Thursday, April 2, 2009

Gaiwan Basics

A gaiwan (蓋碗) is a lidded bowl used to brew Chinese tea. It usually has three parts: the lid, the bowl, and the saucer. If you enjoy drinking Chinese tea, then you need to get yourself a gaiwan (or two, or three or more...)

Viva la Gaiwan!

Millions of people (many of them in China) drink their tea right out of the gaiwan. They will lift up the whole cup and use the lid as strainer to block the leaves from getting into their mouths. I don't do this very often but it is a fun way to drink tea. Just make sure the tea is not too hot, and drink it quickly so that it doesn't over-steep.

Other people will pour the tea from the gaiwan into a decanter or a teacup. This is a very convenient way to brew tea, and often my method of choice. Holding the lid and the cup just right so that you can strain the leaves can be tricky at first. I think it's kind of like using chopsticks, or riding a bike; it takes practice but once you get it it's super easy and feels natural. I recommend not filling the gaiwan too full so that the edge will not be too hot to hold.

People often ask me how much dry tea they should use in their gaiwan. There is no right answer... some people use a lot, some use a little. I generally cover the bottom of the gaiwan when I am brewing a rolled ball-shaped oolong, such as High Mountain Tea (高山茶) or Tie Guanyin (鐵觀音). When brewing tea with long, twisted leaves, such as Wenshan Baozhong (文山包種) or Wuyi Cliff Tea (武夷岩茶), I will often fill the gaiwan one half to three-quarters full. Ask your vendor for their advice when you buy a new tea, and feel free to experiment.

Rolled ball-shaped (covering bottom of gaiwan):

Long twisted leaves (a little over half full):

Here are three little brewing tips I picked up from several of my tea mentors:

#1: Pour the hot water down the side of the gaiwan to whip the tea leaves into a tornado.

#2: Use the lid to stir the tea and to examine the color of the tea soup.

#3: Smell the underside of the gaiwan lid between infusions.

I hope this post was helpful to anybody who is new to gaiwans. Happy brewing!


Terry said...

Great stuff Brett. I should be in the cup later today and you've inspired me to get some long leaved tea. Great tips (if you forgive the pun!) on use of the Gaiwan too.

Nicole said...

What a beautiful gaiwan!

Bret said...

I just dont have the knack for Gaiwan brewing. I always make a big mess. What I do like about them though is you seem to have a little more control over water temperature. If the waters a little too hot it,s easy to bring the temp. down quickly, remove the lid and scoop the water around with the lid. Seven Cups added some Gaiwan Ceremony videos to their site.

Jim said...

Yeah very helpful!it's taken me 11 years to appreciate the Gaiwan,what a way to really enjoy this tea..

Beschuit said...

Great blog! I love reading your posts esp in combination with the chinese characters.