Zhong – Gaiwan
Equipment Needed: The Zhong, share cup (optional)
Recommended Tea Types: Chinese White, Green, Oolong, Black, Puerh
History: Literally meaning ‘covered cup’, the Gaiwan consists of a bowl, saucer, and lid. Ranging in size from a small 4oz to fairly typical 5-7oz, the beauty of this ancient device is that it is designed to peel back the layers of tea through rich, concentrated brews.
Through it’s intuitve shape, aromas cling to the underside of the lid, allowing an even deeper exploration of the flavour profile.
Back in the Ming dynasty, the tea liquer was originally drank directly from the gaiwan. In 2014, through a few awkward test cases and burnt lips, we decided quite sometime ago to have a ‘share cup’ accompany each of our cuppings. This share cup allows for the tea to mingle into a consistent strength, which is perfect for sharing with good company, or keeping it all to yourself.
The amount of leaf to use will vary, with a slight adjustment each time one changes the catagory or style of leaf. Taiwanese style ball-rolled oolongs like our Tie Quan Yin need to just cover the bottom of the gaiwan, as they will explode in volume as they steep. The more volumus strip style oolongs like our Phoenix Mountain Oolong may require roughly 1/2 to 3/4 of the Gaiwan to be filled with tea. An easy rule of thumb to use is that after about the 3rd 15-25sec steeping, the partially infused leaves should be just level with the top of the Gaiwan.
Fill the Gaiwan with the proper amount of tea as referenced above. We like, i mean, love to use a preheated Gaiwan in this case. You can easily preheat the Gaiwan by doing a brief rinse of the leaves (especially for Pu’erh tea and rolled Oolongs). Once the leaves have been rinsed, the Gaiwan has been preheated, really allowing the tea to open up, thus releasing so many delicious aromas. This is akin to swirling a glass of wine to release some more notes – except you can drink as much tea as you like!
Once the gaiwan has been preheated, pour in your water (preferably spring water) into the gaiwan, taking care not to pour directly on the leaves. This is a much gentler infusion method for the leaves, especially if you are using white or green teas. Near the tail end of the pour, try to pour closer to the middle to fully incorporate and submerge the teas. Larger leaf oolongs and dragonwell like to float, and may take a bit of work to fully submerge them. Feel free to use the lid of the Gaiwan to swirl the leaves a bit, a handy technique to maintain the water temperature and moisten all leaves involved. Use the correct temperature of water for your tea for optimum flavour. Also, less kittens are sacrificed when this cardinal rule is observed. Be mindful of how full you fill the gaiwan with water, as it makes it tricky to pour in step 4.
Steep! This is totally to personal taste. Some people like to steep it for 10-15 seconds, others are closer to the 25-40 second mark. Naturally, the longer you let it steep, the stronger it gets, especially if you use more tea per Gaiwan. In general, the less time you let it steep, the more infusions you will get.
This is the tricky part. Once the desired time has elapsed, slightly offset the lid of the Gaiwan so that a small opening is exposed.
Using your index finger, thumb, and middle finger, grip the edges of the Gaiwan, and with your index fingers knuckle, hold the lid in place and gently tilt to begin pouring the tea into the share cup. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try again.
Once properly dispensed, and all associated wounds are tended to, the final and most exciting stage before tasting. The wet leaf has a remarkable amount of volatile compounds that have been released due to the infusion process. Remove the lid of the Gaiwan and smell the wet leaf as well on the underside of the lid. Moving the leaf around inside of the Gaiwan with a teaspoon or teapick will cause more volatile aromas to emerge. This is one of the most pleasing things about tea brewed in Gaiwan fashion, as it allows you to really experience the layers of the tea.
Repeat step 2 to 5, lengthening the infusion time by 10-20 seconds each time.