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In Chinese, Gaiwan translates to lidded bowl. Often just a simple porcelain lidded bowl with a few accoutrements, a Gaiwan Set ensures a minimum barrier between tea and human. The simplicity of the gaiwan is complemented by the skill and knowledge gained with such a personal experience with the tea of your choice. There is some practice involved, as the liquid and the gaiwan tend to be quite hot and the short and successive steepings require some artistry and technique.

What is a Gaiwan Service?

It is the preparation of select teas in a more traditional Chinese or Taiwanese way. It is simple and elegant. You steep tea in a gaiwan (also can be spelled gui-wan or guy wan) for a short amount of time (30-40 seconds) before pouring the liquid through a filter into a pot. After that, you can serve the tea from the pot into teacups and refill the gaiwan with hot water for the next steeping.

Why use a Gaiwan?

Since the steep time is so low you can get multiple extractions (about 8 or 9 depending on the tea and other variables like water temperature or steep time), each revealing a slightly different tasting experience. Traditionally the first extraction is only brewed for 10-30 seconds and the water is discarded. This is often referred to as a wake-up steeping or washing the leaves. This first and short steep opens the leaf slightly and washes off the harsher and easily extracted, surface components, from the leaf.

Teas stay soft, fragrant and sweet while retaining body and structure when prepared well. Many types are enjoyed in this way- oolongs, white teas, pu-erhs, and even black teas. Green tea is the only style that is generally not made in this way; instead using glass pots so one can watch the leaves dance and interact with the water.

Which teas work best in a Gaiwan Service?

While any tea can be prepared in this fashion, not all leaf styles perform best using this technique. At Smith, we recommend the following teas as part of this service:

  • Ali Shan Oolong - Ali Shan Oolong is produced in early fall in the Ali Shan mountains of Taiwan from the Gold Lily tea cultivar. This lightly oxidized oolong is prized for its buttery mouth feel, soft tropical, floral and stone fruit undertones and sweet finish.
  • Bai Hao Oolong - One of our favorite Chinese oolongs,hand harvested in mid-summer. Bai Hao has large, tightly-twisted leaves with an abundance of silver tips. More fermented than many oolongs, it brings lovely peach notes with a light liquor and aroma.
  • Ti Kwan Yin Oolong - Ti Kwan Yin is one of China's most popular oolongs. Also known as Iron Goddess of Compassion, these tightly rolled little nuggets are produced in a 36-step process that lets them gradually unfold to release their subtle flavors.
  • Shu Cha Pu-erh - A highly prized dark black Chinese tea, this Pu-erh is fermented and aged for 3 years. Grown at around 5000 foot elevation in Feng Cheng, Yunnan, China, this tea produces a dark cup color with smooth and complex earthy notes.
  • Yunnan Silver Needle - Harvested in early spring, this white tea is produced in the Yunnan Province of China, the birthplace of tea, and is made from only the bud of the tea bush. With delicate sweetness and melon-like flavor, it has subtle floral notes and a lingering complexity telling of the terroir of Yunnan.

What is the difference between Gaiwan and Gong Fu?

In a simple translation, Gong Fu means to make or perform with skill (it is related to how Kung Fu is a mastery of Martial Arts). Over time, Gong Fu in the tea world 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, we decided to use the term Gaiwan in reference to the lidded pot being used.

Gaiwan Service in the Smith Tasting Rooms

We have been excited to offer this experience to our customers for some time. When designing our Southeast space, we built in a custom Gong Fu drainage system made from brass and concrete into our bar. This preparation displays another way of enjoying tea and provides a different taste experience that is both authentic and delicious.

Gaiwan Service at home

Materials (get started with our Gaiwan Set):

  • Gaiwan (6oz cup with a lid)
  • Teacups, small (2oz)
  • Kettle
  • Loose leaf tea
  • Optional: Decanter with a strainer

Preparation:

Directions:

  1. Measure the tea and place into a Gaiwan.
  2. Give the tea a ‘wake-up’ steeping by pouring just enough hot water (185° for white tea, 195° for oolong, and just off boil for pu-erh) over the leaves to cover them. A wake-up steeping should be approximately 10 seconds. After 10 seconds discard the water by pouring the water out of the Gaiwan with the lid slightly askew, without allowing the tea leaves to escape.
  3. Pour enough water at the same temperature over the leaves to cover them again. This time, let the leaves steep for 30-40 seconds.
  4. Pour the tea through a filter into a pot (to filter any leaves that may escape the gaiwan) for serving or directly into teacups (we use 2oz cups in our Tasting Rooms).
  5. Repeat this process about 8-9 times (or as many times as you would like). Note how the tea leaves change in flavor and how they expand in your Gaiwan the more times you steep them.