Nov 21, 2010

Chinese Ceramic Tea Cup - The Gaiwan

How to Brew and Drink Tea Using a Gaiwan Cup

Jan 14, 2010 Jeremy Suizo


The gaiwan has been the favored vessel of tea drinking since the Ming Dynasty - representing the ideal means of enjoying the flavor, color, and smell of tea.



The gaiwan is a three-piece Chinese tea cup first created during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). Gaiwans consist of three pieces: the bowl, the lid, and the saucer. Each piece fulfills a role in the act of drinking tea and adds to the overall functionality of the gaiwan. Aside from holding the tea, the bowl acts as brewing container and can be drunken from directly. The saucer insulates the bottom and allows the drinker to lift the cup without getting burned. Finally, the lid doubles as insulation and tool for stirring and holding back leaves while drinking.
Tea connoisseurs praise the gaiwan as being the ideal vessel for drinking tea. Aside from the functionality of the cup, serving as both drinking and brewing vessel, the gaiwan has aesthetic value. Most gaiwan cups are made of either porcelain or glass. The whiteness or clearness of the cup contrasts with the color of the tea leaves and adds to the visual enjoyment of tea drinking. Gaiwans also bring out the subtle aroma of teas as the lid helps to capture the smell of the tea leaves as they steep. Lastly, gaiwan tea cups allow the drinker to experience tea authentically, as they would drink tea during the Ming Dynasty.



How to Brew Tea Using a Gaiwan

Although the vessel may be different, the steps to brewing tea in a gaiwan are exactly the same as how you would brew loose leaf tea normally.
Simply add the desired amount of loose leaf tea into the bowl of the gaiwan and add a little hot water to rinse the tea leaves. After a few seconds, empty out the water, using the lid to hold back the leaves, add more hot water, cover with the lid, and steep the tea leaves as long as necessary. The tea can then be sipped straight from the gaiwan. The time and temperature for steeping is dependent on the variety of tea one is drinking.


An alternative method of using the gaiwan is to brew the teas within the gaiwan itself and then to decant the ready tea into a separate teapot or into small tea cups à la the Gongfu tea ceremony. This method is better when serving tea to multiple people in a semi-formal context.

How to Drink Tea Using a Gaiwan

Once the tea is steeped and ready to drink, take hold of the saucer, placing it onto the palm of your hand, and with your other hand push back the lid so that there is enough of a gap to sip from, but not too big so as to allow tea leaves to escape the bowl. Hold the lid down with your hand as you bring up the saucer and cup to drink.

What Tea to Drink in a Gaiwan

Any loose leaf tea is drinkable from a gaiwan tea cup, however, green teas and white teas are the preferred tea to use. The delicate and subtle aroma and flavor of those teas match the aesthetic of the gaiwan better than the hearty and robust black teas. On a practical note, the gaiwan is a better alternative to clay teapots which tend to over-brew lighter teas.

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