In our previous post, we discussed some of the necessary features to look for when purchasing a gaiwan and why those features are important. Today, we’ll look at the relevance of the sizes and shapes of gaiwans to ensure that you get the most out of your experience with one.
Broadly speaking, there are three important characteristics to consider when selecting a gaiwan: height, width, and thickness. These characteristics matter most when one selects a specific tea to brew, as the tea leaves vary by shape and delicacy, and so one kind of gaiwan proves better suited for brewing some types of tea rather than others.
When to Choose a Tall Gaiwan
A tall gaiwan is ideal when one selects a tea with leaves that tend to float in the water vertically. A green tea like our Green Bamboo Tip (Zhu Ye Qing) would be a good choice in this regard.
However, these are not the only kinds of teas that are suited for taller gaiwans. Another type of tea would be one with leaves that are very tightly rolled. Due to the nature of rolling, the leaves tend to unfurl in multiple directions, and so a tall gaiwan gives it the optimal space to fill the lower half of the gaiwan appropriately. In this respect, a tightly rolled oolong tea like our Iron Goddess of Mercy (Tieguanyin) would be recommended.
Lastly, a tall gaiwan is also recommended for brewing oolong teas because the tube shape helps concentrate the aromatic compounds better during the infusion, creating a fuller flavor.
When to Choose a Wide Gaiwan
Wide gaiwans can be used with almost any kind of tea, including tightly rolled, with the exception of those teas that tend to float vertically in the water since they need some space from the bottom. While a tall gaiwan is better suited for a tightly rolled tea, a wide gaiwan can also work in most cases without losing much.
Still, even though they are extremely versatile, wide gaiwans are best suited for those teas with leaves that tend to lay flat when floating in the water. There are many teas with leaves like this, such as our West Lake Dragonwell (Xi Hu Long Jing) green tea, our Yunnan Gold Tips (Dian Hong Jing Ya) black tea, or our Jingmai Ancient Tree puerh tea. Each of these teas have longer leaves that tend to float horizontally proving to be very good matches for wide gaiwans.
What about Thickness?
Gaiwans come in all sorts of materials, from glass and porcelain to unglazed and glazed stoneware. Do the materials matter at all?
The answer is yes, and it’s all about heat dissipation and heat retention. This was discussed briefly before in a previous post, but the basic point is this:
ask yourself what kind of temperature you will be using and select accordingly
For teas that require higher temperatures, like most black teas and oolong teas, then you want to consider selecting a thicker gaiwan that promotes heat retention. This allows the leaves to expand properly and will help you bring out those flavors that you are looking for. It is important to remember, however, that the gaiwan should be properly pre-heated; otherwise, the water will cool much more rapidly than desired.
The opposite is true for teas that require lower temperatures, such as green teas. In these cases, you want to try to select a thinner gaiwan that promotes heat dissipation, such as a paper-thin porcelain gaiwan. Such gaiwans dissipate heat more quickly, making them surprisingly comfortable to hold and use while also preventing your more delicate teas from becoming a stew. In addition, their thinner walls absorb the heat from the water more quickly, making a longer pre-heating rinse less important than in the case of the thicker gaiwan.
Beyond the considerations above and in the previous post, you have a couple more that tend to fall into more subjective categories:
(1) Volume - If you plan on using your gaiwan for gongfu-style tea preparation, then it is best if the size is 150mL or less. However, for more casual use, a gaiwan can be used in just about any size. One thing to consider is your own level of comfort, and so it is best to experiment with different styles of holding the gaiwan and different volumes in order to find which is most comfortable for you.
(2) Color - People tend to prefer gaiwans that are white in color or even clear. The white background allows one to more easily see the color of the tea liquor, while the glass allows one to best see the leaves as they are expanding.
We hope that you found our two-part purchasing guide helpful, and as always, we’re here for you if you have any questions about gaiwans!