How to Use a Gaiwan [Inbetweenisode 203]

NOTE: After thinking about it a bit, you can use four fingers to hold the gaiwan as well, especially for larger gaiwans where it may be difficult to get a good grip with just three fingers. The trick with your fourth finger is to make sure it isn’t place too close to the heat of the gaiwan, so please make sure you have a good grip around the rim (just like the middle finger).

This episode, I talk about gaiwans and walkthrough how to use them. This episode is focused on practical tips for people just getting started and are considering using a gaiwan.

Please check out our previous, very early episode on Gaiwans by Denny and I. It is easily one of our most popular episodes of all-time!

7 responses to “How to Use a Gaiwan [Inbetweenisode 203]”

    • Only people who have never been to China and seen a real tea ceremony would say something like that. I lived in China for 17 years, and I assure you, a true tea.master uses a Gai Wan often, among other things. All you have done with this comment is expose your ignorance….

  1. Why bother acknowledging “grumpy Tea guys” response ? He’s just trolling. Now …….I might raise some eyebrows with questions , but I’m not trolling. But……what’s up with the lightening fast flash infusions? It looks like your afraid that the leaves will get wet. Don’t be afraid….. Let’s get some flavor extraction going on here.

    • Hi Bret,

      Thanks for the comment. This is probably more than you asked for, but here’s my thoughts on it!

      I don’t raise my eyebrows at that comment. A few points (speaking for just myself, not Denny).

      (1) I only really brew raw pu’erh at anything close to a flash. Oolongs, aged oolongs, ripe, blacks I don’t generally, And these days I rarely brew traditionally stored pu’erh in a super flash. Some Yancha I might, but its only if my leaf to water ratio is very high and I’m not too anal about it.

      (2) To me you can regulate the brew a few different ways (temperature, steep time, leaf to water ratio). Usually I choose to do it primarily through steep time.

      I’m basically at sea level, and the water I use is boiled or close to it. Even with a full kettle you’ll lose about 5 degrees within a minute and ~12 degrees within 5 minutes. So how frequently you reboil can matter quite a bit. In general, I’m trying to be closer to that one minute marker than the 5 minutes since that amount of temperature can make quite a bit of difference. If I waited longer I’d probably also brew longer to compensate.

      (3) My leaf to water ratio is moderate to high 1g:15ml. If I used something less say 1g:20ml (this is actually a very big difference since it is 33% less tea) I would definitely not be flash infusing.

      (4) In 80-90% of my sessions I use a pot and pots take time to pour. The pots I use frequently take, say 15 seconds on average to pour. My pot for ripe can take even longer.. So even if I were to brew as quickly as possible which I typically do not, you still have quite a while where the leaf is making contact with hot water.

      In my experience in Asia, I’ve ran into all sorts of brewing including flash so I don’t buy the idea that this is a weird form of brewing only done by people that don’t know anything in the west. Of course you can find people in east Asia that know what they’re doing and brew quite differently. But in the west this is also true.. You can find all sorts of different brewing methods many of which are quite different than flash infusions.

      One funny thing with the brewing criticism is that it never seems to extend to the color of the liquid we get out, which seems to be more directly correlated with strength. My own brewing has adjusted a bit through the years, but I’ve found that I’ve become more diligent about boiling rather than steeping for a minute or whatever.

      re: GTG. You’re probably right.


    • Flash brewing also has its benefits in drawing out different levels of the pharma and phyto-chemicals through the session. There is some science behind that as different chemicals are more soluble in water and at different temperatures.
      You can get a basic understanding of this when you brew Shu Puerh. If you drink the rinse (that many people don’t) you will get a different experience from the 1st flash brew. When you come to the 2nd brew, and if using a ceramic Gaiwan the Shu has “cooked” a little and even before adding the water you can discern the retained liquor has a different quality than the initial brew.

      As you start to work through the flash brew method it gets deeper and deeper into the tea material extracting more of the chemicals and components of the tea that is not present in the first brew and the ratios of the chemicals change. For some teas this works very well, for others I might (from experience) choose clay pot brewing.

      For the consumer and the tea session, therefore, this keeps the tea interesting and makes the session more of a journey. For the tea taster, flash brewing gives an opportunity to understand a tea between each layer and compare teas side by side that might appear too similiar in experience to discern difference in pot brewed.

      Personally, its not about any practice that is “fancy” or “exotic” its the practicality in that I can carry my gaiwan around wherever I go easily and it makes a practical and approachable way to brew. I would be hesitant to travel with my Yixing, but a gaiwan neatly fits in my case and flight bag. (Yes I do ask for hot water at 10,000ft!!). I would argue in fact that a gaiwan is less pretentious than other tea ware and has a basic technology and user interface compared to other brewing techniques.It also physical involves connecting to the tea process with a different physical skill than other brewing techniques which lend itself to other benefits of tea practice outside tea consumption alone.

  2. There’s a third way of pouring with gaiwan (likely there are many more), in which the middle finger + ring finger are under the base and thumb pressing against the crown of the lid. It’s probably a “wrong way” of doing it, but my preferred nevertheless. There is a significant risk with this method that the lid will shift and the whole thing will slip out of your hand (but that haven’t happened to me yet, so it can be managed). Otherwise there are some advantages to it: 1) your fingers stay completely away from the hot areas, 2) the pouring is done just by a small turn of the wrist which stays nicely aligned, whereas in the traditional way the wrist is kind of “broken” and the pouring seem to necessitate lifting up the elbow and perhaps even the shoulder (perhaps that’s because i’m doing it all wrong).

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