Some people think that those of us who find a gaiwan awkward to use are feeble-minded and lacking in knowledge of “the leaf” (tea leaves from the Camellia Sinensis plant). Is this snobbery or just a sign of clinging to traditional methods? It could be both, depending on the person saying it.
Recently, I commented on someone’s post that I preferred my Yixing teapots or my teacup with its perfectly fitting infuser basket to a gaiwan. All of these can do multiple infusions and steep the tea leaves fully. The difference is that you can actually pour neatly from the teapots and the infuser basket is easy to remove from the teacup and set aside for the next infusion. Of course, if one is used to a gaiwan, he or she will be strongly in favor of it, no matter if it’s a sensible device or not. One such person replied with a remark that was certainly gaiwan snobbery.
The idea of sticking with a steeping vessel to adhere to tradition is fine, but for those of us seeking something practical it is another matter. We don’t have to be locked in by tradition, especially when that means slopping tea all over the place, burning our fingers, and dropping the gaiwan so that the hot liquid and the tea leaves go everywhere and the gaiwan, its lid, and its saucer get chipped or broken. Sure, you can get used to using a gaiwan, but again that is totally your choice. No room for snobbery here.
One of my gaiwan adventures:
Here is a raw pu-erh steeping in a glass gaiwan, which had the advantage of providing quite a show and the disadvantage of getting too hot to handle. I find that sticking with teas that need cooler (150-170° F) water temperatures are best. Since gaiwans are basically bowls and therefore have no pouring lip, the liquid can tend to go where it shouldn’t. Of course, you can use a teaboat to catch what doesn’t go into those sipping cups, but then some of the liquid is wasted. Being fairly frugal and wanting to get every drop possible out of those leaves, I tend to see this as a downside to gaiwans.
The teacup/infuser combo:
A while back I steeped two gyokuros head on, using my special white teacup and the stainless steel infuser basket that fits into it just right so that the leaves have plenty of room to move around in the water. I’m pleased to say that the system worked perfectly, allowing me to steep the leaves several times and thereby get full value from them.
A Yixing adventure:
Another high-end green tea, Dragonwell, got the royal treatment in one of my Yixing teapots. I have designated the one I call ‘Simplicity’ as being for green teas only. (Yixing teapots aren’t sealed, so the porous clay soaks up the tea. You need to use each teapot with only one general type of tea.) While pouring from this teapot can be a bit messy, too, most of the liquid tends to go into the chahai and from there into the sipper cups. [Please note: It has recently come to my attention that there is some concern about the quality and safety of the clay used to make these teapots. I encourage you to look into this and decide whether you want to take the risk or not.]
There’s no need to be snobbish when it comes to tea. We all use what we’re comfortable with and get what we can from those methods. Also, traditions are fine as long as following them is a choice, not a mandate. Enjoy tea your way and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Yay!
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