The Simple Guide to Buying a Japanese Tea Set

All About Japanese Tea Sets

If you are a fan of Japanese culture, you are going to want to get yourself a Japanese tea set of one kind or another. If you are really into it, you’ll probably want several. Now tea is a big rabbit hole you can go down. If you do want to go deep, I would recommend starting with Okakura Kukuzo’s 1906 classic book The Book Of Tea, which, to give you a taste starts out:

“Teaism is a cult founded on the adoration of the beautiful among the sordid facts of everyday existence”

Okakura Kakuzo, a man who probably thought too much about tea

A hundred years later, it’s still true that tea can get a little culty. A little nerdy. Or a little “let’s make sure we don’t heat our tea water more than 46.3 degrees, and that we spin the cup three and a half cycles per serve and make sure we have scientifically matched the tea circumference to the vessel consistency”. But it doesn’t have to be that complicated. Sure, if you want to make your tea using a thermometer and a set square, then knock yourself out. But fundamentally all we’re doing here is mixing a few leaves with some hot water, so let’s not overly complicate things. 

In this article, we are going to simplify things so you can find yourself your perfect Japanese tea set, without the hoo-ha. We’ll cover the basics you need to know before you shell out for a pot and some cups.

Difference Between Teapots and Kettles

Now before we go any further we do need to get one fundamental thing straight. A kettle is something you use to boil water, and a teapot is something you use to mix tea and hot water. Simple enough right? In principle yes, but be aware that sometimes kettles and teapots can look very alike. In Japanese tea sets, this is especially true of metallic kettles and pots, which can be easy to confuse. Don’t get yourself into hot water 😉

With that sorted out, let’s take a look at the different types of Japanese tea sets out there.

Hi, I’m a kettle!

Image: Batholith [Public domain]

And hi, I’m a teapot!

Image: learza from Toorak, Melbourne [CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)]

Types of Japanese Tea Set

For the purposes of getting yourself kitted out with tea making stuff, there’s basically two types of Japanese Tea – powdered and leaf-brewed tea. 

These are both made from the same thing –  tea leaves, our old friend Camellia sinensis

I’m tea. I can be powdered or leafy. Nice to meet you!

Powdered Japanese Tea Sets

The most famous powdered tea is the ubiquitous and mighty Matcha, which you may know from such roles as the matcha-flavoured milkshake or the matcha flavoured ice cream. Preparing powdered tea can be both the easiest (think instant powdered coffee) or the most difficult of teas to make (think a Japanese Tea Ceremony replete with a bevvy of utensils), depending on how serious you’re going to get. We’ve done a post about Chasen Whisks here, but the truth be told, you can get by with any old cup and a spoon to mix. 

All the high tech tools you really need to make a matcha

But if you want to really look the part, and chase the dragon of that fine cha taste, you would be looking at a set of four objects; a cup (chawan 茶碗), a spoon (Chashaku 茶杓), a whisk (Chasen 茶筅) and a tea container (Natsume 棗).

chawan 茶碗

Chashaku 茶杓

Natsume 棗

Chasen 茶筅

Image: Yuya Tamai

Leaf-Brewing Japanese Tea Sets

The first thing you need to choose for brewing leaf tea is what material you want to boil, pour and drink your tea with – Earthenware, Porcelain, Metal or Glass. See info below.

Once you’ve got that sorted, you just need to decide on a pot shape and where you want the handle. Too easy.


Shape-wise, you find pots with handles on the side, back and top of a tea-pot. It doesn’t really matter which you go with. The ones on the side are good because you can use one finger to hold the lid on while you pour. But if you’re left-handed, and you buy a side-handled pot made for a right-hander, then you better get ready to hone your backhanded pouring technique. The pots with handles across the top are usually the bigger ones or Dobin 土瓶, which are good for making a large amount of tea for lots of people.

Yokode 横手

learza from Toorak, Melbourne [CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)]

Ushirode 後手

Image: Cosmin Dordea

Dobin 土瓶

Image: 森正洋デザイン研究所 (Mori Masahiro Design Studio, LLC.) [CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)]

There are also pots that have no handles, called Hohin. You need to make sure the water is not too hot when you use one of these pots (which is really one of the central tenets of making Japanese tea anyway). Take a look at this video to see someone making tea in a handleless pot.


There are three main materials and each one has its own advantages and drawbacks:

Tea Set Materials

Clay, Earthenware & Other Ceramics

Image: https://www.flickr.com/photos/y_i/370865102/

Pots and cups made out of clay and ceramics are, in our opinion, the most fun option. Teaware made in these materials actually interact with the tea they hold to influence the flavour. They have the ability to absorb tastes and add flavours of their own. Which could be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on what you like. We reckon it’s a good thing.

Ultimately, clay and ceramics turn making tea into more of an art than a science. 

Purists will say that you should have a clay teapot for each specific type of tea you want to brew. Teapots will take on the taste of the tea that is brewed in them most often. So if you spend six months only brewing sencha in a pot, and then brew genmaicha, the genmaicha is still going to have a note of the sencha in there. Once again, could be a good thing, could be a bad thing. Either way, it’s food for thought.


If you are after something that will give a more “pure” or “clinical” representation of exactly what the tea leaves taste like without outside influence, Porcelain is a good option. Porcelain production has a long history in Japan, having been introduced from China via Korea in the late 1500s. It took the Chinese hundreds of years to perfect Porcelain, and the means of production was often kept a secret. Porcelain still keeps its air of refinement, and associations with China, so much so that we still use the word “China” in English to mean Porcelain. So if you are after something more instantly recognisable as distinctly “Japanese”, it may be better to go with earthenware.


