The Chinese gaiwan or covered cup is considered the preferred method for brewing teas with delicate flavors, such as green and white teas, but is suitable for any type of tea. This method has been used in China since about 1350.
The gaiwan consists of a saucer, bowl and lid. It is extraordinarily versatile and can be used in place of a teapot, as a combination teapot/teacup (in the traditional Chinese style) or simply as a drinking cup.
All that is needed to prepare tea in this style is a gaiwan, since the tea can be brewed and drunk from the same vessel. Alternatively, the gaiwan can be used primarily as a teapot and the tea decanted into either a small pitcher or individual tasting cups.
Prepare the tealeaves and have them ready to be placed into the gaiwan as soon as it has been warmed.
Rinse the gaiwan
This step signifies the purification of the gaiwan so that it is free of any dust or residue. It also warms the cup. Rinse the gaiwan with hot water. If using a serving pitcher and tasting cups, pour the hot water from the gaiwan into these vessels and then discard the water.
Rinse the tealeaves
This step opens up the leaves to release the tea’s aroma. The aroma should be savored prior to infusion in order to prepare the palate to appreciate the tea’s full flavor. Add about one to two teaspoons of dry leaves to the gaiwan.
With a little experimentation, this quantity can be adjusted to your taste. Pour hot water over the tealeaves and immediately pour this water off. Remove the lid and savor the aroma of the leaves.
Infuse and serve
Fill the gaiwan with water of the appropriate temperature. For green teas, steep uncovered for 2-3 minutes. For oolong and black teas, cover with the lid and steep 3-5 minutes for oolong teas and 4-5 minutes for black teas.
To drink from the gaiwan, hold the saucer in the palm of the right hand and use the thumb to steady the cup. Using your left hand, lift the lid by the knob, tilt the lid away so that it holds back the leaves and sip the tea. Alternatively, the tea can be poured into the serving pitcher and then into the tasting cups.
One of the benefits of using high quality, loose-leaf teas is that they can be resteeped several times. Keep adding water as many times as yields a flavorful cup. To resteep, increase the steeping time slightly with each infusion. Experiment with steeping times to accommodate your taste.
However, excessively long steeping can result in a bitter infusion. It is not recommended that tealeaves be left for a long period of time between infusions.