Want to buy your first gaiwan and not sure what style to get? Are you intimidated by regular gaiwans and scared of pouring hot tea water over your fingers? You have a gaiwan already, always burn your fingers, and curious of these newfangled gaiwans with handles? Let's dive into the fun world of easy gaiwans.
You regular ol' gaiwan is a straight forward bowl with a lid and saucer. These gaiwans are elegant yet simple, but often seen as scary because it is so stripped down looking it can be seen as a mystery to a new gongfu drinker. Gaiwans are not like teapots which have an obvious handle to grab and spout that tea comes out of.
An easy gaiwan (sometimes known as Travel Gaiwans) adds complexity to the gaiwan design for ease of use. Generally easy gaiwans have features like
Ease of use - Easy gaiwans with handles and tapered spout have an obvious places were you put your fingers and pour the tea. If you are new to gongfu style, if you have something easy to pour that is one less thing to worry about, so you concentrate on dealing with ratios and steep times. Easy gaiwans are great if you got jittery hands too - very handy after long, over caffeinated tea sessions. I know I don't pour straight after a dozen steeps.
Lower chance of burnt, wet, and slippery tea fingers - The spout makes the pour more narrow, thus removes the chance of you angling the gaiwan poorly and pouring tea directly all over your fingers. The handles, if designed well, give you a place to hold on the gaiwan that isn't hot and away from the splash zone. Some easy gaiwans have something I call a "splash guard" which stop the leaf from flopping out during the pour.
Great for casual or solo sessions - I enjoy my easy gaiwans for solo drinking. You got a matching cup that the gaiwan perfectly fills. They are easy to pour and don't need a filter. I can just set my easy gaiwan up and veg out in front of the computer. I find non-tea drinking guests think an easy gaiwan is just a funky little tea pot vs a regular gaiwan or yixing pot hardcore-tea-snob appearance can give off.
Travels well - This is why sometimes these gaiwans are known as travel gaiwans – they reduce the amount of equipment needed for gongfu tea. The easy gaiwans that have lids that doubles as a cup gives you a drinking vessel, plus a deal as you get a matching cup! Easy gaiwans with filter holes stop tea from falling out during the pour so you may not need an additional tea strainer. If you want office gongfu cha all you need is an easy gaiwan, hot water, and tea.
With all these great modern easy gaiwan features, one might think the easy gaiwan is the superior gaiwan (until someone invents a smart bluetooth gaiwan). However, some of these features do effect brewing.
Pour time is slower - Because of the spout and even more so with filter holes, easy gaiwans pour slower. Sometimes they pour really slow if the leaf jams up the holes. I tend to favor using my easy gaiwans for teas that I'm not leafing heavy or not as sensitive to a bit longer of a pour time. You might have to leaf less or lower temperature on teas that worked well in a traditional gaiwan because the pour is longer. If you like to leaf really heavy and flash steep, easy gaiwans might not be the tool to use.
You pour a bit different than a regular gaiwan - I would treat an easy gaiwan as another way to do gongfu, but not a training wheel to physically learn to use a regular gaiwan. I find easy gaiwans without lids need to be held lower or the steam will cook your palms. I also developed a bad habit of pouring at an angle, which does fine with the easy gaiwan spout guidance, but on a regular gaiwan I would pour over my fingers. If you want to get the muscle memory of pouring a regular gaiwan, buy a regular gaiwan.
You still can burn your fingers - Some styles of easy gaiwan, despite having handles, will get roasting hot. If you are going for an easy gaiwan because you are tired of burning your fingers, look for a style where the handle is more separated from the bowl like outstretched wings, or wrapped handles. Examples of a less likely to burn your fingers easy gaiwans would be Teaware.House's Cloth Grip Ruyao or Rustic Gloss Tipped Easy Gaiwan.
They tend to be big capacity - More often I see easy gaiwans in the 150ml to 200ml range. It is a depressing fact that many of us North American tea drinkers drink alone, so a smaller gaiwan tends to be more optimal. My favorite size of gaiwan is 90ml - it is a good size for me to plow through a session in about 2 hours or less and I don't have to use a ton of leaf. Despite the easy gaiwan being a good solo vessel, they generally run big for a "forever alone" tea drinker. Unless you are a higher volume tea chugger, you are likely to be using this gongfu session all day, or be continuing on the next day.
Wide – With the bigger capacity and handle girth, easy gaiwans tend to be wide. As a 5'4" gal with small hands, I have owned one easy gaiwans I found impossible to pour with one hand as my fingers literally could not reach the handles. If this wide gaiwan thing is an issue to you, ensure you make note of the width of the gaiwan before purchase.
In the end, you don't have to own just a single gaiwan. I own around 15 gaiwans and likely will acquire more as you can totally min-max your teaware to your tea. I think an excellent pairing is a ruyao easy gaiwan with a ripe puer - you don't need that fast pour, thick glaze retains heat, and that long pour with dark tea stains up that easy gaiwan into super pretty fast.
A gaiwan for every occasion or to match your outfit, why not?
This blog post was written and contributed by the Oolong Owl, who blogs about tea at OolongOwl.com
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