Italian Infuser Mugs VS Gaiwan

Has anyone tried brewing tea in one of these:

They’re affordable ($6USD + tax), colorful, made of porcelain, and have a size-able capacity (12 OZ); they also seem like they would be easy to use, but I’m not certain.

I am curious about how they compare to using a gaiwan, specifically when brewing oolongs (although I would probably also use it to brew other classes of Tea in). I priced gaiwans and it seems to be hard to get even an inexpensive one for under $10 (especially when including shipping, if buying online). I have a Cost Plus near me, so I plan to check them out soon, but I thought I would ping the community first to see if anyone has any experience with the Italian mugs (and/or as compared with using a gaiwan).

Thoughts, even if you don’t have an Italian mug? ; -)

35 Replies

I have one of these, but I don’t use it like a gaiwan. When I brew tea in mine I brew it western style because I feel it’s too big to brew tea in it traditionally, but I’ve never actually tried to either. Brewing western style is fine, just don’t use any fine tea, and especially not rooibos, because the holes aren’t small enough to capture particulates. Even with bigger leaves you may still get a leaf through one of the holes before they open fully.

Another thing with the infuser, it’s best the put the infuser in the mug and then pour water in, I know this may seem common sense, but I have seen a friend put water in first then try to put the infuser in and it just makes a big mess. Taking the infuser out once you’re done steeping, do it slowly. I cannot emphasize this enough, if you are too quick you’ll make a mess, again seems common sense but I’ve learned that common sense isn’t exactly common.

Also, I’ve never used it for oolongs, usually just white and green teas. I like mine and use it fairly regularly, but I don’t and wouldn’t use it in place of a gaiwan. I also use it to try a tea cold brewed, it’s big enough to let me try a tea cold without wasting too much tea in the process.

Hope this helps you.

Thanks! Yes, this helps.

Thank you for the tips and for your input on how you use it.

“… again seems common sense but I’ve learned that common sense isn’t exactly common.” Totally agree. I personally believe there is no such thing as common sense, anyway. : p

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Zeks said

I have one of its kind at work. Use it to brew tea all the time. Compared to gaiwan style this produces weaker liquid because the basket is kind of high and more water is needed. It is an ok substitute though i’d say… although I feel like using gaiwan is better for eastern style and tea pot for western style. This is kinda in-between and not really perfect for any of these.

Also – propely brewing sencha in this is hard (as it turned out today). The tea particles clog these holes and water refuses to go down :)

“Compared to gaiwan style this produces weaker liquid because the basket is kind of high and more water is needed.” I like that explanation, as it makes sense to me. And, yeah, those fine particles found in many Japanese teas can be little buggers when it comes to stopping up filters.


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They look neat. I don’t think their function is consistent with that of a gaiwan but I think they can work well on most teas. Like Zeks said, it won’t get the same leaf/water ratio as gaiwan. And it looks bigger than a small gaiwan. But I don’t think they are super big anyway.

Some people in China use this type of mug too. I suspect all this type of mugs rooted from koryo teacup of Korea.

Thanks for the interesting history tidbit.

And that “Do not fill more than 80% full” instruction in the graphic you provided reminds me of a couple of question regarding gaiwans: first, do you think 80%, as mentioned in the graphic, is optimal (as opposed to, say either 90% or 60%)? And, secondly, why leave space anyway (I have speculations, but I would rather hear it from someone who know why)?

The history root is just my guess :-p
Korean celadon could get super hot and retains heat very well. Porcelain usually doesn’t burn your fingers that much. I guess that’s why there is the 80% full instruction. It also depends on what kind of leaves you use and amount. Sometimes, if there are a lot leaves in your basket, even when you fill it to 90%, after you take out the basket, the mug won’t be that full.

In China, and probably some other Asian countries as well, when a teacup is used, the habit is to let it get about 70% full. That’s somewhat scientific because if the teacup is too full, it’s hard to carry it around and the easy to get the hot tea spill and burn fingers.
In China, people like to say, the teacup should be 7/10 full, and the rest 3/10 carries our friendship. All those flowery words :-p


70% full? Awesome! I love clean, hard numbers (to use as a baseline, anyway), and I appreciate hearing it from a credible source (which I consider you to be).

