Ancient Allure of the Gaiwan

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To have the best cup of tea, I think of fresh tea leaves, quality and temperature of the water, the steeping vessel, the cup, the timing of brewing and of course the ambiance of where I will drink my tea. 

One of my favorite ways to experience these qualities is through a brewing vessel known as a Gaiwan. Historically, the Gaiwan (which means “covered bowl”), evolved from the Chawan – a larger tea bowl from the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). The Gaiwan was originally developed for green tea but became more popular as oolong and black teas were developed in the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912). It consists of a saucer, a bowl and a lid. The bowl is slightly flared outward which is the best shape for drinking green teas. Porcelain is ideal for teas that need a lower temperature water to steep as it, by design, takes on the heat and cools the water. Gaiwan are readily available in porcelain, clay and glass, and the design can be from simple to elegantly painted. Larger leaf teas that are infused multiple times are ideally brewed in a Gaiwan.

Whether it is multiple infusions of a delicate Silver Needle white or a rich wine-like Hao Ya A — black Keemun, your senses will be delighted with the experience of the ritual that unfolds taste sensations and aromas in your Gaiwan.

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Steps to brew in a Gaiwan: 4-5 ounce size

1. Prepare freshly boiled water and let cool to approx 190 – 195F.

2. Rinse Gaiwan and lid with the hot water to warm the vessel.Discard.

3. Measure your tea: 1 tsp to start, more if using larger leaf tea.

4. Add tea leaves to the warm Gaiwan.

5. Cover tea with a small amount of water.Replace lid.Hold the edge of Gaiwan bowl with thumb and fourth finger with second finger on top of lid.Tilt the lid slightly and pour the water off immediately.

6. Lift lid and smell fragrance of the rinsed leaf.

7. Pour in water to the level where the lid sits.Cover with lid.

8. Steep 30 seconds to 1.5 minutes depending on your tea choice.(Green teas will require a shorter steeping time than black teas.)

9. Tilt lid again and pour tea into a pouring pitcher, then into small cups.

10. Enjoy fragrance under lid.Note the partially expanded leaves, their texture and color.

11. Sip and savour your tea.Pay attention to tea liquor color, fragrance and taste.You may also choose to drink directly from a Gaiwan, using the lid to keep leaves in vessel.

12. Re-infuse multiple times.Each time you re-steep you may alter the length of infusion time which will reveal other nuances to enjoy.

Karen J. Hartwick founded Stratford Tea Leaves in 2001. This tea tasting bar and boutique is located in Stratford, Ontario, Canada with an active online community and internet tea boutique. She is a consultant, public speaker and tea sommelier with numerous certifications including Specialty Tea Institute Level 4 technology and cupping certificates and the Taiwan Tea Manufacturers Association Certification offered in Taipei, Taiwan.


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