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Dec 12, 2007 07:07 PM

Do you use a GAIWAN (lidded bowl) for tea brewing? I'd love some help!

Tracy, the wonderfully helpful and knowlegeable tea associate at Teance (Berkeley, CA) has advised me to brew in a GAIWAN for best results. I have ordered one, but I am clueless (head dropping in shame)!

Of course, I have googled "gaiwan" and found many sources of information, but nothing comes close to hearing from a tea-Hound...what are your tips for using a gaiwan?

Thanks for sharing any of your experiences with this tea brewing device.

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  1. What was the reason they gave for using a gaiwan, versus any other type of implement to brew in?

    I have never tried one, but i'm partial to Japanese tea accutraments myself.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Honeychan

      Hi, Honeychan! It's always nice to know there is someone out there listening to cries for help!

      While I know the tea brewer has many options available, all which offer slightly different results -- some detectable and some not, perhaps, depending on the palate -- my current method of choice has been a heavy plastic device that I brew in and then place over a mug to dispense. I have been faithfully ordering high-end teas from Teance for many months, and one of the teas was not particularly satisfying. The tea advisor at Teance suggested that for an optimal sensory experience, I try brewing with the gaiwan. She believes that this method will best take advantage of all sensory aspects of a fine tea. Although I follow all suggested temp/time/rinsing "rules" for brewing in my plastic apparatus, maybe my method is subtly inferior.

      This is the tea brewing "pot" that I use:

      Honeychan, what Japanese tea equipment do you use? What are your preferred teas? Where do you buy them?

    2. Liu, when I was first introduced to gaiwan I was in China. I was skeptical as I'm partial to using a small purple clay tea pot. Most of the gaiwan I've seen there were NOT purple clay, but either porcelain or ceramic. I'm not sure what kind of gaiwan you have ordered?

      If you already know how to use a kung fu tea pot, there isn't much difference really. You do the same rinsing and warming of the tea cups & vessels.

      It's just that you might need to find the best way to handle the gaiwan when you pour as there will be no handle to hang on to, and you're have to use your thumb and third finger on the rim of the gaiwan, with your index finger place lightly but with enough pressure over the knob of the lid to keep it down. Lightly because it will get hot and you don't want to burn yourself. This will depend a lot on how the gaiwan is designed, too, so you may or may not have much to get used to. In general, look for one that has a nice lip around the edge so that the contact area that your finger to the surface is very small.

      The one thing that's different is in the way you use the lid to manage the tea leaves and the bubbles, or powdery stuff that floats to the top (if any). Most of the gaiwan is just a cup and a lid, WITHOUT a strainer, and so you have to use the lid to keep the leaves from flowing out with the liquid. Of course, people often choose to pour it into a strainer that's set over a tea vessel (a step I don't like as i prefer the sediments in my tea), and then pour from that tea vessel into individual cups so that you get a nice and clear liquid. Personally I think if the tea is of good quality, you wouldn't get much that needs to be strained and filter, and plus what little is there, will only add to the flavor.

      Usually i use gaiwan when I don't want to have to dig into my tea pot to clean out the leaves (in an office or some place outside of my house), also when I don't want the particular tea oil to get mixed up in my tea pot: eitherthe light Japanese green tea, or the dark Puer (believe it or not, I had started on the puer experience!).

      While in Taiwan I found a really great "Gaiwan" that's the perfect, best of both world design: it's made of purple clay; it's of three pieces: a lid, a cup that nestles within the vessle when put away; it has the straining holes build into the lid; the vessle has a pouring spout shape build in; the lid fits perfectly over the cup, as well as over the vessel since there's a slight inner ledge on the vessel.

      Maybe I'll post a picture later. Enjoy your new tea adventure!

      6 Replies
      1. re: HLing

        HLing, I am so glad to hear from you on this, my newest tea adventure!
        Thanks for all your expert advice. You have also expanded my shopping, as I did not know that I had so many choices. Teance has offered to send me a simple ceramic gaiwan (their choice and a good price). I will practice your suggested technique, and then in time, perhaps, I will shop for something "better." I would love to see a picture of the gaiwan you found in Taiwan, and then I can scour the internet for something similar or appropriate to my modest skill and dexterity level.

