Jennifer Leigh Sauer is amongst the most noteworthy members of the specialty tea industry, and an avid proponent of Chinese tea ware, such as the gaiwan (lidded tea bowl) and yixing teapots. She has researched and documented both tea abroad and in her hometown of San Francisco, and has shared her images and findings in the tea book The Way to Tea and on her website, Bon Teavant. Below, Jennifer and I discuss why she advocates the use of gaiwan and yixing tea ware.
LG: First off, can you provide a brief definition of 'gaiwan' and 'yixing teapot' for our more beginner readers?
JS: The word 'gaiwan' means 'covered bowl' and comprises a saucer, a cup of about six ounces and a lid that is used to cover the cup as well as to prevent the tealeaves from escaping the cup when the tea infusion is poured.
Yixing teapots are small (usually three- to six-ounce) teapots made of a particular clay found in the region of Yixing, China. This clay is said to bring out the best flavors in teas and are somewhat porous, which lends them to receiving the personal oils of the tea makers hands as well as conveying the hot water of the tea in a way that tea lovers seem to think is beneficial to the art of brewing tea. Because of their porousness, yixing teapots are dedicated by tea aficionados to particular teas; for example, one teapot will be dedicated to high mountain oolongs, another to Wuyi varietal teas, and another to Phoenix oolongs. This way the teapots continue to absorb the oils and fragrances of the tealeaves and enhance the flavor of the tea over time. People who love and collect these teapots consider these to be very personal items in their tea toolkits.
LG: When preparing artisan teas, why do you prefer using a gaiwan or a yixing teapot to using a larger, Western-style teapot?
JS: Tea has been an important part of Asian culture for many centuries. During this time, both the Chinese and Taiwanese have come up with the optimal forms of tea ware for brewing tea: the gaiwan (pronounced 'guy-wahn') and the yixing (pronounced 'ee-shing') teapot.
I use either a porcelain gaiwan or a yixing teapot for all Chinese/Taiwanese teas for a couple of reasons: 1) While made of porcelain like a traditional European teapot, the gaiwan offers me an interesting way to brew the tea so that I can see the color of the brew as it infuses and I can also easily smell the tea as it brews. The lid of the gaiwan also offers me a way to "play" with the tea to move the leaves to encourage their even brewing. For these reasons, there is a greater sense of intimacy with the tea and a deeper experience of the tea.
As well, I use a Chinese yixing teapot on some teas like Wuyi varietal teas (grown in either China or Taiwan) because the yixing clay pot adds a depth to the taste of the tea that porcelain does not. The craftsmanship and the quality of the clay also inform the taste and aroma of the tea. In contrast to a traditional European teapot, the small size of the yixing teapot means I am brewing just a cup of tea at a time, and the "small batch" approach works well for me as I feel I have greater control over the outcome -- the taste and aroma of the brew. As far as I know, traditional European tea ware tends to be only porcelain and so does not offer this quality to the tea.
In short, certain pieces of tea ware offer different experiences in the taste/aroma of the tea as well as the experience of brewing tea.
LG: Gaiwan and yixing tea ware are typically used for 'gong fu' (or 'high skill') tea preparation. Can you walk readers through how to brew tea gong fu style with a gaiwan?
JS: Better yet, I have a video on gong fu tea preparation with a gaiwan.
LG: Great! Thanks for sharing your expertise, Jennifer.