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Gaiwan Gongfu Style Tea Brewing


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#1 Richard Kilgore

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Posted 23 April 2009 - 04:42 PM

Although I started out learning gongfu style brewing with Yixing tea pots, I don't recommend that to my friends. If I knew then what I know now, I would have started with a Gaiwan - the traditional porcelain Chinese tea bowl with a saucer and a lid. The complexities of the effect of the many clays and shapes used for Yixing pots make things more difficult than they need to be for learning gongfu style, and have clear advantages in trying new teas. Since the porcelain does not absorb tea oils, it does not add anything from your previous teas into the one you are drinking now. Since you do not have to factor in whether it is a clay that absorbs aroma or not, you have a constant in your brewing rather than the complexities inheirent in using a Yixing clay teapot. And it is much easier to see what the tea leaves are doing and what the tea liquor looks like during the process.

I think that for a first gaiwan, one in the 100 - 120 ml size is about right for one or two people. There are some subtle (and not so subtle) differences in design and material, but any inexpensive gaiwan in that size range is a good start.


Have you tried using a gaiwan? If so, what has your experience been?

#2 jpr54_

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Posted 24 April 2009 - 02:21 PM

I HAVE USED GAIWAN MANY TIMES
I HAVE HAD MANY POSITIVE EXPERIRNCES MAKING MY Teas this way

#3 Richard Kilgore

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Posted 25 April 2009 - 02:02 PM

For those unfamiliar with the gaiwan, here are some links that will show the variety of designs and shapes.

Greg at Norbutea.com, based in the US, has a couple of nice white gaiwans.

Sebastien and Jing at Jingteashop.com, based in China, have a wide variety of gaiwan designs. Some of these are quite elegant fine porcelain.

Scott in China at Yunnan Sourcing on eBay also has a variety of gaiwan designs.

Any of these in the 100 - 120 ml size would make a good first gaiwan for serving gongfu style for one or two people. A white interior is important in terms of being able to see the hue of the tea liquor, and one with thicker walls is easier to manage when drinking pu-erh, Oolong and red tea due to the higher water temps.

You can also find gaiwans in some Asian markets in the US, but in my experience here they are also sometimes over-priced and not nearly as nice as any of the above tea merchants offer. However, it may be worthwhile spending some time exploring in your area.

#4 Richard Kilgore

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Posted 26 May 2009 - 09:12 AM

Just a heads up. While the green teas and black teas we will be using for the Tea Tasting discussions in this forum will do fine brewed western style in a teapot or large tea cup or mug, I am sourcing some quality Oolongs and Pu-erhs for later in the summer that will show their best when brewed gongfu style (gongfu = with skill) in a gaiwan of 100 - 150 ml. So for those teas, I'll give preference to members who have a gaiwan to brew in.

Even quality red teas from China become another experience brewed gongfu style.

If you have questions or comments about brewing in a gaiwn, how to choose a gaiwan, or about gongfu style brewing, ask away!

#5 Naftal

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Posted 28 May 2009 - 06:15 PM

Hello-I have a collection of gaiwans that I use regularly, including a yixing gaiwan that I use only for pu-erh.

"As life's pleasures go, food is second only to sex.Except for salami and eggs...Now that's better than sex, but only if the salami is thickly sliced"--Alan King (1927-2004)


#6 Richard Kilgore

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Posted 02 June 2009 - 08:15 AM

For those unfamiliar with the gaiwan, here are some links that will show the variety of designs and shapes.

Greg at Norbutea.com, based in the US, has a couple of nice white gaiwans.

Sebastien and Jing at Jingteashop.com, based in China, have a wide variety of gaiwan designs. Some of these are quite elegant fine porcelain.

Scott in China at Yunnan Sourcing on eBay also has a variety of gaiwan designs.

Any of these in the 100 - 120 ml size would make a good first gaiwan for serving gongfu style for one or two people. A white interior is important in terms of being able to see the hue of the tea liquor, and one with thicker walls is easier to manage when drinking pu-erh, Oolong and red tea due to the higher water temps.

You can also find gaiwans in some Asian markets in the US, but in my experience here they are also sometimes over-priced and not nearly as nice as any of the above tea merchants offer. However, it may be worthwhile spending some time exploring in your area.

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I had the opportunity to handle three plain white gaiwans when drinking several teas with Greg Glancy recently. While all three would be fine for a first gaiwan, there were differences. The 100 ml white one on the Norbu Tea site is a nice size for one or two people, but the lid fit is a bit sloppy, as it is for most inexpensive gaiwans. His 150 ml gaiwan is made of better porcelain and has a better lid fit. Greg also had a white 125 ml qaiwan from Hou de - this one had the best porcelain and a lower, wider, contemporary shape that I liked, but it was a bit awkward to pour because of the wide shape and because the lid fit was so good that it was difficult to position the lid with my index finger while holding gaiwan by the rim with my thumb and second finger. Still, I liked it. The latter two would be good for 2 - 4 people.

