Small pots

One of the most common things I’ve seen asked on forums is where to find small pots. By small, I mean pots that are under perhaps 60ml or so in volume. I think there’s certainly something to be said about using pots that are not overly large. For example, one person could hardly drink enough tea to justify using a pot that’s over 200ml. That’s huge, and will require lots of leaves and probably longer and fewer infusions. If you fill a 300ml pot with 1/3 full of dry leaves, that’s probably 20g or more, which might not kill you, but will certainly cause caffeine highs and other undesirable outcomes. So, there’s something to be said about small pots.

Small pots also have another benefit which older tea texts claim exist, which is that they retain the flavour of the tea better than large pots. Whereas large pots are seen to allow a tea’s qi to float out of the pot, smaller pots will retain it within its body and, presumably, deliver it to your cup. On a more practical note, small pots use less leaves, are relatively easier to control when brewing, and are easier to handle, so there’s something to be said about small pots.

I think, however, that below a certain size small pots become very difficult to use. Mind you, I have a lot of them – some as small as 30 or 40ml in volume, but I almost never use them, and have them around mostly as curiosity pieces. The reasons are really twofold. The first is that small pots, once they are below a certain size, actually start getting harder to use again. The amount of water you can pour in there is small, and therefore the room for error is also smaller. For leaves that expand a lot, you really can’t use very many leaves at all, and the pots often will have lids bulging out simply because the leaves have soaked up water. I also find them to be slightly unsatisfying – perhaps that’s the caffeine addict in me talking, but I find a pot between 80-120ml to deliver the right amount of tea for me, whereas pots that are smaller have trouble doing that.

Moreover, they are not very suitable for certain teas, unless you’re interested in crushing the leaves. Wuyi yancha, for example, or dancong, are likely to have leaves that are too large for a small pot to handle whole. Even some puerh will be too large, and require serious breakage for a small pot of, say, 50ml in capacity.

Also, and this is quite important, I think tea really isn’t meant to be a one-person consumption affair. It’s meant to be shared, probably in a few cups with different people. Drinking alone is common in the West, but less so in Asia. Which is why I think pots that are overly small are harder to find – they limit the number of people who can share in the cup. Some are only as big as one small cup of tea – such as my pot with stitched lid, but that means I can’t use that pot as soon as I have a guest, or even if I just want to share it with MadameN. That, I think, is deeply unsatisfying.


Comments

Small pots — 12 Comments

  1. Although I have not tried pots smaller 80 ml, I also find it hard to imagine how larger leaved pu erh e.g. would fit in there. Maybe the folks who use those do a rinse in a seperate vessel before fitting the wet leaves in, but that’s just guessing. Anyway, it seems that those small pots are meant for using, especially for more precious teas, so I would assume there is a way to handle this problem -?

    Martin

  2. I think small pots are best suited to certain types of tea: old wulong (especially the old re-roasted style) and heavily roasted chaozhou-style tieguanyin. I think you can get away with using yancha as well, assuming that it’s roasted enough and the leaves aren’t too big (or maybe if they’re broken: if there’s nothing wrong with crumbling-up gongfu tieguanyin into a small pot, I struggle to see what’s so fundamentally wrong about breaking up your everyday-quality yancha). When you stuff a normal sized pot 80% full of yancha, the leaves don’t get to fully unfurl anyway, so a smaller pot won’t be that much of an issue I think. I suppose technically you can use red tea as well, though I think that’s better suited to big pots.
    Puer is much better suited to bigger pots though: I don’t think anyone really advocates using tiny pots for big leaf tea styles (though I note a comparison on a certain wrong-fu-cha blog: “http://chahai.net/expectations/”).
    I think you, MarshalN, said that old wet stored puer in particular should be drunk out of big cups and that smaller cups are more suited to wulong. Wasn’t it also the case though that some old texts talk about each person bringing their own pot to a tea session? I assume that that was when pots were drunk directly out of rather than used as they are now, though please correct me if you know more about that.
    I guess that the advantage of small pots is that you can have different teas on one day as opposed to a single tea from a larger pot. You can also either reduce the cost of each brew by using fewer leaves, or make it more concentrated if you want. I use two small pots for aged wulong (a flatter pot for older re-roasted tea and a rounder one for younger or less roasted aged tea) and one for chaozhou style tea. However, if the ‘problem’ is that a one-person-pot is only good for one person, then that illustrates how lucky you are to have people around you who enjoy drinking such an esoteric style of tea; as you note, small pots are anti-social, but of course in the Western world it’s difficult to find fellow tea drinkers to make it a more social event.

