Let’s say you need, at a very minimum, a kettle, a pot, and a cup. If we start with the kettle, you need at least something to heat the kettle with, and maybe different kettles for different purposes. Some people prefer electric water boilers that have temperature control settings, others opt for more fancy setups with charcoal burners and clay kettles, and still others fuss even about the type of charcoal they’re going to use for aesthetic purposes or some pseudo-practical reasons. Still others think it is imperative to buy, say, a clay kettle, a tetsubin, maybe a silver kettle, and a number of heating mechanisms to match. Kettles are pretty simple, so there isn’t a lot of variables there, and I think we have exhausted most of the possibility and the baseline of what might be considered essential.
Then you move on to the pot. Here’s where it gets complicated. Obviously, as everyone surely knows, you can only ever use one kind of tea per pot, otherwise the apocalypse will hit and humanity will end. So, for every kind of tea you drink, you need a different yixing pot. That will easily end you up with a dozen or more pots, one for green, light oolong, dark oolong, aged oolong, raw puerh, aged puerh, cooked puerh, maybe subdividing the oolongs into different regions, and reserving a few of different sizes for the times when you have guests. Some will most certainly tell you that certain kinds of clay are only good for certain kinds of tea, or better yet, that having different clays brew the same tea will provide different results. If you’re serious, then, you need more than one per tea type.
You also clearly need a gaiwan, since without it you cannot possibly test out teas in a neutral way, so you need at least one, maybe multiple, of those. If you’re serious, you may also need a cupping set, or three. Likewise, if you want to drink sencha, a kyusu with a yuzamashi and some yunomis are indispensible. Or if you want to have any matcha, then you need a chasen, a chashaku, at least one chawan, a natsume, a sieve, and a chakin. You also need a decent kama, probably with a matching furo, if you want to play seriously. Now, so far we’ve only covered Chinese and Japanese teas. If you want to, say, do an English tea service, well, the list goes on and on.
Of course, we haven’t even gotten to cups yet, not really anyway. There are many, many theories out there on cups, but everyone who has ever done one of those taste comparison test will almost always tell you that different cups will make things taste different. A general rule of thumb I have encountered is that smaller cups are for oolongs, bigger, wider cups for puerh, but then you need to consider issues such as the thickness of the cup, the glaze, which affects the cup’s tactile feel on your mouth and possibly the tea, as well as the shape and curvature, which will influence how the tea flows to different parts of the mouth. If you are into smelling, you need a wenxiangbei to go along with that. Cups that are naked without chatakus, however, look funny, so you need those too.
Now we’re getting into the territory of accessories that are necessary, and the list here can only grow ever longer. For example, how can anyone make any tea without the aid of the toolsets that you see selling in Chinatowns everywhere for $14.99? Or, for that matter, what can you do without that tea tray of yours that holds all of your waste water? You also need a fairness cup, which will help you dispense the tea, especially if you have a lot of guests and you want to get your tea to them in a reasonable manner. Pouring each cup individually directly from the pot, unless you’re doing a traditional gongfu style pouring which is uninterrupted by lifting and moving, is going to be disastrous. So you need one of those chaozhou trays as well in additional to your regular tray. If you’re one of those people who are into setting up endless arrays of similar looking but slightly different tea settings (chaxi) then you clearly need many variations of teawares that do the same thing, otherwise it gets boring very fast. You may also find it essential to have items to hold the dry leaves, to showcase the dry leaves, etc
We haven’t even talked about implements that store leaves, or store water, or store teaware. But I think you get my point. After all, instead of having all that stuff, you can just do this
As I’ve mentioned long ago, teaware is probably the last thing you should be spending money on, given limited budgets, in terms of how much it can improve your tea. Once you’ve moved past the basics, such as getting a proper gaiwan or a yixing pot or some such, additional money spent on teaware is almost always a waste, if your goal is a better cup of tea. Now, of course, there are other reasons why one might want to buy teaware, as I know full well. However, don’t ever let anyone tell you that any piece of tea equipment is essential – it’s not. For example, I use a toothpick to clear my spouts when they’re stuck. I find those to be far, far more effective AND safe for my pots than the implements that come in those teasets and will damage your pot. I also rarely use many of the pots that I own. Sometimes, less is really more.