Gaiwan Tea Set

To Gaiwan or Not to Gaiwan: 2023 Guide to Tea Brewing Methods


  1. The Mystique of Gaiwan Brewing
  2. Reasons People Choose Not to Use Gaiwans
  3. Alternatives to Gaiwans for Brewing Tea
  4. Knowing Which Teas to Gaiwan Brew
  5. Personal Preference Dictates the Choice

For seasoned tea drinkers, few tools are more iconic than the gaiwan. The classic Chinese lidded bowl is used to prepare tea in the gongfu style, which involves short, repeated steeps to extract the subtle flavors from the tea leaves. However, not everyone chooses to use a gaiwan for their tea brewing. In this article, we'll explore the reasons some people avoid gaiwans, alternative brewing methods, which teas are best suited for gaiwan brewing, and ultimately how personal preferences dictate the decision.

The Mystique of Gaiwan Brewing


First, let's examine the allure of the gaiwan. Used for Chinese green teas and oolongs, this brewing method reveals the true depth and complexity of fine loose leaf teas. The leaves circulate freely in the bowl and unfurl to release aromas and flavors. The lid serves to contain the aromas. The porcelain conducts heat well to properly extract the tea.

Multiple short steeps from 15 seconds up to a minute or two are ideal for gaiwan brewing. This gives control over the strength and prevents over-extraction of the delicate leaves. Part of the appeal is in the ritual and focus required to properly perform gongfu brewing. It also makes a lovely presentation when guests are over for a tea tasting.

Reasons People Choose Not to Use Gaiwans

While gaiwan brewing is beloved by tea connoisseurs, it does come with some inconveniences. Here are some of the main reasons a person may opt not to use a gaiwan:

  • Difficult for travel - The tiny size doesn't allow making much tea at once. The lid and bowl are easy to spill when on-the-go.
  • Constant refilling - At home or at work, the small steeps require repeatedly re-steeping the leaves throughout the day. This can get tiresome.
  • Hot lids - The lid retains heat, so removing it to pour each steep can get uncomfortable without using a cloth or glove.
  • Single serving - It's not very convenient for brewing tea for multiple people at once.

For situations where convenience is key, many choose to forgo the gaiwan. But there are other great options for brewing tea too.

Alternatives to Gaiwans for Brewing Tea


Yixing clay or glass teapots allow for similar unfurling of whole leaf teas, but in larger volumes. Great for brewing for multiple people, teapots eliminate the need for constant refilling. Yixing teapots can even retain heat well to continue steeping oolongs over time. Glass teapots provide the bonus of watching the leaves dance and expand.

Mugs and Infusers

For simple steeps, many tea lovers reach for a favorite mug and a basket, ball, or portable infuser. Just add leaves and hot water - easy! The Tea Bag Infuser Mug has a built-in mesh basket that can be removed after steeping.


This is one of the most fuss-free methods. No need for a vessel - simply add loose leaf tea to a cup or glass and pour hot water over it. Let it steep to taste, then drink right from the cup leaves and all. Ideal for robust teas that won't over-steep.

Knowing Which Teas to Gaiwan Brew

Selecting the proper brewing method can really maximize the delicious flavors of teas. Here are some guidelines for which tea types are best suited to gaiwan brewing:

Gaiwan Perfection:

  • Green Teas - Bring out the fresh, grassy flavors. Avoid over-steeping delicate leaves.
  • Oolongs - Showcase the broad range of notes from buttery to floral. Control strength.
  • White Teas - Highlight the subtle flavors and aromas. Prevent bitter tannins.

Use Caution:

  • Black Teas - Can over-extract and become astringent if left too long.
  • Rooibos - Does not need complex gongfu brewing. Simple preparations are fine.
  • Blooming Teas - Space is needed for flowering. Difficult in a gaiwan.

Very Forgiving:

  • Shou Pu-erh - Thick, earthy essence will not get bitter. Loose leaves ideal in gaiwan.
  • Herbal Teas - Often robust and hardy leaves. Using gaiwan provides no real benefit.

The individual characteristics of the tea must be matched to the proper brewing style. Delicate but flavorful teas will shine through gaiwan preparation, while bold, strong teas may do better with simpler methods.

Personal Preference Dictates the Choice

In the end, the decision to use a gaiwan or another brewing vessel comes down to personal preferences and habits. There are tea drinkers who would never dream of preparing their daily cuppa any method other than gongfu style using their special miniature teapot. The careful ritual speaks to them and provides comfort through the familiar motions.

For others, convenience and ease hold more appeal. Tea time needs to fit seamlessly into a busy schedule. For those folks, gaiwans may feel like an extra hassle they don't wish to bother with. And that's perfectly alright - there are no rules that you must use a gaiwan! With the array of brewing options available today, there's a method to accommodate every preference.

For some people, the choice may come down to the mood of the day. Perhaps a leisurely weekend afternoon is the perfect time to break out the gaiwan and sip slowly through multiple infusions of a fine oolong. But an everyday breakfast tea may call for the simplicity of a mug infuser. There is a time and place for every type of tea brewing.

Next time you prepare your favorite cup of tea, consider whether you feel like going through the motions of gongfu style appreciation - or if simple convenience sounds more appealing. And if you've never tried a new brewing method before, it can be eye-opening to experience different flavors from your teas. With an open mind and a spirit of experimentation, you're sure to find the preparation techniques that suit your tastes.

Read More

Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.