Drink Magazine

Tea Trays: An Illustration in Functionality Over Form

By Dchew78 @peonyts

One recurring theme on this site is the importance of brewing. From Lu Yu to Lu Xun, we keep harping on the fact that brewing techniques or the way you make tea is fundamental to the taste. And making tea is more than mere adherence to the parameters- i.e. quantity of tea leaves, water temperature and infusion time. Then the brewing vessel (gaiwan, Yixing pot coming soon) is also of paramount importance. To say nothing of water (post coming soon), boiling vessel (ditto) and of course quality of tea leaves.

Yet there are lots of accoutrements and accessories that are basically more about aesthetics than functionality.

A lot of tea lovers have gorgeous tea trays, I don’t.

Tea Trays: An Illustration in Functionality over Form

Cha Yu

This is what I use on occasion, not a tea tray but a ‘cha yu’ or a ‘water bowl’. It can be used to pour used tea leaves, pouring water as well as serve as a receptacle when I pour water over my Yixing pot.

Of course I use this sparing, often more for photography and stuff because it looks better than some of the other alternatives.

Tea Trays: An Illustration in Functionality over Form

Mini Tea-Tray

This mini-tea tray is what I often bring when I am making tea outside. It is small, light and generally quite presentable.

Unfortunately its size is its biggest impediment to me- too small to be useful. It can hold maybe 300 ml of water at most and the size is just sufficient for a gaiwan and a serving pitcher.

So this isn’t my preferred tea tray.

Tea Trays: An Illustration in Functionality over Form

Family Heirloom :p

This next baby is ugly but boosts my street-creed. It is a family heirloom brought back from Chaozhou- the originator of gongfu tea- and preserved for 3 generations.

Okay, that’s laying it on thick. Technically it’s the truth but more precisely, it was a gift from my cousin-who-knows-how-many-times-removed to my grandmother on one of her trips back to her hometown 20 over years ago. She found it took up too much space in her kitchen and gave it to my mom. As the tea fanatic in the family I naturally took ownership of it eventually.

It is actually pretty useful- heat retentive surface for warming tea leaves and holds quite a bit of water. It’s not my favored ‘tray’ though as it is heavy- not to mention the fear of breaking your grandmother’s possessions added a few kilograms to it- and a bit too high for my short hands to handle adroitly.

It is the perfect size for Chaozhou brewing but I usually brew Fujian style (sorry grandma) with the serving pitcher so it’s too small for me.

Tea Trays: An Illustration in Functionality over Form

My beloved ugly tea tray

Now this is my de facto tea tray. You can hold back the euphemisms, it is ugly. It looks like something my wife would use to wash vegetables or dry plates.

But it is immensely useful. Big, light, durable and easy to wash, I can use it all day long. A tea tray this size made of wood would probably weigh double and requires more care.

Not to mention it’s cheap. I can keep my dough for more tea or another Yixing. What’s so bad about it? It serves its function.

Which actually now brings me to the main point of this point- if you would excuse the rather lengthy preamble- functionality over form.

In making tea and enjoying tea, I am very particular about the essentials- no water direct from the tap, no tea balls/infusers, appropriate brewing vessels, tea leaves quantity and of course technique- but for the rest, it is functionality over form for me.

For example take the tea tray.

If you don’t want to shell out money for one, use a big bowl. It works well- of course please make sure there is no grease or odor if you are going to put your Yixing pot on it.

Tea Trays: An Illustration in Functionality over Form

Cha He

Or a ‘cha he’- who is to say you can’t use a small plate- a bit more clumsy but it works- if you can’t find one in your neighborhood .

Of course that is to say that a good tea tray is not worth the money- many of them are exquisitely made- but unless you need it to put you into the right frame of mind to better appreciate tea, there are other more compelling purchases around.

*Update- Silly ol’ me forgot to mention the purpose of a tea tray! Assumed too much.

Tea Trays: An Illustration in Functionality over Form

A tea tray allows you to discard water- usually the water used to warm the vessel or the first brew for oolong, black and dark tea

Tea Trays: An Illustration in Functionality over Form

Tea tray prevents spillage on your table- especially useful when you are pouring the first brew over your Yixing pot

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