If you are buying a gaiwan from a web-based dealer, as most of us are, rather than being able to handle it in person, ask a lot of questions. Any reputable merchant is going to be glad to answer them. I recently went back and forth with several email exchanges with a dealer in order to select another gaiwan.

What to ask -

What kind of material is it made of and what quality level - ceramic or porcelain?

Is it hand-made? Hand painted?

Does it have a good lid fit?

Is it thin-bodied or thicker-bodied? Is it more likely to burn my fingers?

Which of your gaiwans do you recommend for my uses - number of people and type of teas?

#7 Richard Kilgore

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Posted 17 July 2009 - 10:37 PM

Here is a link to gaiwans offered by an eBay merchant, Dragon Tea House, based in China. I have never ordered anything from this merchant, so can't speak to customer service, shipping time and safe packaging, but there is a lot of interesting content in the descriptions of many of these gaiwans - the history of the designs and porcelain production in various Chinese regions, many from Jin De Zhen, Jiangxi Province. Some small enough for one person gongfu brewing at 90 ml and others larger for two or more people. Worth a look.

#8 jpr54_

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Posted 18 July 2009 - 05:00 PM

I just purchased blacj pearl gaiwan-
i will let everyone know about my experience with this company

#9 Wholemeal Crank

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Posted 02 August 2009 - 10:43 AM

Have you tried using a gaiwan? If so, what has your experience been?

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Haven't really done this yet, but have a few questions as I get ready to try it.

How do you keep the tea leaves in the gaiwan, and out of the drinking cup, especially for the first quick brewings, when not every leaf sinks?

#10 Richard Kilgore

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Posted 02 August 2009 - 12:16 PM

Using a gaiwan is easy, but a little practice at first will help things go smoothly.

So, how to hold a gaiwan? There are two approaches. One is the thumb-and-two-finger technique: thumb and middle finger against the rim and the index finger on the lid, leaving the saucer on the table. For the other, thumb on lid and one or more fingers under the saucer. The latter provides a little more protection from burning your fingers, however Greg Glancy at Norbutea.com tells me that in China they do it in the former manner. You simply use your finger (or thumb) on the lid to tilt it enough to pour the tea liquor without letting the leaves go through.

Since gaiwans are made of different qualities and thicknesses of porcelain, they have different heat retention abilities. So some may be more prone to heating up your digits. But the key is to fill the gaiwan with water full enough to get a good water seal, and then to pour off any excess above the level of the edge of the lid. You are going to be pouring quickly, not holding the gaiwan for more than a few seconds.

You may want to try this a few times with water and no leaves.

#11 Wholemeal Crank

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Posted 02 August 2009 - 10:22 PM

You may want to try this a few times with water and no leaves.

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Maybe with some cold water and used leaves, even.

I've had enough adventures with burnt tongue from too hot tea, don't need burnt fingers too!

#12 Richard Kilgore

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Posted 02 August 2009 - 10:30 PM

Not to worry. Your fingers aren't as sensitive as your mouth. I don't know anyone who has had to go to the ER, or even the medicine cabinet for a bandaid or burn ointment, while learning to use a gaiwan. And remember, you're not drinking out of it; you're pouring it into a warmed cup.

#13 jpr54_

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Posted 03 August 2009 - 07:56 AM

I just purchased  blacj pearl gaiwan-
i will let everyone know about my experience with this company

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The gaiwan arrived this am-great transaction-

#14 Richard Kilgore

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Posted 03 August 2009 - 02:30 PM

You may want to try this a few times with water and no leaves.

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Maybe with some cold water and used leaves, even.

I've had enough adventures with burnt tongue from too hot tea, don't need burnt fingers too!

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Used leaves. That's a good idea to get a better idea of how it pours and how to pour it while holding back the leaves.

If you have some green tea, you could try it first. About 175 F for Chinese greens should make it easier.

#15 Richard Kilgore

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Posted 09 August 2009 - 12:01 AM

Here's a helpful gongfu steeping guide (scroll down) that eG Society member Greg Glancy has on his Norbutea.com site. He leads off with a little background:

In Mainland China and Taiwan, high quality Oolong and Pu-Erh teas are almost always enjoyed "Gong Fu" style. Gong Fu (sometimes spelled Kung Fu) literally means "with skill" and contrary to popular belief, it is not a term reserved solely for martial arts. Over the past several hundred years, this method of preparing tea has evolved into a very precise and elaborate ceremony in parts of China, but it is also a very practical and economical way to enjoy higher quality teas which tend to be quite costly. It is my opinion that this is an easy and intuitive process that allows the consumer to enjoy the entire experience that drinking tea has to offer, as well as every layer of flavor present in the leaves. Strangely enough, it has been my experience that steeping and consuming tea in the western manner can seem a bit "foreign" once you get a feel for Gong Fu tea preparation.