I read something to the effect of what you state in your last sentence above in at least one book about tea. I think one of the Heiss and Heiss books mentions leaving room in the pot for others; I like that, as to me Tea is best when shared—or if alone, when thinking of others. : )

Nobody would use a ruler to measure it :-p But I’m very much quantitative minded and numbers kind of stay in my mind :-)
In a lot of places in China, it’s a “rule” that when pouring wine/liquor, the cup should be 100% full and even spilling. But a teacup shouldn’t be completely full. Leaving culture alone, I guess the practical reason is alcohol isn’t prepared as hot as tea, and probably alcohol drinkers made the rule to enlarge their shares :-D

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Thanks for your responses. In many ways I see now how different they are than the traditional gaiwans (especially if I want to pour the tea from the mug, after it’s been infused, into two or more teacups), but I still see their meeting some of my needs regarding brewing tea (even if they aren’t traditional). If I do buy one, I hope to report back here after I try it out.

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I actually have one that is very remarkably similar to this, picked it up at a local Asian Market for $4.95.

Here’s a picture of it ‘in use’ on a high mountain oolong:

You can see the size of particles that will filter through on this, settled chaotically at the bottom of my cup. BUT! For the price, it really can’t be beat. Actually, I’m much happier with it at $5 than I am with my double-walled tumbler for $20. Those things need a spout.

Shang Tea also sports a collection of these. Though they’re in a price bracket above the Cost Plus or Asian Market version, I think the ‘straining’ might be a couple steps nicer too. Shang was nice enough to give me a close up on the strainer to see the differences, and where mine has a grand total of 12 on the side and probably 12 on the bottom, his has more than that on one side. Definitely not the more cost effective route, but you can check out some info on this thread:

I hope this helps!

Awesome. Great picture of your ‘Italian infuser’. That’s pretty much how I was hoping to use it (I think little particles like that would be OK with me, too).

Those Kung Fu cups definitely look more stylish (and are probably more effective) than the Italian Infuser mugs.

So, thinking of what I remember LiberTEAS wrote in a previous thread, I wonder if the flavor you get when using an Italian Infuser is as good as with a gaiwan?


No, probably not… but it is quite different. In that little basket you have room for about three teaspoons of tea, not much more than that. With that, you put in 9-10 oz of water. Whereas with a gaiwan you’d use the same amount of tea (or so) and with 3-4 oz of water (depending on the gaiwan, I suppose).

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I went to Cost Plus today to look at their Italian Infuser mugs, and as nice-looking as they were—they did have a good selection—I didn’t buy any. I did, however, look all over the store for some bowl that I could use as a gaiwan (assuming I could use a lid I have at home). Alas! Nothing that I thought was functional (as a gaiwan bowl) was to be found in the Kitchen and Dining section of the store, at least (they do have lots of great tea-ware, though). Yet I thought, on my way out why not check out the rest of the store, like, the Bed and Bath section, for, who knows? Not long after I chanced upon this clear candle-holder jar thingy on an end isle, and thought, "Hmm. It’s about the size and shape I want, and I like the idea of being able to see my tea steep. And 4 bucks isn’t too bad, …well, WHY NOT! So after all that I left there without an Italian Infuser mug for $6, and instead, in my search for something to steep tea in, I bought a candle-holder for $4. Go figure.

I also looked at Target (since we were there for other things), and found nothing even close to the size and shape of a gaiwan bowl (no big surprise, but I had to at least look). I did however see a very handsome looking clear-glass 16-oz mug for $3, and added that to our purchases. It is a great mug, and I can’t wait to steep some beautiful green teas in it; your beautiful photos on your blog were an inspiration for me buying the mug, Gignko, but I must say I think it’s more stylish than the mug I see in most of your shots. : p

It turns out the lid for my new teapot fits the glass candle holder well enough. Yay! I’ve used it twice now (with a simple Tie Guan Yin), and, although it has a tiny lip around the top-inside rim (I assume contributing to the somewhat messy pouring), and it’s hot to handle, it’s working OK.

