Why use a gaiwan to brew tea

Why use a gaiwan to brew tea

Gaiwan, gong fu brewing device
One of several gaiwans that can be found at home and at work

After many years of making tea using western style (brewing with a high water-to-tea ratio), I came to a point where I started making tea with a gaiwan. Since then, I haven’t turned back. I have gaiwans now both at home and work.

Former brewing buddy at work

Better extraction with each infusion

A gaiwan can be used in gong fu brewing , where a higher tea-to-water ratio is utilized, compared to western brewing. The result are infusions with better taste and depth. I initially was concerned that I would be getting less tea with the smaller brewing device (relative to my pot). This concern was taken care of when I discovered that I could get more infusions by using a gaiwan. Additionally, each infusion would be rich in complexity.

For example, I have a friend who recently brewed Da Hong Pao (Big Red Robe) using  a western style brewing method. At most, he gets two infusions out of this particular sample of tea. After his first infusion, the tea becomes noticeably more flat. I can get at least 6-7 good infusions with the same tea. Additionally, each infusion extracts different flavors not necessarily noticeable in the previous. This means that I am able to explore the tea’s dynamic flavor range in the beginning and middle infusions. I  taste the subtle complexities and sweetness as I move towards tasting the tea’s mineralities in the later infusions.

More control during infusions

Due to the gaiwans open mouth and it’s accompanying lid, it’s easier to observe the tea during brewing and to move the tea around with the lid. This becomes a convenience in aiding the extraction process.

Pouring goes also quicker with a gaiwan, and I am often able to pour within five seconds. With my old pot (and this is a generalization, this doesn’t apply to more specialized gong fu pots), pouring could take as long as 30-35 seconds. This will definitely  influence infusions.

Better tea appreciation

With the gaiwan, one can open the lid and easily view the unfurling of the tea. It has a mouth that is fairly close to the tea, so this allows one to smell a tea during infusions. The gaiwan lid also efficiently collects a tea’s fragrance. Smelling the lid is a convenient way for enjoying a fragrance that would have been more subtle in the tea’s dry form.

Making tea with a gaiwan also makes one more involved in the brewing process. One feels more connected to the process and this brings its own appreciation. Using a gaiwan is not terribly difficult to learn, but with a gaiwan, one can work in improving the tea preparation process, and this skill development brings its own enjoyment.

Easy to clean

The gaiwan is also easy to clean because it’s just about dumping out the tea. This can be less convenient with a pot, where one might a need a stick or pick to remove leaves stuck in the spout. I find that this low maintenance is convenient in situations where I don’t have a lot of time, such as when I’m at work or when I have my young child with me.

Suitability of using a gaiwan

If one brews oolongs, then I would strongly suggest using a Gong Fu brewing device like a gaiwan. Gong Fu brewing and oolongs were developed side by side, so a Gong Fu brewing device is the most optimal teaware type for oolongs. In general, a gaiwan would work great with all Chinese teas.

But keep in mind that gaiwans are less suitable for non Chinese teas, e.g. darjeelings, Japanese teas, etc.

Why stop at a gaiwan, why not using more sophisticated tea pots?

I’m sure others would say there are more sophisticated and better brewing devices, such as various yixing teapots. However, I think gaiwans are so simple to use and way more accessible for people exploring gong fu brewing. A gaiwan is considerably less expensive than a yixing, and definitely less intimidating. If the price and the time it takes to research yixing pots is preventing someone from exploring gong fu brewing, this is already a big loss. In this case, a gaiwan a perfect entry level teaware for making a better cup of tea.

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