The Tea Detective
Uncovering and Exploring the Facts About Tea
The Chinese Gaiwan-Simple Functionality
Meets Simple Beauty
The Chinese gaiwan (also spelled guywan) covered bowl is a study in practical-
ity, functionality, beauty, and simplicity of style.  Created during the
Ming dynas-
ty (1368-1644), the design of the gaiwan has changed very little ever the cen-
turies.  The gaiwan was created during the peak of pottery making at China's
Jingdezhen kilns, famous for creating delicate, fine tablewares and teaware.
It was during this peak time
of pottery creation in China that small
porcelain teacups without a handle were
given a lid and a deep saucer for the cup to
sit in and called a gaiwan (lidded bowl).  The
gaiwan used during the Ming and
Qing
dynasties (1644-1911) were larger than
those used today, to brew tea for several
people.

During the
Tang dynasty (618-907AD)
scholar and self-appointed tea specialist, Lu
Yu, penned
Cha Chang (Classic of Tea),
teaching the proper way to brew tea, proper
tea etiquette, as well as the right
tea equipment to use.
He designated a special bowl be used that was large enough to accommodate the tools and
implements needed when
brewing tea, yet be small and compact enough to be held comfortably
                                                while drinking. Simply called a chawan (tea bowl), it was created
                                                during the Ming dynasty and the precursor to the gaiwan.

                                                Today the gaiwan remains one of China's most popular tea
                                                tools, with its brilliant design having changed little over the
                                                centuries.  Gaiwans are still used today in all China teahouses
                                                as well as by tea tasters in factories and research centers.

The gaiwan consists of three pieces; a saucer that holds the cup, a small cup with a flared lip,
and a lid for the cup.  The lid allows the tea to be brewed right in the cup and holds back the
leaves while drinking, or the brewed tea can be poured into a separate cup or small
teapot.  The
saucer is used to bring the cup to your lips without having to handle the hot cup.

Some dexterity is needed to drink tea from
a gaiwan, because you're holding all three
parts at once.  The recommended method is
to hold the saucer with the four fingers of
your right hand, while resting your thumb on
the edge of the cup.  Using your left hand,
hold the lid, using it to brush back any tea
leaves by the rim, then bring the cup to your
lips and sip.

          It's probably a good idea to practice a
          few times first, with a cup of water or
          maybe even iced tea, before trying
          your hand at it with a cup of scalding
          tea.

          The gaiwan is preferred by many tea connoisseurs to brew delicate teas such as green
          and white teas, and delicate
scented teas such as jasmine.  When brewing these teas
          the lid is not used.

                                                           The gaiwan is also used for brewing teas with multiple
                                                           infusions such as oolongs and pu-erh teas.  It is often
                                                           used by tea tasters because of its open and glazed
                                                           surfaces, allowing the tea to be viewed during brewing,
                                                           while the porcelain glaze prevents the flavor or aroma
                                                           from being altered.

          The gaiwan is made from various materials including porcelain, glass, and pottery, includ-
          ing
Yixing clay.  Collectible gaiwans made of Jade or Yixing clay are sought after by coll-
          ectors of teaware.

          Gaiwans are sold most everywhere in China and range in price from just a few dollars for
          a new one, to two thousand or more for an antique collectible gaiwan from the Ming era.

          When brewing black, oolong, or pu-erh teas in a gaiwan (but not white or green teas),
          the leaves are given a quick rinse of water, a procedure begun by tea drinkers during
          the Ming dynasty.

          The rinse water is then quickly drained away, while the tea drink-
          er takes a moment to appreciate the aroma of the moist leaf by
          sniffing the underside of the lid.

          Next, more water is slowly poured down the side of the gaiwan,
          allowing the tea leaves to float and then sink.  The lid is replaced
          while steeping the tea.  The infused leaf remains in the cup so tea
          drinkers can visually assess the leaf's quality. Because the under-
          side of the lid is slightly concave the aroma collects and remains
          for the tea drinker to enjoy, which is highly encouraged. For addi-
          tional infusions more hot water is simply added to the gaiwan.

          One unusual activity is thought to have begun because of the ability to see the tea
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leaves in the bottom of the gaiwan.  The superstitious art of tea leaf reading became a popular teahouse art during
China's Ming era.  
Enjoy.