tea

Japanese Teaware – What Is A Houhin?

Hey Everyone! Today I’m going to be starting a new series all about Japanese teaware. With each post I’ll be picking a specific piece of teaware to talk about and discuss, and then at the end of the post I’ll suggest a few teas that I think would be at that best when prepared with that piece of teaware. I was inspired to start this series when I recently purchased a Houhin and posted about it arriving at my house over on Instagram, after doing so I had quite a few people message me asking me what a Houhin was and what kinds of tea you would usually prepare in it. So, to help everyone learn more about this wonderful piece of teaware.

Houhin  宝瓶, which translates into “treasure bottle”. It’s a magical name for a piece of teaware and makes me love it even more. It’s a rare type of teapot, used to specifically prepare high-grade, temperature-sensitive teas like Kabuse Sencha or Gyokuro and so on. It’s origins lie in early Chinese teaware, which was just a cup and a lid (aka a Gawain). The tea could be drunk directly from the cup, using the lid to hold the leaves back, or the lid could be used to strain the tea while pouring.

Houhin’s however have the addition of a wide spout, and either holes pressed through the wall of the tea bowl (like mine) or a mesh, to make straining the leaves more convenient. They are generally small, holding only about 150ml, and are usually made of fine porcelain. You can get plain white ones but there are also some out there that have stunning designs carved into them or painted onto them. Being made usually of fine porcelain means that they lose heat quickly, and are as such perfect for brewing and re-brewing small amounts of sensitive, high grade teas. My personal favourite tea to prepare in my Houhin is definitely Gyokuro. Because these teas are brewed with water of a lower temperature Houhin don’t need handles as the water isn’t hot enough to burn your fingers. 

Houhins have relatively straight walls that either go up vertically or flare in an inverted cone shape. This flatter, more open shape lets the water cool down quicker and is also believed to aid in the extraction of umami flavours from the leaves. Because they are used for steeping high-quality teas, Houhins are smaller than most Kyusus, usually under 200ml in capacity, which allows for a greater concentration of taste and aroma.

I honestly thought I had experienced all of my Japanese teas at their best already when prepare with other teaware but by far my favourite way to prepare them now is in this Houhin. It really made the preparations more of an experience and the greater concentration of taste and aroma was so uplifting. Don’t get me wrong, they were also fantastic when prepared in my Kyusus and I will still prepare Japanese teas in that way, but for high grade Gyokuro and high grade Sencha I’ll be mostly using my Houhin because the experience just seems to amplify tenfold and as someone who love Japanese green teas I will make any changes that are needed, to amplify the immersion of my sessions with them this much. The change for me that occurred when I prepared Gyokuro in my Houhin for the first time was as mind blowing for me as when I first filter water or used a temp variable kettle to prepare my tea.

In terms of what teas I would recommend to you to prepare to this I would definitely go with Gyokuro first and foremost and I’m going to tell you all to go to my favourite place to buy Japanese tea, which is of course Yunomi! The three links below are three high quality Gyokuro that anyone who loves Japanese tea it’s bound to enjoy and be able to have fantastic sessions with. There are just three I picked for the post as to not overwhelm you all but there is really a multitude of Gyokuro and other Japanese tea choices over on their website for you to choose from (if you’re making you first order be sure to use START20 to get 20% off)

Shogyokuen: Heritage Gyokuro, Kyoto Shogyoku, Special Selection 特製祥玉

Kurihara Tea #01: Takumi 匠 (The Artisan) – Kurihara Heritage Gyokuro Green Tea

Nishide Premium Selection: Gyokuro Samidori by The Nishikawa Tea Farm 宇治田原西川茶園製玉露さみどり

If you have any questions at all about Houhins, Japanese green tea or just Japanese tea in general, be sure to either leave them in the comments or send to me on Instagram @kimberleyskyusu and I’ll do my best to answer them all as quickly as I can. If you have a specific piece of Japanese teaware you want to learn more about please let me know so I can add it to my list of things to cover for this series.

Until next time, Happy Steeping – Kimberley

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