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The Ways of the Gaiwan

Posted by Angelina Kurganska 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. The ones 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 so we should never wash them using detergents, but rather with water only.
Their standard size is 110ml, which is roughly 3.8oz.



The gaiwan has been a part of traditional Chinese tea drinking since the 12th century, if not earlier. However, people didn't always implement it in the same ways as we do in today’s gong fu ceremonies. Back in the day, people drank 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. Is it the gaiwan or the teapot?

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

How Did Tea Drinkers Originally Use The Gaiwan?

Since the 15th century, people would mostly use it as a cup rather than a “teapot.” Furthermore, people drank tea directly from the gaiwan. First, people brewed the tea leaves directly in it. Then, they used the lid to hold the leaves while they sipped the brew directly from the gawain bowl.

How Do Tea Drinkers Use The Gaiwan Nowadays?

Now tea drinkers use it as a brewing vessel and not a drinking vessel. Fewer people nowadays drink tea directly from the gaiwan. 

Today people brew the leaves in the gaiwan for a short period of time. Afterward, they pour the brew into the cha hai and then into cups. When pouring tea from the gaiwan into the cha hai we hold the entire vessel by one hand (including the top and the saucer). It can take a bit of maneuvering in order to get used to it, without getting burned.


Which Teas Are Best For Brewing In A Gaiwan?

This will depend on the material.

Traditionally tea drinkers use porcelain and glass to brew green, white, yellow, and light oolong teas. The qualities of the porcelain are perfect for absorbing the heat and not damaging the tea leaves.

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

Oh, and let's not forget about pu-erh. Although, if you are preparing a tea that requires boiling temperature many people believe it is better to use a teapot. This is because a gaiwan doesn’t have as good heat-retaining qualities.

Some Tea Etiquette

Let’s say you're drinking tea at a teahouse. In this case, 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. Instead, the tea master will walk around refilling your vessel.

You can leave the lid of the gaiwan half open atop of the bowl, rather than fully closed. This way tea masters will know when to refill it.