How to Brew Tea in a Gaiwan: A Traditional Chinese Technique

Gaiwan service is a traditional Chinese and Taiwanese method of preparing select teas. It involves steeping a higher amount of tea leaves in a small lidded bowl called a Gaiwan, allowing for short and successive steepings. The Gaiwan service provides a personal and authentic experience with tea, requiring skill and knowledge to perfect.

Why Use a Gaiwan?

The Gaiwan method is the perfect way to experience the true character of single-origin teas, providing a different taste experience with each steeping. The short steepings allow the tea to retain its fragrant, sweet, and structured taste, making it perfect for oolongs, pu-erhs, green tea (Chinese, not Japanese), white tea, and black tea.

Which Teas Work Best in a Gaiwan?

While any tea can be prepared using the Gaiwan method, not all tea leaves perform well with this technique. At Smith, they recommend using Ali Shan Oolong, Golden Oolong, Phoenix Oolong, Vietnam Oolong, Shu Cha Pu-erh, and Yunnan Silver Needle for their Gaiwan service. Each tea provides unique flavor notes, from buttery mouth feels, tropical and floral undertones, to dark and rare delights of honey, malt, and toasted coconut.

Difference Between Gaiwan and Gong Fu?

Gong Fu means “to make or perform with skill,” which has evolved into a tea experience that involves a mastery of tea and vessel to elicit the most out of the leaves. Although the terms can be interchangeable at times, Gaiwan specifically refers to the lidded pot used for steeping tea.

Gaiwan Service in the Smith Tasting Rooms

Smith offers a unique Gaiwan service experience to their customers, using a custom Gong Fu drainage system made from brass and concrete in their Southeast space. This preparation provides an authentic and delicious way to enjoy tea, displaying another way of experiencing tea that is both traditional and unique.

How to Brew Loose Leaf Tea in a Gaiwan: A Step-by-Step Guide

The Gaiwan is a traditional Chinese tea brewing vessel that consists of three parts: the lid, bowl, and saucer. It is a preferred vessel among tea enthusiasts for appreciating the aromas of fragrant teas. We will walk you through the process of brewing loose leaf tea in a Gaiwan.

  1. Gather Your Items

To prepare tea with a Gaiwan, you will need the following items:

  • Gaiwan
  • Waste bowl
  • Tablespoon
  • Timer
  • Serving pitcher
  • Teacups
  1. Warm the Gaiwan and Teacups

First, add freshly boiled water to the Gaiwan and teacups to pre-warm them. Discard the water into the waste bowl after a few seconds.

  1. Add Tea

Fill the Gaiwan 20% full if using ball-rolled tea and 60% full if using twist-rolled tea.

  1. Awaken the Leaves and Add Water

For baked oolong and pu’er teas, add fresh hot water to just cover the leaves, then immediately discard. This rinse helps to “warm and smooth” the taste of the tea. After awakening, slowly pour water over the rinsed leaves until they are covered with water, just below the rim of the Gaiwan.

  1. Infuse

Add the lid to the Gaiwan. The water level should rise slightly above the lid to create a seal for locking in aromas. Steep for the recommended infusion time.

  1. Pour

Adjust the lid position slightly to create an open space for the infusion to decant. Hold the Gaiwan bowl using your thumb and middle finger on the rim, while securing the lid with your index finger. Using a swift motion, tilt the Gaiwan forward and slightly inward to decant into a serving pitcher.

  1. Serve

Pour from the serving pitcher into individual teacups.

  1. Stacking Infusions

Stack multiple infusions together in a serving pitcher by repeating the previous steps. You can keep the “root” of the infusion alive in the serving pitcher and simply add subsequent infusions to that liquid.

  1. Enjoy

Pour a small amount of your stacked infusions into each teacup, alternating from one cup to the next to ensure each cup has an equal concentration of flavor.

Brewing loose leaf tea in a Gaiwan is a beautiful and delicate process that allows you to fully appreciate the nuances of your tea. By following these simple steps, you can create a delicious and fragrant cup of tea that is sure to delight your senses. So go ahead, gather your items and start brewing!

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