Good Gaiwan- What Is It?

by Jason Walker on February 28, 2013

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First, if you think I may be referring to a long-lost Kenobi brother from the Star Wars franchise, you have come to the wrong place.

A gaiwan can be a simple and easy way to steep tea. I find it especially useful for single-serve purpose.

I made a video of how to use a gaiwan.

IMG_0007Advantages Include

– Easy to clean: It is basically a little bowl with a lid, which makes it easier to wash than the inside of any teapot.

– Easy to serve: My daily-use approach involves a cup and gaiwan that hold about equal volume. Use more leaf than you might otherwise. Pour water into the gaiwan and then pour directly into your cup. This serving method shortens steeping times, and often increases the number of steeps-per-leaf.

What To Look For In A Gaiwan:

1. Size: On my desk is a gaiwan that holds over 180ml. This means I get about 6 oz of tea to drink each time I pour from my gaiwan. One steep equals a decent sized cup of tea. Larger size is especially important if you drink oolongs. Balled wulongs unfurl and takes up space. As Lao Zi reminds us – utility comes through emptiness.

2. Shape: You want the gaiwan to have a lip or rim that furls out and away from the body of the gaiwan. This allows heat to dissipate so your fingers can hold the rim comfortably as you pour. Many gaiwans on the market are sufficiently wide. I would not seek a gaiwan that is significantly higher than it is wide.

3. Material: I go with the Plain Jane white porcelain. White allows you to see the color of the tea liquor. White is easier to spot stains and cracks in damaged gaiwans. Porcelain also doesn’t absorb materials like some porous clay gaiwans might.

4. Thickness: Many look for thin gaiwans that allow heat to dissipate evenly and consistently. I find a thin rim or lip often reduces the amount of dribble when pouring. As this relates to material, it is more difficult to find glass or other ceramic gaiwans that are as thin as a porcelain one.


You could get these, but not necessary

1. A strainer (see photo): If I do not want unsightly bits of tea floating in my cup, I use a strainer. There are many types, but you want one that is not too fine. Some are nearly tightly knit as cloth, and clog easily. Also consider the cup or pitcher you will place the strainer on. It should be large enough to rest across the top of your cup or pitcher.

2. A pitcher (see photo): A pitcher allows you to combine several steepings and serve as needed. A pitcher is also very handy when serving more than one person.

Where to get one:

There aren’t many U.S.-based retailers who offer large (+180ml) white porcelain gaiwans.

The closest I could find was this one from JKTeashop.

I use a pitcher I got from China Cha Dao.

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