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Tea Sets - A Guide

Tea sets range in complexity from a mug or bowl through to tea sets  consisting of dozens or even hundreds of pieces. The 'father' or Sage of tea Lu Yu, detailed in 'The Classic of Tea' known as the 'Cha Jing', a collection of over 20 instruments and wares that were needed. Tea wares have changed over the centuries. From the 17th century onwards European tea sets grew and with it a bewildering set of etiquette that often ensured only the most attentive followers of fashion were 'cultured'.

Tea sets reflex the styles and varieties of tea being drunk as well as the latest innovations. 16th century China saw the lidded beaker and saucer, 'zhong', rising to popularity. This type of vessel is still popular in many parts of China today. In 17th & 18th century  Europe ornate tea caddies presented on silver trays complimented with a milk jug, sugar bowl and silver tongs or spoon were important accessories for the discerning tea drinker. In the 19th century porcelain became increasingly available to the masses and innovation allowed for ever increasing elaborate designs and finishings including gilt. 

Gong Fu Tea Sets

Particularly popular in the South Eastern province of Fujian, gong fu tea sets traditionally consist of a number of small cups, a gai wan or lidded bowl and small jug, known as a 'gong dao bei' or 'fair for everyone jug'. Sets will include between 4 and 12 cups.

Sets made for preparing the formal tea ceremony include a number of other items including a 'Cha He', a shallow bowl with a neck or open spout. The Cha He, is used to display the dried leaves to the guests before drinking. The neck of the Cha He is designed to assist adding the loose leaf tea into the Gai Wan or teapot.

Tea sets can include small trays made of wood or ceramic to stand the guests tea cups upon. Smelling cups, which are tall with a narrow opening, are used as the name implies to allow the guest to fully appreciate the aroma of the tea whilst at the same time admiring the colour of the liquor in the drinking cup.

Gong Fu tea sets, range in price from the simple day to day sets found in every Fujian home, to hand made and hand painted sets crafted by famed artisans in places such as Jing De Zhen, Yi Xing, Long Quan and De Hua. Our China tea regions pages contain more information these famous kilns.


The most popular material for tea sets is by far porcelain. It is very easy to clean, warms quickly and evenly, and the pure white colour ensures you are able to fully appreciate the colour of the tea liquor. The popularity of porcelain goes beyond functionality, to the incredible range of designs available. Porcelain tea sets are another example of how tea and art are closely entwined.

A serious alternative is glass. Glass has similar characteristics to porcelain, though for some, the pleasure of being able to see the leaves in the tea pot and colour of the liquor makes it a superior alternative.

Popular with some tea drinkers is YiXing ZiSha clay. The most well known tea wares made from ZiSha are the famous YiXing teapots which are available in their many forms. Tea cups made from various coloured ZiSha clay are commonly available and are very tactile. As with YiXing teapots, typically ZiSha cups are used for a single type of tea due to the materials ability to absorb some of the tea prepared in it. Other tea wares you can find made from ZiSha clay include Gong-Dao-Bei or fair for everyone jugs, gaiwan and even Chinese GongFu tea trays or ChaPan.

More information

Interested in learning more about how to prepare Chinese Gong Fu tea? Why not visit the Wan Ling Tea House making tea pages. Alternatively visit the next page in our Tea Facts pages and read about Chinese tea trays.

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