Gaiwan help?

Having learned what a gaiwan is about a week and a half ago, I tracked down a cheap one today and have tried it out now with a couple of teas.

First of all: love it! It’s very finicky to work with, and I can’t see myself using it every single time I want a cup (which is often), but whenever I want a really nice, flavourful cup I intend to savour, I think I will be using this. Most certainly I will be using it every time I want David’s Tea’s Oh Christmas Treat! (Having that right now with – what else? – a Terry’s chocolate orange, and it’s AMAZING.)

I already have a million questions in my head (like if I typically like tea strong, how long should I infuse for? and exactly how lowbrow is it to pour multiple infusions into the same cup?), etc., etc., but right now this is my biggest question:

Is it normal to end up with a bit of leaves in your cup when you brew with a gaiwan? My very first infusion I just messed up spectacularly (didn’t have the lid on right), and ended up with a cup full of ‘em, but I just shrugged and was careful not to drink them. I’m not a fan of leaves loose in the cup though, so I’ve been trying to avoid pouring them out…but it seems very tricky. I think I’m getting better, but most of the time one or two seem to slip though.

Is this normal? Is this noobishness? Do I just need more practice pouring? I saw on another forum people mentioning using strainers over the cup when they pour from their gaiwan, so it seems other people have this issue… Does it depend on the design of the gaiwan? There’s little holes in the lid of mine, and it seems when they get clogged by leaves whilst pouring, then it’s more likely for leaves to slip beneath the lid.


11 Replies
Uniquity said

I think that might depend on the quality of the tea you are steeping in the gaiwan. I only use mine for large full leaf teas, and after the first few inevitable disasters, I learned to hold it so that no leaves go through. If the leaves are smaller or broken, they would be a lot more likely to slip through.

I may be doing it “wrong” but all I do is angle the cover slightly so as to allow the liquid to pour out continuously and hold the cover on with my first finger, holding the edges of the gaiwan with my thumb and middle finger. I can finally use the gaiwan with boiling water, but my poor fingers prefer it when I use water that isn’t quite so hot.

Here is a link from David at Verdant Tea which I really appreciated when learning to use my gaiwan:

Good luck!

Yeah, this was mostly full leaves, but there were a few smaller bits. Sounds like some slipping through is pretty much inevitable with that. I see even the gentleman in the video you linked is using a strainer.

Thanks for the link, that looks like a great channel! I hadn’t even thought to look for tea-related channels on YouTube.

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Will said

Pouring into a faircup first (with or without a strainer) will help a bit with some little bits of tea (though there are some disadvantages, chiefly that it will cool down the tea a bit, even if it’s pre-heated). Or just let them settle to the bottom of the cup.

It depends partially how small (and how broken) the leaves are. With smaller leaves, you can make the opening you pour through smaller, so that fewer leaves get out. I rarely use a strainer; doesn’t really bother me if there’s a little tea in my tea.

Are you using the “three finger on top” method, or the “lift by the saucer” method?

Eggshell thin porcelain gaiwan with a nice flair will be easiest on your fingers, and also the best choice for most teas (some teas will be better with a little extra heat retention). Avoid glass gaiwans like the plague. They are rarely well made or comfortable, and are often real finger-scorchers.

Well, this: is what I bought. It’s all they had at the tea store I bought it at. It doesn’t come with a saucer, so I presume the little lips on the sides are meant for the “three finger on top” method… That’s a thumb and middle finger on the sides and index finger on top, yes? Does it make much of a difference which method you use?

To be completely honest, I didn’t use either of those methods, as I have hands like an infant (something which earned me a good bit of ribbing when I worked in food service, because I was incapable of holding even a moderately hot dish without the barrier of a cloth). So after I got paranoid that I would drop and break an item on the same day I bought it, I just put on some rubber gloves, held it in both hands and poured it with both thumbs clamped on the lid. Glad no one was there to see that.

Thank you for the warning about glass! I definitely don’t want something that burns most people’s fingers, let alone my epithelial cells – I’ll be sure to avoid them.

Will said

You will see this called something else, though it varies by region — usually cebei or gaibei (lidded cup). Whatever you call it, the thing you have should have some holes to keep big pieces of tea in, however, it doesn’t have the control you have with a gaiwan over the size of the opening.

I don’t usually use the saucer, but a gaiwan will virtually always come with one.

Gotcha. Yes, it does have holes, but their ability to strain is sorta iffy.

Well, this one was quite cheap, and on a student budget, it’ll do me for a bit. :P I have a growing mental teaware wish list though, so I’ll keep in mind that I eventually want a proper gaiwan.

Will said

You can just hold a strainer in the other hand and strain directly over your drinking cup(s) if you want.

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Yes, you will get some small leaves/bits into your cup when pouring. It’s inevitable, and even more so being this is your first time using a gaiwan. Obviously larger leaf and a higher quality tea will cut down on this but even then yes you’ll see some speckles:) Best thing to do is use a strainer to filter out all the little bits, usually after the first couple infusions however and the leafs open up it should be less of a problem but something to keep practicing. As Uniquity linked, David over at Verdant Tea has a wonderful video demonstrating usage and gives some tips. He’s got a few other videos there that may be of interest as well.

Thanks, glad to know it’s not just me, then, and I will keep that note about the leaves in mind.

I don’t mind some “speckles,” but I tend to lose focus on the cup about half-way through unless something really interesting happens with the flavour. When I first started steeping loose leaf, it was with a pretty inferior infuser that let quite a few leaves through, and more than once I absent-mindedly ended up with a real mouthful. I can just see myself thinking “I’ll just leave them at the bottom,” and then swallowing them all. :P

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DC said

If you are brewing black tea, inevitably you would get some tea in your cup. Easiest way as the others pointed out is to use a strainer. For oolongs, the problem should be less acute but nevertheless it is there.
Some of the newer variations of gaiwans come with an opening with a build-in filter or have a filter to alleviate this problem.

Noted about oolongs…I haven’t tried one yet, either.

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