Does Type of Teaware Make a Difference to the Perfect Brew?
Everyone has their favourite mug, whether it’s a chipped family heirloom, or last year’s office Secret Santa gift. But can a cup really affect the flavour of your tea? The short answer is yes.
If you’ve ever pulled over for a nice brew at a motorway service station, only for it to be served in a plain polystyrene cup, you’ll know that materials matter. The more porous the material, the more it will change the liquid inside. Polystyrene and plastic are the worst culprits, and can leave a strange, artificial aftertaste. But which materials are the least porous, and are there any other considerations to make when choosing your teaware?
We use the term ‘ceramics’ as a catch-all for any clay-based product, including porcelain and china. Ceramic teaware is certainly the classic choice, and has several advantages. Firstly, non-porous china won’t leach unpleasant flavours. The smooth, slippery surface also makes it difficult for the bitter tannins in tea to cling to your cup (‘porcelain’ comes from the old italian word for seashell, evoking its glossy sheen). White china has been used to serve tea for centuries. Historically, white European ladies of the aristocracy would hold fine white china teacups whilst they had their portraits painted. They believed this would highlight their pale skin to suitors, suggesting that they could afford to stay inside out of the sun, drinking expensive tea at their leisure.
These days, white ceramics are often used by professionals to showcase the tea liquor instead. Twinings Masterblenders use standardised white tasting crockery in order to see the natural essential oils in tea ‘dance’ under the sunlight. This is a great indicator of a quality tea. In your own home, you might opt for something a little more personal. Ceramics have a huge potential for colour and decoration. It’s thought that personal attachments to cups can positively influence your perception of taste. Vintage teacup and saucer designs like this Burleigh Teaware range can help create that ‘afternoon tea experience’ from your very own living room. A comforting, sturdy, stoneware mug however, might help you get through those chilly winter mornings before work.
Glass has the least impact on whatever hot drink it comes into contact with, therefore giving the truest representation of your tea leaves. Aside from being non-porous, its transparency allows the tea itself to shine. Afterall, we eat (and drink!) with our eyes. A beautiful glass teapot brings a sense of theatre to the tea table. If you’re appreciating the drama of a flowering tea, or getting lost in the unravelling of a delicate oolong, watching the leaves through glass can be an immersive, sensory, and even meditative experience. Glass also draws attention to those fantastic distinctions in liquor colour, so prized by tea connoisseurs. We begin to notice the amber, copper and ruby hues of a black tea, for example. Borosilicate glass teapots are excellent heat retainers, and can keep your tea toasty for longer - no tea cosy necessary! Avoid thin glass receptacles like wine and untempered water glasses. As well as being fragile, these are dangerous to drink hot liquids from.
The gleam of metal teaware can bring back fond breakfast memories of whistling kettles and buttered toast. Whether it’s sleek stainless steel or intricately engraved Moroccan silver, polished metal teaware is sure to catch your guest’s eye! Metal is amongst the most durable of teaware materials, and designs will often have a timeless quality. Lining metal teapots with a non-porous material, like enamel, helps to prevent the build-up of rust, and makes the cleaning process a bit more bearable too! Some cast iron versions can double as both kettle and teapot, though one thing to bear in mind with any metal teaware is its heat conductivity. This can make it rather tricky to pour or sip from when your tea is piping hot.