    • I think oolongs, rolled ones anyway, are the only ones that will do well in a small pot like this. The argument for them these days is usually saving tea leaves, etc, but I still think that below a certain size, it becomes very difficult to brew and the added advantage of, say, lower leaf consumption, is counterbalanced by the negatives of things like low ability to control brewing, etc.

      • I do make pu’ers in 70-90 ml pots sometimes. But obviously this does limit you to brewing teas that don’t have super gigantic, unbroken leaves in that type of pot.

        I think something smaller than that would mostly be impractical. For what it’s worth, in his book, Chan Kam Pong recommends 100 ml or greater.

  3. I do like small pots, and for me, a pot around 60-80 ml is pretty good for solo drinking, and also works well for 2-3 people if you’ve got smallish cups. I have an 80 ml shui ping that will easily serve 3 people. Depends on the type of tea — many people like to drink puer in slightly larger cups, maybe about 50-70 ml, and that may be part of the reason that bigger pots are more popular these days.

    But I do think there’s a point where a pot is too-small. With a 40-50 ml pot (and I’ve got a few), depending on the shape, it can be pretty difficult, even with broken up or ball-shaped teas, to determine the right amount, and for the teas to have enough room to expand. I get the appeal for these tiny pots given how rare and expensive some teas can be; still, I think there’s a size below which it becomes difficult to brew a good cup.

  4. It depends on what you’re brewing I guess, Will. For Yanchas chaozhou brew and if I’m drinking alone I use a 40ml pot and it makes a really good brew.

  5. Chaoxhou style here means filling the tiny pot up with leaves and then pressing the leaves down with your thumb before pouring in the hot water. That’s how the old teochew(chaozhou) guys do it here , and the tea is only good for a maximum of 5 brews . Some drink only 3 because they steep longer.

  6. There is no one right or wrong way to brew tea,
    and the variations I have seen in styles of brewing,
    including variations in ChaoZhou style are quite large.

    We have a good number of yixings at the Institute;
    4 of them are 60ml or under, and all happen to be my favorites.

    I agree with MarshalN that at some point, smaller pots become harder to use because the margin for error decreases; taking that into consideration, we get excellent results from both our young and aged Sheng small yixings, usually packed with 10ish grams of tea, and we have a roasted Taiwanese oolong ~40ml small yixing that we often brew up to 8 grams of tea in.

    These teas come out very concentrated, but with a rounder flavor profile and a smoother mouth-feel, we attribute the reduction of astringency and dryness to the yixing material.

    Our positive results from these tests doesn’t mean we are “right”,
    it means we have found a way to select for a flavor profile some of the Institute members enjoy.

    Keep experimenting; you will find something you like.

    – Jason M. Cohen,
    Director of The Tea Institute at Penn State

  7. Yep, it doesn’t mean you guys at the tea institute are ‘right’. I love small pots because I’m largely a solitary drinker, and my pockets are shallow, but things were different I’d probably not have pots smaller than 60ml. That said, 10g of young sheng inside a sub 60ml pot is incredible. I’d love to see a video of you guys brewing and tasting that!

  8. I’ve been mainly using small tea pots for my daily gongfu, one 50ml Chaozhou pot and one 35ml Chaozhou. I’ve never had any problems with the leaves: long striped oolongs fit well when you moisten them a little (because I tend to flush the leaves there’s no trouble) and the few pu’erhs I’ve drunk fit well also.

    Being a poor student I certainly appreciate the few expensive leaves I’m able to spare with smaller tea pots. Conserning the number of drinkers, I use the 35ml tea pot mostly for solo drinking, but never had trouble sharing the 50ml brews with a friend.

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