Image: Misakubo [CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)]

There is something about the beautiful cast iron Japanese tetsubin 鉄瓶 kettles and kyusu 急須teapots. They have a certain ye-old-worldly charm. They are also popular because they can add the element of iron to water.

Just don’t confuse the kettles with the teapots – from the outside they look almost the same. You can tell the teapots by the fact they have an in built strainer in them


This is not so much a traditional one, but glass is worth a mention as it can be fun to be able to see the actual tea leaves brewing in the pot. It’s also a neutral material that won’t influence the taste of your tea. Have you ever heard anyone say “Er, yuk, this tea tastes like glass”?

REVIEWS: Top Recommended Tea Sets

Tealyra Matcha Startup Kit

If you want to do Matcha in style, this is a great kit with a bowl, whisk & whisk stand, strainer, tea-scoop, tray and a packet of matcha. 


  • Beautiful gold infused earthenware bowl
  • chashaku scoop and chasen whisk are made of bamboo
  • Whisk comes with stand to help it keep its shape when stored.
  • Simple wooden tray


  • Only one cup, would need to get more if you want to have tea with friends.

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Bizen Ware Cup

If, like us, you are into the rich, earthy looking teacups and pots, you’ll find that it is hard to source the good stuff as a set with, say, 4 cups and a teapot. More often cups are sold as one-off items. Each one is its own little art piece. We are huge fans of pottery from the Bizen kilns of Japan. Buying several of these to put together your own “set” may be a little more expensive than some of the sets below, but is a worthwhile investment. There is something psychologically pleasing for guests, also, when everyone has their own special, but equally beautiful cup!


  • Wonderful rich, earthy texture
  • From one of the famous kilning regions of Japan
  • Each item is unique
  • Good size, not too small or big


  • As with almost all Japanese cups, there is no handle. So if you make the tea too hot, you’ll feel it!

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Hagi Ware 5 cup tea set

There is a famous saying in Japan, “Raku first, Hagi second and Karatsu third”, in reference to the types of tea-wares that are used in tea ceremonies. Hagi is known for its use of understated, subdued colors and for it’s distinctive glaze. Number two ain’t bad.


  • Subdued color
  • From one of the famous kilning regions of Japan – Hagi
  • 5 cups is great for entertaining
  • Set makes for great value


  • Possibly too understated for some

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Tokoname pot and 3 cup set

Tokoname is another of the iconic kilning regions of Japan, known for it’s striking red clay coloring. The “Tokyo Matcha Selection” headline is confusing, as the pot is designed with an in-built strainer for making loose leaf tea.


  • Beautiful earthy red
  • From one of the famous kilning regions of Japan – Tokoname
  • In built metal strainer caters for fine leaves
  • 3 cups set is good value


  • Cups and pots may be too small for some
  • Only three cups

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Marble-Style Tea Set with four cups

If you are not a stickler for the traditional stuff, this is a modern yet classic design. Features gold patterns similar to Kintsugi, available in white or black.


  • Good size for serving four people
  • Solid, top-style handle
  • Wooden tray included


  • Strainer on spout not suitable for finer tea grains, so may need to use external strainer
  • Not Japanese-made product

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Floral blue Arita Porcelain with five lidded cups


  • Genuine Arita-produced porcelain
  • Rustic on-the-top handle
  • Evocative Peony Botan floral design
  • Porcelain does not color flavor of tea
  • Distinctive lidded cups


  • Lidded cups may be too much bother for some and may make cups harder to stack away

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Classic White Arita Porcelain Pot and 5 Cups


  • Genuine Arita-produced porcelain
  • Features floral inlay
  • Porcelain does not color flavor of tea
  • Teapot shape close to Western shape so is appropriate for various teas
  • Distinctive lidded cups


  • May not be distinctively Japanese enough for some

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Striped 5 cup Arita Porcelain Set

Somewhat festive looking set featuring a Kyo Tokusa 京十草 design. Kyo means Kyoto and the Tokusa means 10-grasses. It is said that gold and metal become more lustrous when polished with 10 grasses. Partly because of this reason, the stripey motif in Japanese design is considered auspicious


  • Genuine Arita-produced porcelain
  • Kyo Tokusa 京十草 design
  • Red and white stripes associated with festive times in Japan
  • Porcelain does not color flavor of tea


  • Side handle would not suit left handed person.

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4 Cup Cast Iron Teapot Set


  • Pot keeps tea warm for a long time
  • Built in infuser
  • Comes with stand and wooden storage box
  • Adds iron element to water


  • Metallic pot could keep too hot, so you may need to use it with another pot which lets the water cool down for some tea types
  • No saucers for cups

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Kiyoshi 4 cup Cast Iron in Konjo-blue

This hand-painted set has a truly classic Japanese look


  • FDA Approved and lead-free
  • Pot keeps tea warm for a long time
  • Built in infuser
  • Comes with stand
  • Adds iron element to water
  • Cups Include Saucers


  • Metallic pot could keep too hot, so you may need to use it with another pot which lets the water cool down for some tea types
  • Gift box & instruction booklet relatively cheap looking

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Glass 4 Cup Teapot/Kettle

This is an interesting one. It’s both a teapot and a kettle! Which means it has a tea infuser built in but also goes on the stove top. 


  • See the tea!
  • Pot and Kettle in one
  • Includes wooden tray


  • Hard to regulate how hot the water is as the pot goes directly on the stove

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