        And once again, you have been extremely helpful with your information...thanks!

        1. re: liu

          Liu, here's a link to the pictures of my Gaiwan.

          Cheapertrick, nice to hear your thoughts on Gaiwan. I agree on not using teapots with infuser baskets, although I couldn't articulate the reasons, just that it doesn't taste good....

          1. re: HLing

            Oh, that is quite a beautiful and complete set! I can see why you treasure it so.
            By the way, did you just put that photo gallery together for this post? I am impressed!!! But I do so appreciate having seen it...something to aspire toward!

            1. re: liu

              OK, now I feel a bit guilty for putting up an unusual picture of a Gaiwan. Comestible is right that my brown Gaiwan is a bit heavy. That is because I am from the old school before Gaiwan became popular, and so I look for something different in a Gaiwan.

              Since Foodwich mentioned seeing pictures here, I figure I'd better put up a picutre of a more common Gaiwan next to the brown one, just for the record.

              1. re: HLing

                Yes, I am using one like the one on the left...but yours looks so perfect!
                I find that the smaller one is just too small. I know the advantages of brewing small quantities at a time, but I like to brew about 16 ounces and then carry my cup around for an hour or so.

                1. re: liu

                  Liu, if you really want to brew about 16 oz. at one go, then your best bet may not be a gaiwan. My largest gaiwan is about 7 oz., and I haven't seen any bigger than that. For larger quantities, I have a 12-oz. Chinese glazed teapot (still not big by English standards). But unlike a gaiwan, it wouldn't be useful for multiple steeps unless you can drink 10 oz. times 3 or 4 (in which case it is just as good), or just use less loose tea and plan on making only one infusion.

      2. A proper gaiwan offers many advantages that a teapot won't. For one the small size and shape are very good for delicate green teas although they work well for just about any style of whole leaf tea. The thin walls also help. These factors insure the leaves are not in the very center where the water is hottest. When using one you will notice the leaves either float or sink to bottom. They don't come in contact with hottest water in the center of the gaiwan. The water will cool while the tea steeps insuring a good sweet flavor. Too much hot water won't cool properly and will extract too much caffeine and the other polyphenols that make tea bitter. I personally never use teapots larger than 10 oz or with infuser baskets.

        They are also about the same size and made of porcelain like the cupping sets pros use to taste teas. This is not a coincidence. Silicon based materials such as porcelain and glass are very good for proper tea extraction.

        The lid can be used to agitate the leaves and the water. This can be used to cool the water as the tea steeps and insure that the leaves are properly soaked.

        My advice is don't use them for Japanese teas. They are usually machine picked and the tiny particles that machine picking creates won't strain properly. For Japanese teas I prefer Tokoname wares or glass pots with fine mesh strainers in the spouts.

        Always warm the gaiwan with hot water before each use. The cold porcelain will cool your water too quickly. A warm gaiwan is a happy gaiwan.

        Always leave a bit of room near the top. When the tea is steeping this will insure that steam and heat has a place to go.

        The better quality and fresher your leaf is, the more effective your gaiwan will be. Lower grades or older teas tend to be dusty and won't strain properly.

        Good luck!

        1 Reply
        1. re: cheapertrick

          cheapertrick - Thank you for all the details...and very helpful explanation.
          The tea advisor at Teance also advised brewing in small quantities, information you have also confirmed.
          I will read and reread your post; know that I do so appreciate your help!

        2. One tiny thing to add to all the detailed info here -- after you've brewed your tea, have a sniff of the underside of the lid -- it catches the aroma of the tea during the brewing process.

          4 Replies
          1. re: limster

            LImster! Good point! I never knew you were into tea, or else we would have stopped in at Luh Yu tea emporium when you were here with Melanie Wong last time....In fact, I sometime wondered how Melanie as a Wine Wizard would taste the different oolong teas....

            1. re: HLing

              Well, I dabble a little, but I do try to appreciate good tea when opportunity presents itself. :) I'm sure a range of oolongs, or even a Pu-Erh vertical would have been fun to to taste with you and Melanie.

