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 
dynasties (1644-1911) were larger than
those used today, to brew tea for several
During theTang 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

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-

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 leaves in the bottom of the gaiwan.  The superstitious art of tea leaf reading became a popular teahouse art during
China’s Ming era.