GaiWan - What is a GaiWan?
The Gaiwan is a traditional tea ware used widely throughout China. There are primarily two common ways that the traditional Chinese gaiwan is used, firstly as a lidded tea cup in which the tea is brewed and drunk, and secondly as a tea brewing vessel, from which the tea is then poured into a secondary jug or drinking cup.
A Chinese GaiWan consists of saucer, as the base, a bowl and a lid which is raised to create an insulated knob which to hold.
The first method can be seen sometimes when watching the news of large Chinese government meetings in Beijing. More common in the north of China, the gaiwan as a lidded tea cup is well suited to green tea and the popular flower teas and tisanes such as Jasmine tea and Chrysanthemum.
This style of gaiwan use favours larger gaiwan often decorated with patterns or images. This style can range from the mass produced gaiwan with printed designs, to hand painted and handmade gaiwan from JingDe Zhen (JingDe town 景德镇). It is common to find these gaiwan have a slightly broader saucer that makes it easy to hold when drinking and a deeper recess that prevents the gaiwan cup from moving or slipping.
The gaiwan as a 'teapot' has become the accepted standard for gongfu tea preaparation, or 'tea prepared with skill'. This method, typically prefers the plain, simple pure white porcelain gaiwan. The pure white colour reflects the simplicity and calm relation of preparing tea, whilst practically, the white gaiwan is ideal for enjoying and appreciating the tea in it's progressive forms; the dry leaf, the aroma and colour of the brewed tea and the wet tea leaf.
The most common gaiwan materials are porcelain and bone china. These materials are ideal for gaiwan tea wares. Being easy to clean, ceramic gaiwan do not retain any taste or aroma thereby allowing any tea to be prepared without fear of infereing with an individual tea's characteristics. This makes ceramic a very practical option for a general tea preparation vessel.
Ceramics are easily produced completely by hand or in moulds whilst ensuring the walls of the gaiwan can be made very thin, this has the advantage of providing optimum heat dissipation. Ceramic gaiwans typically can be made from quality materials that when fired produce pure white finish. As mentioned above this is important for the fundamental appreciation of the tea, moreover, with China's long history of creating some of the world's most exquisite ceramics, the gaiwan can be decorated with fine patterns and paintings.
From a practical and financial perspective glass is another good option. Whilst not retaining and dissipation heat as well as ceramic. Glass is very easy to maintain, if not a little fragile. Glass gaiwan offer the further advantage of being able to appreciate the tea you are brewing. Whether this is new spring season green teas, jasmine pearls or Tie Guan Yin you can enjoy watching the leaves dance and unfurl.
YiXing ZiSha is a popular material for tea ware, however it is not well suited for gaiwan bowls. Typically it very difficult produce thin walls and even white clays such duanni do not produce the neutral white finish of ceramics. Furthermore, due the porous nature of the zisha clay, multiple yixing gaiwans would be needed per tea type, unlike the versatile glass and ceramics options. One solution that is available are the white glazed lined gaiwan, though the outer zisha clay is typically of a relatively low quality.