Saveur Gift Guides: Gifts for the Discerning Tea Lover
Tools and teaware they'll actually want to use
So you know someone who loves their tea and you want to give them a gift. That’s wonderful. Now repeat after me: Don’t give them tea.
It’s not that they won’t appreciate the thought, but just like wine people have their favorite wines and bourbon people appreciate a few particular bottles, tea people have strong opinions about the teas they like to drink, and unless you know their preferences extremely well, chances are that bundle of rose-scented chai (or that fine Hong Kong aged puerh) just isn’t going to hit the spot. There’s no one-size-fits-all tea solution for tea lovers, so save yourself the time and just skip on buying them tea. They already have that covered.
What tea addicts do love is teaware and reading material; there are always more fine ceramics, spiffy gadgets, and good reads to get, and if you shop right, you’ll be able to satisfy an itch someone’s had for a while. Here are the gifts worth giving, from one tea lover to another.
Jono Pandolfi makes tableware for some of America’s finest restaurants, and his clay cups, mugs, and saucers are just beautiful to hold and use. They have a satisfying heft but elegant edges and handles for a handmade product that’s still full of precision. A set of these tea cups and saucers will elevate anyone’s tea ritual. Handmade Ceramic Tea Cup and Saucer, $40 from Jono Pandolfi Jono Pandolfi
A great all-purpose teapot for Western-style tea service. I love the swoopy handle design, which isn’t just visually arresting, but also keeps your fingers clear of the pot. The pour is precise, and a stainless steel basket filter inside is fine enough to trap small leaves but spacious enough to let loose tea fully bloom. Chantal 3-Cup Teapot with Lid and Mesh Infuser, around $43 from Amazon Amazon
A gaiwan is an essential tool for Chinese tea lovers. It’s just a little cup with a lid; the leaves brew right in the cup and the lid acts as a strainer. But it’s an ideal vessel for brewing large amounts of leaves with small amounts of water for a series of brief steepings, all part of the Chinese tea-making process often called gong fu brewing, designed to elicit the full flavor, aroma, and body of a tea in a carefully controlled way. This particular gaiwan is a pleasure to hold and brew with. Porcelain Gaiwan, $25 from T Shop T Shop
The kyusu (a small-ish side-handled teapot) is the vessel of choice for many fans of Japanese green tea, but anyone who’s looking for a beautiful teapot in the eight-ounce range will love this stoneware piece. It’s just the right size for a few people to share small cups of traditional Japanese tea, or as a teapot for one. The rough clay surface will eventually develop a smooth patina as you use it for a vessel that’s a pleasure to hold, and the fine ball filter inside keeps even fine tea leaves out of your cup. Yakishime Kyusu Teapot, around $82 from Ippodo Ippodo
The ultimate travel thermos, and the one that sits on my desk every day. It’s lightweight, unbreakable, and easy to use: load loose tea leaves into the bottom basket and add water to the top. The best solution on the market for hot or cold brew of loose-leaf tea. Travel Buddy Tea Thermos, $28 from Tea Cuppa Matt Taylor-Gross
Know someone who’s curious about this matcha that everyone’s talking about? Set them up right with a matcha starter kit, which has everything you need to whisk up a beautiful cup. The kit includes a chawan (brewing bowl), a chasen (the bamboo whisk required for frothing the matcha), a small bamboo scoop for measuring the powder, and a small canister of high quality matcha that will show your tea lover what good matcha’s really like. Ippodo, the Japanese tea company that sells this kit, has 300 years of practice under their belt. Trust them. Matcha Starter Kit, around $41 from Ippodo Ippodo
There are so many encyclopedic introductory texts to tea out there, but most are all breadth, no depth. This 2015 release by Jeff Koehler focuses on the pride of Indian tea—Darjeeling—and uses it as a lens to explore tea’s history in China and India, its cultural significance to the East and the West, and the uncertain future of a tenuous but historically rich agricultural system teetering on the precipice of modernity. Darjeeling: The Colorful History and Precarious Fate of the World’s Greatest Tea, around $18 from Amazon Bloomsbury Publishing
Hands-down one of the most thoughtful and thorough examinations of Chinese tea culture available in English. Author Jinghong Zhang hones right in on the lore, economics, and anthropology of puerh tea, a unique Chinese tea from Yunnan Province that has spawned an international obsession over the past few decades. In just the first few pages, Zhang explores tea in a way few Western writers ever think of: as an agent of regional pride and nationalist appropriation, and as a drink that’s both modern and indescribably ancient. (It only goes wilder and deeper from there.) A must-read for the tea lover who wants to really sink their teeth into tea culture. Puer Tea: Ancient Caravans and Urban Chic, around $28 from Amazon Amazon