A gaiwan is a small vessel for brewing tea. It is often referred to as a “covered cup.” It takes the place of a teapot. Gaiwans have been used in China since the Ching Dynasty (1644-1912). A gaiwan has three parts: a bowl, a lid, and a saucer, and is typically small enough that all three parts can be picked up in one hand.
Benefits of a Gaiwan
A gaiwan allows the tea drinker to re-infuse their leaves many times, so they are most commonly used for oolong, green, white, and puer teas (black teas are less likely to retain their flavor in subsequent steepings). A gaiwan also allows for greater control of the steep. Because the leaves are floating freely in the gaiwan, you can watch as they writhe and expand, releasing their full flavor. The gaiwan makes you feel like you are driving the tea experience, not just along for the ride.
How to Use Your Gaiwan
- Put the tea leaves in the bowl. The amount varies depending on the density of the tea and the preference of the sipper. Typically you should use more than you would in a teapot and steep it for less time. Experimentation is encouraged.
- Steep the leaves. Add hot water to the bowl (the temperature varies depending on the type of tea you use). Use the lid of your gaiwan to stir the leaves, and watch in fascination as they swirl and swell.
- Crack the lid. When the steeping is done, this can be as little as 10 seconds or as much as a few minutes, return the lid to the bowl. Tilt the lid so it is slightly askew. There should be an opening big enough for water to flow out, but small enough to keep the leaves from escaping.
- Hold the Gaiwan. There are several ways to pick up your gaiwan. Experiment and find the method that feels natural for you. Try using your thumb and middle finger to hold the rim of the bowl. (Hold just the very top to prevent scalding fingers.) Then use your index finger, or index knuckle, to hold the lid firmly in place. It is acceptable to use both hands and lift your Gaiwan by the saucer.
- Decant into a cup. Holding your gaiwan firmly, tilt it toward your drinking vessel. Do this with confidence and the tea will pour out smoothly. It takes a little practice. Do not practice over a computer or a beloved pet. Give your gaiwan a few firm flicks to ensure all the liquid is out. If liquid is left in your gaiwan the tea will continue to steep and will taste bitter. Sip your tea blissfully knowing you look really cool. When ready, add more hot water to your gaiwan and re-steep the leaves.