Gaiwan is Chinese for Covered Bowl, and it is pictured above. It is by far my favourite way to taste tea, and I would probably say it’s my favourite way to prepare tea in general. You can order a gaiwan online easily enough, but I have found them in China town for $3 or so, and would recommend the more economical route if you’re into saving money. That being said, there are some gorgeous gaiwans out there, and you should think of it as a teapot when purchasing it. If you’re more inclined to buy a pretty teapot, rather than a plain one, order it online. Otherwise, hit up China town. Of course, there’s no reason you can’t have more than one. I have two!
Today, I will be steeping some purple pu-erh in my gaiwan. I received it is a gift, but it’s from Seven Cups, if you should want some. It is such a smooth tea and I would highly recommend it if you’re cool with dropping $80 on tea.
Above is the dry leaf from the cake. It is a pu-erh, so I’ll be using five grams or so of the tea. As a general rule, use five grams for oolongs and pu-erhs, and two grams for other teas, when steeping them in a gaiwan. My teacher has told me to put enough pu-erh leaves in the gaiwan until there is no bottom visible. This is of course after warming the gaiwan with hot water. Consistent temperature is of the utmost importance specifically in this type of steeping. For this tea, I will be using 98 degree Celsius water (210 Fahrenheit) I would recommend the five and two grams rule until you feel more confident to steep tea in this thing. Steeping tea in a gaiwan is a true test of one’s skill. It’s difficult to differentiate a great tea server from a good tea server in other methods, even the French press method. The gaiwan requires you to know what you’re doing, and this is one medium where the art of tea really shines on through.
Now, since I am steeping pu-erh, I will want to do what is called a tea rinse. Pu-erh is usually aged, so the first steeping will not taste very good, as the dry leaves will have no flavour. The rinse “awakens” the leaves, and will ensure that the first steeping will have a depth of flavour. A tea rinse is where you pour water into the gaiwan, then immediately pour it out. The leaves will get wet. They will “awaken”, but they won’t steep at all. This is important. You will want to do a tea rinse with oolongs too, as well as certain other specific teas.
Some of you may be wondering how to use the gaiwan. Here is the proper grip. Note the tiny crack at the front. This is where the tea comes out. You have to be careful to make it big enough for the tea to come out consistently, but tiny enough so the leaves don’t fall out. This takes practice, and I can almost guarantee you’ll burn yourself at some point or another. For right-handed people, the thumb goes on the left hand side of the lip, the middle finger goes on the right hand side of the lip, and the index finger goes in the center.
Now, there are some people who drink directly out of the gaiwan, but I don’t enjoy doing that as much, so I tend to not do it. I decant it into a serving pitcher, which you can then decant into cups for people you are serving. The serving times vary greatly, and I wish there was a good rule-of-thumb for them, but alas there isn’t. When first starting out, keep track of the time methodically, and note what the best taste is at what times. Pour a bit out periodically and test how it tastes. With this steeping method, multiple steeps are expected, with as many as ten, so you’ve got lots of learning and experimenting to do.