            2. re: limster

              Thanks, limster...a very important point you have added --
              Aaaaah, YES! For me, the heavenly aroma is at least half of the tea experience!

              The tea advisor from Teance did mention this as well. Her point was that using a gaiwan offers the tea drinker the most sensory pleasures...and tea brewing is about all of them: taste, mouth-feel, color, temperature, leaf-texture, flavor and aroma!

              1. re: liu

                That's true, with kong fu tea service, you'll need extra cups, like an aroma cup to get a whiff of the fragrance, and it's not so typical for handling more delicate teas.

            3. I use a gaiwan for most teas...puerh, green, oolongs. But for gongfu I also use the small red clay pots which are excellent for keeping a high temperature.

              Many good things have already been said about why and how to use a gaiwan. I do think HLing's clay gaiwan looks a little heavy; I would prefer porcelain/glass for a gaiwan. I am sure the gaiwan they advised at Teance will work fine. (I've been there.)

              I get together with a group of tea addicts in NYC at The Tea Gallery and have learned a lot about tea brewing from all of them. Not only can you get a nice aroma from the lid; it is nice to warm the bowl with hot water and empty it, then add the dry tea and give it a shake...then smell the aroma of the slightly moistened leaves....wonderful! And in the group, we commonly pass around the gaiwan for sniffing between steeps as well.

              One more note...if you are brewing kind of hot and the rim is really too hot to hold, you can use your thumb on the knob on the lid and your fingers can support the saucer (not the bowl) from underneath. If you have the proper angle for the lid, you can pour successfully this way, too. I have to do this sometimes!

              I have gaiwans from 4 to 6 oz. capacity. The smallest ones are just about the best way to try small tea samples, if you get just a few grams to sample.

              3 Replies
              1. re: comestible

                Hello, comestible! I am glad that you posted here.
                I love your idea of shaking the dry tea leaves in the warm, moistened bowl to enjoy the aroma...I can't wait -- I have some really good High Mountain Light Oolong that I want to bathe in!

                So, you have been to Teance in Berkeley...did you like it? What are you currently drinking? Where do you buy it?

                Also, thanks for the very specific directions on pouring a hot gaiwan; this will help my clumsy attempts!

                1. re: liu

                  Yes, I've been to Teance on 4th Av. only recently; I had been to their earlier storefront tearoom on Solano Ave. when they were called Celadon. They used to sell lovely celadon teaware but didn't have much on display at Teance when I was there...might bring it out for the holidays though.

                  I do like their teas, the few I've had. In September I brought home a "Cold Summit" medium-oxidized Dong Ding and a green from China. The Teance folks are native Taiwanese, I think, so I would expect their Taiwan teas to be their specialty. Their puerhs were all the cooked (black) variety, and I prefer the green, raw ones.

                  I'm mostly drinking those green puerhs these days, and various oolongs: light and med. oxidation, but am trying out the heavier, roasty ones which are supposed to be more traditional. Also in the oolong category I like the Wu Yi''s ("cliff tea", somewhat fruity, pungent toasty teas that taste great in cold weather) and the incredibly fruity phoenix oolongs from China that are redolent of berries or citrus (yet they are not artificially flavored!)

                  As for where I get my teas these days, I haven't been buying much except from the local Tea Gallery here in NYC -- I trust their judgment on tea -- but in the past I've gotten puerhs from Yunnan Sourcing, oolongs and greens from In Pursuit of Tea, Silk Road Teas, and other places. But it's been a while since I've ordered online, so it's hard to recommend a place right now. The tea drinkers I hang out with are pretty picky and generally complain about even the best dealers...

                  Oh, and try the "Imperial" (top line) teas offered by Imperial Tea Court (they have a Berkeley and S.F. store). Very pricey but owner Roy Fong knows his stuff. I miss their tearoom on Powell St, which I hear closed.

                  1. re: comestible

                    comestible -- I love hearing what other serious tea drinkers are enjoying, and you have inspired me a bit to give the green puerhs a try; I have not liked the darker, cooked variety. As you have mentioned, I also like the Phoenix oolongs.

                    I have checked out Imperial Tea Court online, but I have yet to order from them. Thanks for the encouraging direction on this, as I will give them a try.