea cup, houhin, shiboridashi, etc.