To drive the point home some more, I asked him: "Do you know which part of the crystal glass is THE most important part? Without it, your wine will not be as enjoyable." He thought for 2 seconds and said: "This is one of your eastern philosophy bullshit again, right? It's the hole, no?" I guess I underestimated this guy. Wine drinkers are, in general, quite well-read individuals, I suppose.
The same thing also goes with tea wares, or at least that's how I think of them. They are just, at best, a means to an end. As long as they are made of good material, functional, behave well and help to brew good tea, then they are perfect! All other factors are merely for showing off or for your own personal enjoyment. I'm 10% show off-y, I guess. I can be a little vain that way when guests are at my home.
Anyways, here is my larger tea set and one of my several Yixing teapots (click to enlarge picture):
A - My Dan Cong (Lone Bush) oolong teapot. A modern design Yixing zisha (purple clay) with sexy curves, heavy clay, and smooth pour. Large top opening is ideal for the long wiry shape of the Dan Cong oolong leaves. And the "flat" cylindrical body is appropriate because Dan Cong leaves do not unfurl as much, unlike densely rolled Fujian Tie Guan Yin or Taiwanese oolong leaves. I love this pot!
B - Receiving pitcher for pouring extra tea. Also used by a lazy tea host (me) to pour into directly, so that I don't have to perform the intricate dance of pouring tea from one cup to another back-and-forth-back-and-forth. Some people call this thing a "fairness cup", which I think is an oxymoron term.
C - Real dried gourd's shell with a built-in organic fine mesh filter. For people with borderline OCD who don't like the presence of leaf or tea dust in their cups.
D - Cups. Simply small zisha cups. Need I say more?
E - Presentation vessel. For placing dry leaves before they are put into the teapot for brewing.
F - Decorative zisha water buffalo.
G - Boar's feather brush. For distributing stagnant water droplets evenly on the surface of the hot teapot so as to prevent any mineral buildup, especially around the top "button" handle, the sprout, and any sharp curves that tend to trap water.
Last but not least is the wooden tray itself. Beneath it there is a plastic retrievable compartment whose existence is to capture discarded tea / water.
I have another tea tray that I use more often and is always on the kitchen dining table. It's smaller, round-shaped, and made of porcelain. I bought this in L.A. Chinatown for around $15. The large (~16oz) teapot shown is my pu-erh teapot, which I use to serve a larger gathering of about 6 thirsty people. As you can see, this teapot is way too big to play in the small porcelain tea tray.