And, no, I am not a compulsive shopper; I don’t know what you’re are talking about (sheepishly looking the other way).

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Azzrian said

So glad I decided to read this thread! I have one of these I got at a second hand shop and had no idea what they were called. Mine has a very nice eastern design on it though so I never would have guessed Italian!

Stylish! If I ever do get one I would want an Eastern-looking design—as yours does—or just a simple white one.

btw, I like what I can see of that little blue teapot in the background.

Azzrian said

I will get a pic of that for you tomorrow! I got it from the same place! :)


I have one with a blue scene on it I got from an Asian market a few years ago for cheap. I found out from here that it’s an Italian mug as well. I’ll have to post a picture of it next week since I’m with family for the weekend.

Azzrian said

Cant wait to see it!

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K S said

I have looked online a while back and found a gaiwan for less than $8 but can’t recall where now. They generally seem unreasonably priced. Why can’t one use a small teacup and add only 4oz or less of water and use the saucer for a lid? Wouldn’t this give the same basic results? The cup handle would eliminate the need for a saucer. What about just using a tiny amount of water in your press? Or use something like a 4 oz jar that mushrooms, pimentos, baby food, etc. came in? You could wrap it with a paper sleeve like starbucks does to hold the heat. I have never tried any of these ideas but I do understand looking for frugal ideas and these are kind of green ideas as well.

K S said

Just found this at yunnan sourcing’s USA site. Including shipping it said $7.50 to my house. Order some puerh and make it worth while ;)

Thanks for the great ideas, K S.

Good idea about wrapping the ‘bowl’ in paper to insulate my fingers from the heat. I have been using a small towel to do just that. : )

That is a very reasonably priced gaiwan and 150 ml to boot (EDIT: actually it looks like it’s a 100 ml)! Alas, for me the minimum shipping for even the smallest item from them adds almost $8 to the total; so unless I also buy some tea from them—which I probably won’t this year—it’s still too expensive for me. I did find a very reasonably priced one myself here but I don’t think I will be ordering any tea from them either this year, so with the shipping for that one item, as it does with Yunnan Sourcing USA, that still makes it over $10. : (

I agree, in general gaiwans do seem unreasonably priced; I mean, why does a small, simple bowl with a lid and a saucer cost so much, anyway (those Italian Infuser mugs have more to them and they aren’t nearly as expensive)? Maybe it’s because gaiwans are not that much in demand (at least, I am guessing they must not be in demand considering how hard they have been for me to find, not counting online stores, that is).

The candle holder I bought from Cost Plus is actually working reasonable well. I also plan to try using a ramekin I have (as the bowl).

And, the reality is, I actually enjoy the hunt. For, now, when we go shopping (I don’t often go), I actually have something to look for rather then just saying to my wife—as she goes into yet another store full of ‘stuff’—“I’ll just wait outside.”

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Azzrian said

Here is a closer photo of that blue tea pot:

Blue, original, beautiful! Thanks!

Azzrian said

Thank you for saying you like it! Can you believe I have not even used it yet. LOL I was so curious to try to find out what KIND of pot it is – it may just be some cheap ceramic pot – the only mark on it is a number 44 and I know nothing of pottery etc.
Anyway I thought the color was beautiful and I got it for around 5 bucks so I could not pass it up :)

You’re welcome.

Neither do I know anything about pottery. But, hey for 5 bucks, you can’t beat that!

That is a beautiful blue glaze. I like how the brown glaze on he edges compliments so well too

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Sorry it took so long, but here are the pictures of my Italian infuser. I see all the different patterns that people have on theirs and on sites, but I like the more Asian artwork like mine and Azzrians.

That is a nice one. I think I prefer the Asian motif on these kinds of mugs (and on the gaiwans) as well. I also tend to like the simpler designs, as in, the ones that aren’t too busy; yours seems to have a good balance of depicting a few images while honoring a need for some white-space that surrounds it. Thanks for the pictures!

Thank you. I do enjoy the ones with simpler designs. I feel that the busier designs would be more likely to distract you while drinking, especially if you’re tying to focus.

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