盖碗 Gaiwan: Part 2

Here’s more background of gaiwan. In Part 1 I mentioned how the gaiwan was invented, gaiwans have since developed from useful tools to priced artifacts. For me, gaiwans were my family’s everyday gongfu cha brewing vessel.

Porcelain Capital:

        Nowadays you can find gaiwan made with clay from various regions, but when we talk about gaiwans, there is no other place other than the town of Jingde. Within Jiangxi province. Jingdezhen (景德镇) has been making porcelain since the Han Dynasty (221 – 206 BC). The term ‘fine china’ originated from the western merchants who were introduced to porcelain from Jingdezhen. 

        Song Dynasty (960 – 1279) saw the flourishing of craftsmanship. During the Ming Dynasty, consuming whole tea leaves have become fashionable, thus saw the rise in usage of gaiwans. The blue and white porcelain style from this period remained an iconic look. The imperial court designated Jingdezhen to make their porcelain ware from then on. It has since earned the name of “porcelain capital’.

Jingdezhen is surrounded by natural reserves of kaolin and white stones. Over the years, ceramics crafters have used bamboo, bone or knives to shape the body from the clay. Painting is done after it’s been fired in the kiln.

Weight and Color:

        Weight and color, two elements that are tell-tale signs of the quality of a Jingde porcelain. Jingdezhen’s accessibility to resources produced the purest white clay. This purity is difficult to imitate. Their lightness also contributes to the translucent appearance of Jingde porcelain. For these reasons, I still prefer a white Jingde gaiwan with little to no added color. I enjoy seeing the tea leaves unfold and expand in this fine piece of craft, the result of over a thousand years of history. 

Versatility:

        Due to the delicate shape of gaiwan, it’s not the easiest vessel to use for brewing for beginners. That being said, there are a few reasons to choose gaiwan over a teapot.

        Gaiwans allow you more control of the steep. When you are brewing a tea you are not familiar with, you can easily open the lid to see clearly the color of the broth and how the leaves have expanded. This also makes the fragrance more apparent. One could decide if the tea is ready to be decanted. For these reasons, the gaiwan is also a suitable vessel for tea tasting where guests are present.

Gaiwan is the essence of gongfu cha to me. Its’ simplicity and versatility are gracious. You can get your gaiwan or gaiwan set here. Meanwhile, stay tuned for Part 3.

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