5 Good Reasons to try a Gaiwan

May 13, 2021
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We all love a good pot of tea and for many of us the tea we consume during the day is prepared that way.  The concept of multiple infusions is a sign of taking things to the next level, exploring the in-depth tasting of tea instead of simply drinking it as we do in a teapot infusion.   The gaiwan, a classic piece of Chinese teaware, is the perfect vessel to start you on this adventure.

The beauty and tradition of the object

If you have travelled around China you will have noticed the presence of this cup set with saucer and lid is an ubiquitous feature of the landscape. The gaiwan, ‘lidded bowl’, was first introduced to the Chinese tea drinkers during the Ming dynasty (1368–1644) the same era that loose leaf tea became the norm in tea manufacture and remains one of the most popular ways of drinking tea in the country.

The practicality and to the leaf sensorial experience

Though a gaiwan takes a little practice it is a very practical way to explore the concept of multiple infusions.  The open cup gives great access to smell the aromas of the dry leaves and the visual pleasure as the water is poured onto the leaf.  The lid keeps the infusing tea warm and then carefully tilted acts as the filter, keeping the leaves in the cup as we remove the liquor (infused liquid) from the cup.  Before we taste we lift the lid to visually enjoy the wet leaves and enjoy their steamy aromas.  The inside of the lid also gives us access to the fragrant volatiles that have collected there. 

Taking your tasting to another level

Infusing multiple times is another approach to making tea.  By changing the ratio between leaves and water we make a more concentrated infusion.  By keeping the infusions much shorter than we would with a teapot infusion we can avoid bitterness.  As we progress through each infusion the leaves release the multiple elements their flavour chemistry at varied speeds.  Thus the flavours and aromas of the first cup contain all the most rapidly soluble elements in the leaves.  These flavour elements may not be present in the following infusions where we find the chemistry that releases more slowly. This sequence of concentrated ‘flavour moments’ gives us access to details that are lost in the full ‘soup’ of a 4 minute teapot infusion.

The time and space it takes

Unlike a full pot of tea, sat to the side as we busy ourselves doing other things, using a gaiwan demands a little more manipulation and attention.  The decision to have a gaiwan ‘session’ where we sit to explore a sequence of infusions, naturally creates a zone of focus.  You may well have seen tea enthusiasts sitting around a tea boat sharing this experience.  Not only is the tea opening up the essential mysteries of its flavour, we are also in a more mindful state to breathe, appreciate and explore the process.

Connection to the leaf

Putting together all these factors of tradition, sensorial experience and taking the time to focus we end up with a very pleasant way to spend time and a means to explore the wonderful plant that we have been enjoying for years in a whole new way with a deeper understanding of its secrets.

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