The Ways of the Gaiwan

Posted by Path of Cha on

A gaiwan is a tea vessel used mainly in Gong Fu for infusing tea leaves. It consists of the bowl, lid and saucer, and is usually made of porcelain, glass or clay. Gaiwan made of yixing clay are particularly valued by tea experts (to learn why see ‘yixing’ and ‘zi sha’).
Gaiwan and other teaware can easily absorb tastes and aromas and should never be washed using detergents, but rather with water only.
The standard size of a gaiwan is 110ml, which is roughly 3.8oz.



The gaiwan has existed as part of traditional Chinese tea drinking since the 12th century, if not earlier. However, it was not always implemented in the same ways as it is in today’s gong fu ceremonies. Back in the day, people would drink tea directly from the gaiwan.

As far as gong fu goes, today there is still much argument amongst tea connoisseurs of which brewing vessel is best: the gaiwan or the teapot.

We personally like to use both, depending on the occasion, the tea, and on our mood. Ultimately we believe there is no right or wrong tea brewing vessel in the tea lovers world!

How Was The Gaiwan Originally Used?

Since the 15th century, the gaiwan has most often been used as a cup rather than a “teapot” and tea was drunk directly from the gaiwan. The tea leaves were brewed directly in the gaiwan, and then the lid was used to hold the leaves while the brew was sipped from the gawain bowl.

How Is The Gaiwan Used Now?

Now the gaiwan is used as a brewing vessel and not a drinking vessel. Fewer people nowadays drink tea directly from the gaiwan. 

Today the leaves are brewed in the gaiwan for a short period of time, after which the brew gets poured into the cha hai and then into cups. When pouring tea from the gaiwan into the cha hai the whole gaiwan, with all 3 pieces is held by one hand. It can take a bit of maneuvering in order to get used to it, without getting burned.


Which Teas Are Brewed In A Gaiwan?

This will depend on the material of the gaiwan.

Traditionally, as most gaiwan are made out of porcelain, and some from glass, they are used to brew green, white, yellow, and light oolong teas. The qualities of the porcelain are perfect for absorbing the heat from the water and not damaging the tea leaves.

Although more rare and prized, yixing clay gaiwans are commonly used for brewing pu-erh and dark oolongs. The special clay used for these gaiwans helps round out the darker teas, adding more character.

Pu-erh teas can also be brewed in gaiwan, although if you are preparing a tea that requires boiling temperature many people believe it is better to use a teapot, as gaiwan doesn’t have as good heat retaining qualities.

Some Tea Etiquette

If you are drinking tea outside of your home, let’s say at a teahouse, there are some special things you might want to know.

At tea houses they will provide you with a gaiwan, letting you brew and enjoy tea at your pleasure. However not all tea houses will provide you with hot water and will instead walk around refilling your gaiwan.

The way for the tea masters to know when to refill your gaiwan is by leaving the lid half open atop of the bowl, rather than fully closed.


Have you ever tried drinking tea directly from the gaiwan? What are your thoughts and preferences? 

Let us know in the comments below!


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