What Is a Tea Stove?

Dan Harkins

The storied tea culture of China was first chronicled in the eighth century by tea expert Lu Yu, in his his Cha Jing, or The Classic of Tea. In his book, Yu succinctly told the history and manufacturing procedures of many varieties of Chinese tea that have endured to this day. These teas are typically broken into six categories: white, yellow, green, oolong, dark (or red) and black. Yu also described a small-yet-decorative stove as forming the center of the tea maker's world. Along with its many traditional utensils, this charcoal-burning tea stove is still used in China and elsewhere across the globe for boiling kettle water in the way of the ancients.


Yu's book also laid out the tea stove's rites, style and usage. These have not changed much over time. The brazier is fed at the base with hot coals, which heat the kettle resting at the top. Some kettles are built into the top, forming a perfect cone, while others are trimmed at the top for any kettle to be used. Outdoors, tea makers would wrap the stove in sheets of bamboo strips. This would deaden the wind, yet still allow oxygen through to stoke the coals.

The basic process for using a tea stove has evolved into either a complicated, regular family rite or just a simple way of heating coals and boiling water. In Lu Yu's times, the making of tea in the household was a 25-step process, which included numerous tasks like warming cups, adding repeat infusions of tea, pausing to appreciate aroma, and other formal actions. As of 2011, the tea stove is just as apt to be quickly loaded with hot coals and topped by a kettle full of water. The boiling water is then poured over steeping bags or strainers full of any number of teas in another pot or individual cups.

A tea stove made in the traditional style is apt to be brass, with or without decorative etchings. Other materials are common though, such as bronze or clay. Modern versions are less likely to include the extensive number of utensils that were employed in antiquity for properly making tea. Lu Yu reportedly listed 27 other tea-making tools alongside the stove — from metal chopsticks for transferring coals and spider sieves to scoopers and bamboo tongs. Some tea stove owners attempt to collect as many of these old-fashioned utensils as possible to replicate their forebears. Many others, of course, heat their tea water on a stove-top burner or by a minute in the microwave.

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