How to Brew with a Gaiwan

how to brew tea with a gaiwan
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Want to brew tea like a pro? Try gaiwan brewing. This beautiful and simple tea vessel is indispensable if you want to enjoy all the hidden flavors and scents of premium loose leaf teas. Learn what makes it so special and how to use it.

What is a gaiwan?

Gaiwan or a lidded bowl is a traditional Chinese brewing vessel. Although gaiwan was invented during the Ming Dynasty, it still mostly unknown to people who don’t drink tea often or at all. It has a bowl and lid, and often a saucer too. Gaiwan is generally very small – usually from 50 to 200ml, but size can vary. It can be made from different materials – glass, unglazed clay, porcelain or stoneware. If you are a first time gaiwan user, glass or porcelain gaiwan may be the best choice. Some gaiwans may be more difficult to use than others. 150 ml is a great volume if you want to make tea for one to three people.

A proper gaiwan will never include a strainer or an infuser. Only the lid is used to prevent tea leaves from entering your cup. Alternatively, you may want to place a small strainer above your cup. Gaiwan is quite similar to another unique tea vessel – Japanese shiboridashi. Shiboridashi may be a slightly easier to use.

Use gaiwan for loose leaf tea only. Never use it for brewing tea bags.

5 Reasons to Brew Tea Using a Gaiwan

Although using gaiwan may look intimidating, especially if you are a tea beginner, it’s one of the best ways to make tea. And, one of the most beautiful and elegant ways too. In fact, using gaiwan is a preferred method for brewing tea for many tea addicts. Here is why:

1. Gaiwan will allow you to brew almost any tea you want

Although gaiwan is mostly used for brewing oolong, green and white teas, it’s great for any type of tea – black, yellow, dark and even some herbal teas. Although many tea drinkers prefer to brew teas such as pu’erh in a special small Yixing zisha teapot, gaiwan may be a great choice too. However, it’s not suitable for teas with very small broken leaves, or herbal teas such as rooibos.

2. Once you get the grip of it, gaiwan is very easy to use

First time you try to use gaiwan, there is a risk of getting burned. Start with teas that require lower water temperature or shorter steeping time. But, once you learn how to use it properly, it will easily become one of your favorite brewing vessel.

3. Gaiwan is easy to clean

Gaiwan is much easier to clean than a regular teapot. Because it has no holes and no strainer, you can wash it very easily. Some gaiwans can be washed in a dishwasher too. Always wash unglazed ceramic teaware by hand and with water only.

4. Re-steeping tea in gaiwan is very easy

Gaiwan is the best brewing vessel for re-steeping tea. Not only will you be able to pour the water in and out fast enough to make super short infusions, but you will also be able to see leaves expanding. Gaiwan is great for brewing ball-shaped oolongs, as it will allow you to enjoy the beauty of the leaves much better than a regular teapot.

5. Brewing tea in gaiwan is all about flavor

Brewing tea in gaiwan requires much more leaves than you would usually use in a strainer or a western teapot. Furthermore, the shape of the gaiwan, and how tea leaves expand, will have an influence on the flavor too. Usually, you will need to fill the gaiwan at least 1/3 full with tea leaves. This will result in a very aromatic infusion and intense full flavor. In fact, using gaiwan,will open a door to the world of whole new tea flavors you never tasted before.

How to make gaiwan tea

To make tea in gaiwan, you will need:

  • Kettle
  • Gaiwan
  • Chahai or a tea pitcher – optional
  • Tea cups
  • Tea tray – optional
  • Spoon – optional

Kettle, gaiwan and tea cups are essential pieces of tea ware for making tea in gaiwan. Tea pitcher will come in handy if you are learning how to use it, and especially if your tea cups are smaller than your gaiwan – which is usually a case. Tea tray with a compartment for collecting water will prevent spillage and make brewing process really easy and clean. You don’t need a spoon to measure tea leaves, only to transfer them from a pouch into the gaiwan.

Steps to brew tea in a gaiwan:

1. Choose quality water

Bring water to a boil. Use fresh spring water. Water quality is very important when brewing tea in gaiwan as you will want to focus on flavors and aromas. Low quality tap water with a subdued metal, chlorine or other chemical scents or flavors will ruin the flavor and scent of your tea.

2. Preheat your teaware

Preheat your gaiwan by pouring hot water in and out. You can discard the water immediately or use it for preheating tea pitcher and tea cups too.

3. Add the right amount of leaves

Add tea leaves to gaiwan. If you are using ball-shaped oolongs such as Ti Kwan Yin, always cover the bottom of your gaiwan with tea leaves. If you are using twisted tea leaves, fill the gaiwan at least 1/3 full, depending on the type of the leaves. The bigger the leaves, the more you will want to use. For example, when brewing Dan Cong teas, your gaiwan should be at least 2/3 full.

4. Rinse the tea leaves

If you are brewing black teas, ball/shaped oolong or dark teas, you will need to “wash” or rinse them first. This step is commonly called “awakening tea”. Slowly pour hot water over the tea leaves and discard the infusion immediately.


5. Learn how to use gaiwan

Once you place the lid on the tea bowl, move a lid to make a small opening – big enough to pour out the tea, but small enough to prevent eaves from entering your cup. Now place your thumbs on the top of the lid and your fingers under the saucer, tilt and pour. Do not try to hold the body of the gaiwan. Depending on the water temperature and steeping time, it may be hot enough to burn yourself. You can use your gaiwan with one hand only. For this method you won’t need a saucer. Place your thumb and middle finger on the edges of gaiwan and use an index finger to gently press the lid. Tilt and pour.

6. Pouring and drinking

You should never drink tea straight from the gaiwan. Instead, pour it into a tea pitcher or a chahai and distribute evenly between cups. If you are making tea for yourself only, use either a bigger cup or drink the tea from the pitcher before steeping the leaves one more time. Drink the tea while still hot. Small Chinese cups are perfect for drinking hot tea. Alternatively, you can mix different infusions in the same pitcher.

7. Re-steep.

Increase steeping time for each subsequent steep. Using gaiwan will allow you to re-steep tea more than just once. In fact, some oolong teas and pu’erh teas can give you more than 15 great infusions, each and every of them with different, subtle notes.

There are many additional steps that you can include when making tea in a gaiwan. However, the steps above will be enough to show you why gaiwan is indispensable if you want to know your tea better.

Want to start trying, but don’t know which teas to use first?Try with:


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