Using a gaiwan

Well, here it is — a silly little video on how to use a gaiwan and a few ideas on what works and what doesn’t.  It’s pretty basic.  For most of you, it’s probably useless.  I just thought that given all the stuff out there on Youtube — mostly with extremely elaborate procedures and all that, it really isn’t that instructive for those who aren’t into the performative side of things.

Let’s see if this works….

Yixing vs gaiwan

First of all — the result of the last little question is in, and trentk, you should email me (marshaln at gmail).  Chaozhou, yixing, tokoname indeed — or some other variation of Japanese clay pot.

Now, yesterday was a nice day, so we had tea outside, with tea mistress in training handling the brewing duties

It was a good session, drinking some old Wenshan baozhong that I traded a little Japanese bizen teapot for.  This is somewhat roasty, but not too roasty stuff.  Nice aged taste.

Now, today, after dinner, we had the same thing, but I used a gaiwan.

I haven’t touched my gaiwans for a long time, other than to occasionally brew something very casually using that large sipping gaiwan.  I thought I would make a video about using gaiwans — boiling it down to the basics, using as simple a process as possible.  So, I figured I need a little practice.

Hmmm, boy did I forget how teas taste with gaiwan.  No wonder I haven’t used one in ages — it just doesn’t work, at least not with teas like this.  I am not sure what exactly it is that makes it taste different — there are, after all, a lot of variables involved, but I can say pretty confidently that when I had the first cup, it tasted flat and lacking any depth.  I was not happy with what resulted.

So why use a gaiwan?  Simple, convenient, and functional.  As easy teaware goes, it doesn’t get much better than a gaiwan.  As good tasting tea goes, however, I think a pot will beat a gaiwan any day.

Midnight tea

Salsero on Teachat gave me some tea recently, two greens, to be precise (and one darjeeling). I drink greens fairly casually. My family, being from the Shanghai region, mostly drink green teas, usually longjing or biluochun. My grandfather drinks nothing but tea all day. My first tea revelation was a high grade longjing, showing me how not all teas are created equal, and starting me down this very slippery slope on which I’m still sliding, head first, into the abyss….

Anyway, back to the point…

The tea I ended up making today is Yangyan Gouqing, a Zhejiang green that’s slightly rolled. I made it the old-fashioined way, in a gaiwan and sipping from time to time, with no parameters to speak of.

It’s mostly one bud two leaves. Very sweet, somewhat aromatic, and pretty good for the price. Steeped too long and it gets a little rough, but that’s because I used a generous amount of leaves. Some might say I’m wasting good green tea, but that’s how 99% of people drink green tea, steeped grandpa style in a cup or mug or bottle, and I don’t pretend to be any different from them. I rarely drink greens these days, but doing this takes me back to when I used to drink more of them, sampling all kinds of longjing to find out which one’s better. These days I probably don’t even get through 100g of green in a year.

Thanks Sal.

New thoughts on gaiwan vs yixing

As many of you have probably noticed, I almost never use gaiwans anymore. In fact, last time I touched any of them was when I sold one of them in my teaware firesale. Before that…. I don’t remember when the last time I used a gaiwan was.

I’ve found that there’s really no good reason to use gaiwan when one can use a yixing. I used to think that it is better, for the purpose of testing a tea, to use a yixing rather than a gaiwan, because, so the thinking goes, the yixing might change the way the tea taste in a way that a gaiwan would not. So, gaiwan is thus more accurate as a way to assess a tea.

I think that is still true if and when I am trying to test out a larger number of teas all in one go using the same parameters, as in a multiple sample tasting using, say, 5 minutes brewing. However, I almost never do that. Instead, I brew them normally and form my opinions based on that. If that’s the case, why should I use a gaiwan? After all, if, say, I were making a purchase decision, ultimately after I do buy the tea, I’ll be using my yixing to make it anyway. It would be foolish to use a gaiwan to test it and then never use the gaiwan again to brew it for drinking. As anybody who has used multiple pots for the same tea would probably know, teas behave differently in different pots. Shouldn’t I be testing the tea based on how I would normally drink it, rather than how I never drink it?

Of course, the other thing is that one realizes that there are so many other variables involved, one thing (i.e. vessel) doesn’t really make that much of a difference. Once I saw past that…. I’ve never used a gaiwan since, basically.

Besides, using more teas in pots season them faster. That’s always a plus.

The gaiwan comparison

Since I mentioned it yesterday, today I whipped out my gaiwan and tried the same tea — the aged tieguanyin from my Taiwanese candy store, to see how the gaiwan fares.

The short version is: not too well.

