Traditional Brewing Tools: Gaiwan

by on Friday, July 8, 2011 12:08:00 AM

For the past decade, the tea industry has been busy trying to create new teaware to help simplify loose leaf tea brewing. There are all sorts of new tools now such as all in one electronic brewing equipment, filter tea cups, and gravity filters designed to make tea brewing quick and easy.

These new tools are great and really help to make loose leaf tea more friendly and accessible so that everyone can enjoy the great flavor and benefits of loose leaf tea. Sometimes however it is also nice to really set aside some time to relax and enjoy the long and rich tea culture by using traditional teaware to brew tea. Today I am going to highlight one of the most famous Chinese brewing tools, the gaiwan.

The gaiwan (guy wan) is one of the simplest and most versatile pieces of teaware ever created. Literally translated, gaiwan means lidded cup or lidded bowl and consists of three pieces; a saucer, a cup, and a lid. Traditionally gaiwans are made of porcelain although they are also made out of glass, ceramic, yixing clay, and jade as well. Gaiwans were initially developed and used during the Ming Dynasty when it was very popular to drink tea directly from the brewing instrument. Tea drinkers would hold the gaiwan in one hand and then use their other hand to brush away the floating tea leaves. These cups are very versatile as well and are often used to serve guests by simply pouring the brewed tea into a serving pitcher and then pouring the tea into small cups for guests.

Typically Gaiwans are no larger than 4-5 oz in size and are designed to brew a small amount of tea for a large number of infusions (sometimes 10-20 depending on the tea!). Similar to cooking where it is easier to make high quality food for a small number of people rather than a large number, the idea is that the small size of the gaiwan and the great brewing properties of porcelain allows the tea brewer to focus more on the properties of the tea (water color, aroma, etc) and brew it with much more flavor and nuance than you would get using a large teapot.

Gaiwans are a simple and easy way to brew great tea but they are also a great way to become more in tune with tea culture and history.

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