Gaiwan Lesson from Roy

Old and new: the gaiwan on the left is great for xiao ye green tea such as long jing or bi luo chun, but the chubby one on the right is a better choice for da ye oolong or puerh

When Roy and I were tasting new oolongs a couple of weeks ago, I brought out my favorite porcelain gaiwan to provide a neutral brewing environment. When matching a gaiwan to the tea I considered basics such as size (volume) and thickness of the body (which affects heat retention), but I hadn't given much thought to the gaiwan's shape. As usual, Roy taught me that there's always more to learn when it comes to teaware.

My gaiwan has a slightly vertical orientation and a narrower body. When we brewed the new Organic Jade Oolong, with its large leaves, Roy pointed out how the leaves tended to unfurl into a thick mat in the bottom of the gaiwan's bowl. He said that's because the diameter of the gaiwan wasn't large enough to allow water to circulate fully around the perimeter of the leaves. While my gaiwan is great for early spring xiao ye (small leaf) green teas such as long jing (dragon well) and bi luo chun, a better choice for da ye (big leaf) teas such as oolong and puerh would be a vessel with a stockier profile.

The next time I was in the teahouse I picked up a White Jade Porcelain Gaiwan. Its wide bowl and generous size are a good match with oolong teas. Floral Taiwan oolongs, in particular, benefit from gaiwan preparation. Another good oolong gaiwan is the sturdy, all-purpose Teahouse Gaiwan, the one we use to serve tea in the teahouses. I brewed some of new oolongs in my new gaiwan and sure enough, as Roy predicted, the more appropriate shape allowe better water circulation, meaning more flavor extraction and tastier, more fragrant tea.

After that teaware tuneup I'm fully armed for the 2011 tea season. Can't wait to start brewing some fresh tea!