#16 Wholemeal Crank

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Posted 09 August 2009 - 01:34 PM

First try with the gaiwan was quite successful last night.

I'll try it again today with the lovely Taiwan oolong for the tasting. I started out with the glass gaiwan, which is very easy to use not only because I can see what I'm doing, but also because there is a little lip inside the cup where the glass lid sits that helps to stabilize the setup.

I'll practice with it a few more times before I work up to the porcelain and ceramic ones where I'll be doing it blind.

It's not yet 'gongfu style' because as I understand it, gongfu refers to a degree of skill that I do not yet possess....but I can see that with a little practice it will be quite easy and more straightforward and easier to clean than my teapot plus mesh strainer, where the mesh is always getting fines stuck in it that are tricky to clean.

Edited by Wholemeal Crank, 09 August 2009 - 01:35 PM.


#17 Wholemeal Crank

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Posted 11 August 2009 - 06:21 PM

One question comes up as I contemplate the very short brewing times suggested for the truest gongfu experience: how do you adjust the brewing time when the leaves are to steep for 20 seconds and it takes 15 to 20 seconds to drain the gaiwan or teapot? Do you consider that part of the steep time or not?

#18 Richard Kilgore

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Posted 11 August 2009 - 06:32 PM

And a very good question it is.

I have found that few people say whether their steep time includes the pour...including me. But in general I don't include the pour time when jotting times down. I make a mental adjustment, and adjust the brewing time as needed

So you can do it either way. Of course combining them gives you better info if you are looking back at your notes. I probably should do that.

Your gaiwans will usually pour really fast once you get comfortable with it, faster than your Yixing. A 100 ml gaiwan may pour in 6 seconds, but a 100 ml Yixing may take 9 - 15 seconds.

Have fun!

#19 Wholemeal Crank

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Posted 11 August 2009 - 06:41 PM

But in general I don't include the pour time when jotting times down.

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That's what I would have guessed.

I am finding it works best if I adjust the angle of the lid on the gaiwan before I begin the pour, so that I'm not trying to adjust it while holding it up. But if I guess wrong, it is quite slow.

It should get better as I practice.

#20 Richard Kilgore

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Posted 11 August 2009 - 08:55 PM

You got it! I always tilt the lid just before I am ready to pour...except the times I get distracted or forget, in which case I fumble around a bit.

You're on your way.

#21 Wholemeal Crank

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Posted 12 August 2009 - 08:38 PM

Note to self: need cups that hold at least as much as the gaiwan, but not so large that the gaiwan only fills it a quarter of the way.

#22 Wholemeal Crank

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Posted 07 September 2009 - 09:19 PM

To really work with a tea that permits 8, 12, or more infusions, when brewing and drinking by myself, I need a very large bladder or a very small teapot or gaiwan. The smaller teapot or gaiwan seems like it should be easier to obtain than a bladder augmentation.

So far, my smallest brewing vessels are a set of 60mL yixing pots.

My smallest gaiwans hold more like 100mL.

What do you prefer for smaller volumes of tea--smaller gaiwans, smaller pots, or to not fill the gaiwan or pot for each infusion?

#23 Wholemeal Crank

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Posted 07 September 2009 - 09:23 PM

After several more bouts of brewing with gaiwans, I am now reasonably proficient in getting water in and tea out of the gaiwan with little spillage and in a very short time. Tilt lid, then pour, all is well.

#24 Richard Kilgore

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Posted 08 September 2009 - 10:41 PM

To really work with a tea that permits 8, 12, or more infusions, when brewing and drinking by myself, I need a very large bladder or a very small teapot or gaiwan. The smaller teapot or gaiwan seems like it should be easier to obtain than a bladder augmentation.

So far, my smallest brewing vessels are a set of 60mL yixing pots.

My smallest gaiwans hold more like 100mL.

What do you prefer for smaller volumes of tea--smaller gaiwans, smaller pots, or to not fill the gaiwan or pot for each infusion?


I have a gaiwan that is about 55 ml and is perfect for trying most new Chinese teas, except for those with long leaves that will not fit without breaking them. But if I am using a larger gaiwan, I don't feel compelled to drink all of every infusion, though I do some times. Sometimes I'll drink half or less of an infusion and then either dump the rest or pour it into a container to hold the excess of each infusion; this is most often if I think the excess will work as an iced tea, because tea does not re-heat well.

Why a gaiwan over a Yixing for evaluating a new tea? Because the porcelain is neutral and will give me the best idea of what the tea is like. Then I may try it in a Yixing next to see if that particular Yixing will make it better or worse. And with a larger Yixing, it's also okay to not fill it to full capacity.

