Functioning both as a teapot and a tea bowl, in Part 3, we will focus on the usage of a gaiwan.
When to Use a Gaiwan?Nowadays, one can find gaiwans in various shapes, sizes and material. For the sake of our discussion, I will generalize and speak of its most common form, a porcelain gaiwan. Since it’s porcelain, gaiwan is the preferred brewing vessel for green and white teas. The porcelain absorbs high heat without ‘shocking’ the tea leaves too much, resulting in a more mellow tea liquor. When it comes to darker teas, porcelain may not be the best since high heat retention is required to produce a thicker liquor. That being said, if you brew tea the Chaozhou gongfu cha way, gaiwans are the most commonly used vessel these days. Using boiling or near-boiling water, the tea brewer could adjust depending on what tea they are brewing. This does take a lot of gongfu (practice; effort) to get a better sense of intuition. Isn’t that the beauty of gongfu cha?
Better ControlTo bring out the most flavor and texture out of each infusion requires patience, practice, and intention. Gaiwan is the best vessel to learn and strengthen this skill. It allows you better control with familiar teas and meeting new teas. When I meet a new tea, gaiwan is my go-to before using a teapot. The wide opening allows clear viewing of the leaves when dry, wet, and of their state after each infusion. I would adjust the brewing time depending on how much the leaves have opened and the taste of the tea liquor. I’ve noticed many brands would have brewing instructions that tell you the proper time. I have included brewing instruction in some packaged teas as a general guideline. That being said, I still encourage folks to determine the proper time for their own taste by experimentation. Teapots pour slower, where gaiwans have the advantage of a fast pour. This helps you learn each tea’s proper time that works for you.
How to Choose a GaiwanThe size of a gaiwan plays an important role. Generally, 6 grams of tea leaves would work well with a gaiwan with a capacity of 100 ml. Gongfu brewing usually uses 6-8 grams of tea leaves. Therefore, if you are brewing gongfu tea unless you are brewing for more than 5 people, I would advise against anything with a capacity more than 200 ml for personal use. The design of a gaiwan is up to one’s own preference. My tendency is to pay attention to the consistency of its contour lines. If the diameter of the gaiwan is fairly the same from the bottom to the top, that means tea leaves would have enough room to open up; such quality is important if you are choosing a gaiwan to brew rolled teas.
There are an abundant variation of gaiwan to choose from. A standard gaiwan made of porcelain is most suitable for everyday use. Before you move onto a clay pot, get to know your gaiwan.