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The Gaiwan: History & Use

Pronounced as guy-wahn, a gaiwan is a dish used for serving tea. Dating back to the Ming Dynasty, this teaware has stood the tests of time. Composed of three pieces - a saucer, a bowl, and a lid - its elegant simplicity is really all you need to steep a perfect cup of tea.

Green Tea in a Glass Gaiwan

About the Gaiwan

Though the gaiwan has been in use for many years, it is still the preferred teaware for use by tea enthusiasts and tasters today. Gaiwans may be made of a multitude of different materials, including porcelain, glass, stone, and Yixing clay. The shape of the bowl is believed to facilitate the movement of the hot water resulting in optimal infusion. The lid is used to keep heat in and to hold back the tea leaves when sipping or pouring. The saucer provides a way to hold the vessel without burning your fingers.

The gaiwan is incredibly versatile in that it may be used as a teacup, in lieu of a teapot, or as a teacup and teapot together. Chinese tea master Lu Yu described a proper tea vessel as one large enough to accommodate tea brewing while being compact enough to be comfortably held in one's hands. The chawan, or tea bowl as it was referred to in his day, is eventually what evolved into the gaiwan over time.

How to Use

Step 1: Rinse the gaiwan with hot water. This cleans any dust from the vessel as well as heats up the material in preparation for steeping.

Step 2: Pour dry tea leaves into the bowl. Typically, this would be 1 to 2 teaspoons of loose leaf tea. The desire is to leave enough space for rolled leaves to unfurl in the cup.

Step 3: Pour hot water into the vessel and immediately pour it back out, using the lid to hold back the leaves. Hold the entire vessel in the palm of one hand, steadying the cup with your thumb. Use your fingers on the other hand to tilt the lid of the gaiwan using its knob. The lid should be tilted slightly as to hold back the leaves but allow the liquid to pour.

Step 4: Remove the lid and savor the aroma of the tea leaves. Smelling the leaves helps activate the palate in preparation for enjoying the tasting of the tea.

Step 5: Fill the bowl with water of the appropriate steeping temperature and steep for the recommended length of time.

Step 6: Consume the tea. The tea may be consumed directly from the gaiwan or poured into another cup or vessel. Sip or pour, and enjoy!

Refill the cup to resteep as desired. Keep in mind the number of resteeps resulting in a flavorful cup will depend on the type of tea you're using.

Word of Caution

Drinking from a gaiwan does take some getting used to, so please be careful not to burn yourself on the first few tries!

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