I think there’s a temperature problem with the gaiwan, although I have a feeling that’s not the only issue. The tea came out a bit subdued — the aromatics and depth did not show up very much, although the throatiness of the tea presented itself strongly. The tea’s aromas were certainly lacking compared to the zhuni pot I used yesterday. Nor does it have the softness that I would get using my black pot. Did it have any redeeming feature? I’m not sure….

So, no gaiwan for aged oolongs. I knew this already, but this is a good confirmation.

I should note that I am not the only person to have tried something like this. Adrian Lurssen has written two pieces on the same subject of yixing vs gaiwan over at Chadao, dated Nov 27th and 30th. His results were more inconclusive, but I think it depends greatly on the tea in question. Gaiwans, I think, don’t do as bad with teas like greens or young puerhs, but I don’t drink a lot of those these days.

Gaiwan brewing

I realized today I haven’t touched any of my gaiwans since I returned from Taiwan.

I remember I used to use the gaiwan for everything…. from greens to blacks. Gaiwan was my weapon of choice. Gaiwan was the only thing I’d use, pretty much.

Then slowly, I started using more yixing pots. I gradually bought a few more, and found them, somehow, easier to use. Maybe it’s because I will no longer burn my fingers, as I do once in a while with a gaiwan. Maybe they provide more aesthetic variety. Maybe they do make better tea?

On the better tea question, I am now quite certain that some yixing pots will make softer tea (whether that’s better or not is up to individual taste). I’m still not sure exactly what goes on in a yixing pot that actually changes the tea. There are many theories out there, from temperature retention (sort of true…) to pores in the clay (really depends) to seasoning (maybe true, maybe magic…. and also depends, greatly). Gaiwans, though, still give you an “honest” tea, without really messing with the tea in any particular way.

I’ve also basically ditched the fairness cup these days, especially after I acquired those Hong Kong cups that will hold a pot of tea, regardless of which pot I used. I find myself enjoying my tea more without needing to re-pour from the fairness cup into my drinking cup. That, I think, is entirely personal — somehow, the fairness cup feels artificial, almost lazy.

Maybe I should pull out my gaiwan one of these days and revisit one of the teas I’ve been drinking a lot recently, such as the tieguanyin I drank today. I wonder if I can tell the difference.

Nothing too interesting going on

Sorry folks, been rather busy the past few days and haven’t had a chance to drink real tea. Instead, it’s been teabags of some sort or another… such as Bigelow Darjeeling (which tastes nothing like Darjeeling) and that kind of thing. Things should go back to normal tomorrow as I return home.

In the meantime, though, I found this site about Yixing pots. It’s a very comprehensive site — probably more info and pictures than any other place online regarding antique (or at least allegedly antique) pots. It’s in Japanese, so probably not too many of you can read it, but click on any of the links in the bottom — you should find pictures that are worth your time just staring at.

Gaiwan purchase

I went back to Maliandao today, mainly to get this

Two sets of idential teaware, tiny gaiwans with cups that are big enough to take one infusion. This is so that I can conduct taste tests of two things against each other without overdosing myself on tea. Ideally, I should also have an electronic scale, but I didn’t get one today :(. It’s good enough anyway…. for now. I also got the puerh knife on the right. I never had one.

Then I stopped at a puerh store, and got stuck there.

The owner is quite a character, a Northeast China guy who went to Yunnan some years ago (probably got sent there during the Cultural Revolution) and stayed there for quite a while, and started dabbling in the tea business more than a decade ago, so he claims. A chain smoker who probably goes through at least two packs a day, he was pretty excited to have someone to babble to, i.e. me, and I stayed there for something like three hours.

When I walked in, there were already two customers there. They bought 1200 RMB worth of goods (two cooked bricks, and two raw cakes), which will come out to…. something like 300 RMB a piece. I honestly don’t think any of those things are worth that much. They got screwed, especially on the raw cakes which are worth at best 100 RMB a piece. But these are the people keeping all the businesses on Maliandao alive, I suppose.

The raw cake they had, I also tried ,and I thought it was not very good. It claims to be Yiwu, but it can’t be. I then tried another much better looking (and tasting) cake, but it’s also not pure Yiwu. I didn’t even ask for a quote — it’s not bad, but not that great. I can find much better stuff, so why bother with this?

The cooked brick, however…. is quite interesting. I ended up with one at home. I think I paid a little too much, but it’s 1kg, and per gram, it’s very cheap for what it’s worth. Since I never buy cooked puerh, I think it says something about this brick :)

It’s got none of the nasty cooked taste. Instead, the taste is an overwhelmingly sweet, mellow, and with a dry date aroma that I really liked. I figured it’s not a bad thing to drink when I feel like something more mellow. It looks quite nasty in appearance, but what the heck…..

So that was my afternoon at Maliandao. I didn’t even make it to one store that I wanted to go. Oh well, there’s always next time.