A small gaiwan - or a large one that you dump half the tea out of - are both preferable to a bladder augmentation.

#25 Wholemeal Crank

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Posted 08 September 2009 - 11:54 PM

The smallest of my current gaiwans is 80mL. I'll keep my eye out for smaller ones.

With a 60mL micro-yixing pot tonight, the limiting factor in how fast I could brew and enjoy the changing infusions of the puerh was not the volume of tea I was drinking, but how fast it cools down to drinkable without scorching my tongue. Suddenly the legions of little shallow cups that look more like bowls, which were next to the legions of more conventional looking cups on the displays at Wing Hop Fung, make more sense. This was not as much of an issue when trying the lighter oolongs where I was brewing them cooler.

And I can see where a more accurate pouring teapot--as in, the pot that actually gets heated on the stove--would also be very handy, along with the fancy drainboards that are set off to one side and below the gaiwan display. Many small infusions in a tiny teapot or small gaiwan with water poured from the basic revere ware teapot means many larger spills of water on the counter.

A good part about all this teaware experimentation now is that I do have this lovely tea shop nearby where I can experiment with different bits of teaware and equipment very inexpensively--2.99 gaiwans and .79 drinking cups and 6.99 teapots.

#26 Wholemeal Crank

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Posted 12 September 2009 - 02:32 PM

Another trip back to wing hop fung, and now I have a very workable gongfu setup. Today I'm using the small yixing teapot, because it's smaller than my smallest gaiwan, and I planned a long series of infusions to 'get to the bottom' of my Norbu white bud sheng pu-erh.

Here's the setup:

Posted Image

One small teapot, four teacups that each can hold the full volume of the teapot, and one strainer, on a plate for the spillovers (looked at the tea trays but haven't sprung for one yet).

I rinsed the pot, added the leaves, rinsed the leaves, then brewed the first four infusions in a row, pouring each one out into a cup, then let all cool briefly before drinking them. After a few minutes break, I rinsed the leaves again very briefly (didn't do this the first time and the next steeping after a 5 minute break was bitter and astringent), poured of the rinse water, and again brewed the four infusions in a row. The bowl shaped cups allow the tea to cool quicker than the deeper cups I was using before.

So far, I am up to 16 infusions and still getting nice tea. This is much the best setup yet.

#27 Richard Kilgore

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Posted 13 September 2009 - 11:34 AM

Very attractive set up, WmC. I like those tasting cups. Are they as thin-walled as they look?

And I can see where a more accurate pouring teapot--as in, the pot that actually gets heated on the stove--would also be very handy, along with the fancy drainboards that are set off to one side and below the gaiwan display. Many small infusions in a tiny teapot or small gaiwan with water poured from the basic revere ware teapot means many larger spills of water on the counter.


While there are good reasons to consider another water kettle solution, avoiding spills is pretty much not only impossible, but not necessarily desirable. It's helpful to be able to pour hot water over the top of a brewing Yixing pot and/or to have it sitting in a puddle of hot water. So try simply putting your Yixing of whatever size in a bowl, any bowl - cereal bowl, soup bowl - anything that will comfortably accommodate it. You may be able to find a Yixing bowl made expressly for this purpose at wing hop fung. That's what I use when brewing tea at my cutting board instead of my tea table.

#28 Wholemeal Crank

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Posted 13 September 2009 - 01:33 PM

The lack of graceful pouring from the teakettle is not only an issue with the yixing pots, although this did finally inspire me to consider replacing the kettle. I'm not the most naturally coordinated person and have splashed and occasionally burned myself while pouring water into measuring cups for non-tea-related recipes too.

#29 Richard Kilgore

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Posted 24 September 2009 - 11:56 PM

What's the very least you need to try gong fu cha brewing with a gaiwan?

Not very much.

A gaiwan of about 100 - 150 ml is good. Smaller is okay, but hard to find. Larger becomes difficult to handle.

A bowl large enough to accommodate the gaiwan and the tea and water over flow.

Something to strain the tea poured from the gaiwan into a cup. This could be an infuser used otherwise in a cup.

A cup (or cups if you are sharing)large enough to hold the tea liquor from the gaiwan.

A way to heat water. Water kettle. Sauce pan in a pinch.

Same if you are using a Yixing clay teapot instead of a gaiwan.

At any rate, that's how I started doing it.

#30 nakji

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Posted 25 September 2009 - 12:57 AM

Interesting, Richard. Can you walk us through the basic steps of brewing a cup gong fu style? Right now I'm using a western-style coffee mug and a glass jug for brewing my teas, as I've been holding off buying any special equipment until I know more about what teas I enjoy drinking. Can you gong fu brew any type of tea? If so, could you walk us through a few examples?