Today I want to talk about a using a Gaiwan for steeping your tea. Before I do that, I want to briefly mention some of the other methods available in hopes that you understand my reasoning for using this process.
Here Are A Few Thoughts on Tea Steeping Methods:
Originally tea came as loose-leaf, which we here at Boulder Tea Shop prize as a higher quality product. Back in the day, teas needed to be transported in a way that would be helpful to customers. The sellers found that transferring this tea into porous bags was the best option. Some of the buyers of this tea would not have a way to steep it and would use these bags, by mistake, as a way to extract the flavor from the tea. This is how the teabag was given the popularity it holds today.
At Boulder Tea Shop, we have decided that we will never compromise the integrity and the quality of our tea by offering it in this way. We will never sell you tea in this way.
High quality tea can be improperly made when using bags. First, bags alone may contaminate the tea from other items in the factory. This could include the unclean cloth used for the bag, or the ink from the tags on the end of the string. Very few companies have high standards to remove this problem, but if you are going bagged, I recommend Organic Yogi Tea, and only their herbal varieties.
Second, tea needs 3x the space to open up when wet. If you do not allow for the space, you will have an inferior cup and will not receive the correct amount of good stuff from your session. Going back to Yogi, I say herbal because most herbals do not need this space in order to expand. I am strictly talking about pure tea from the Camellia Sinensis plant.
Stainless Steel Tea Infuser
Next, we have the open-faced stainless steel tea infuser. This infuser gives your tea enough space to truly thrive. Typically you can steep tea with 2-4 minutes depending on the type of tea that you have. For most western tea brewers, this, along with teapots; which commonly include mesh strainers; is the most preferred way to steep tea. For some teas such as Oolong and Pu-erh (Dark Tea), this method will allow you to steep multiple cups during your session. You can purchase a Stainless Steel Tea Infuser by visiting here.
For those of you that want to go deeper into the tea experience, I recommend trying some of the techniques of the eastern tradition.
The eastern tradition is where almost all of the high quality and precious tea became popular and is still one of the best places in the world for growing and processing. My very favorite technique is from the East, mainly China, and is known as Gongfu Cha. Gongfu Cha in its simplest form is the act of putting an art to your tea drinking experience. It involves the ritualized preparation and presentation of tea. If you know me, this is right up my ally.
My favorite way to do this is through the use of a Gaiwan. Gaiwan brewing allows for shorter steep times and many more sessions than a western style method. This technique is usually used with greens, pu-erhs (Dark Tea), and my favorite, Oolongs. Some of the oolongs that we carry in our online tea shop have allowed for 5-13 sessions before the contents are discarded. This is my favorite tool for steeping as it allows us to taste each step as the tea leaves open. Some teas full flavor comes from their 5th or 6th steep, which is my favorite steep for most of our teas.
One example of these teas would be our Ya Shi Xiang “Duck Shit” Oolong Tea. Typically I like to steep oolongs and pu-ers using a Gawain. It is quick and can be used all day long while only using a couple tablespoons of tea. This is one of the most efficient methods as it lets you taste every step of the tea opening up. Think of tea leaves like you do of rings on a tree. In my experience, the older the tea plant, the more complex the flavor in the tea. Processing is a big part of this as well. Each steep will show you a slightly different flavor. As you steep with more sessions, you will notice some of the more subtle differences.
Using a Gaiwan
Steeping with this method is not always simple, where you need to keep track of timing, and make sure you have the correct water and water quality. You want to treat this as a meditative experience and moving forward with steeping like it is an art and process that enhances your adventures, internally and externally.
Here is what can be done to make sure your experience has a similar result, every time. First, make sure everything is clean. This is easy with the porcelain snow white Gaiwan that can be found here. All you do is add a little hot water to lightly sterilize the steeping area. Then discard the water. Next, add 1-2 tbsp. of your favorite tea. I usually eye this by hand, but you can be exact with your measurement for a more uniform flavor. Make sure the water is semi close to boiling as most oolongs can take a heat of 195-200 degrees. With greens, I recommend using a much lower temperature so that the leaves do not burn.
The first steep is always the rinse. This is where you pour water to submerge the tea and then quickly discard the water. Now this, for me, is a big part of the ritual. This is a half practical, and half meditative process. For me this “Rinse”, allows you to remove any impurities from the tea. It also allows the tea to speak to you and open up. I encourage everyone to take a step back and close your eyes while you become immersed in the wonderful aroma of the opening leaves.
Once the “Rinse” has commenced, it is time to brew the first cup of Gaiwan Tea. Pour the less than boiling water onto the rinsed tea leaves. From here use the lid to move around the leaves in the Gaiwan to remove any bubbles and to let the leaves expand in a more uniform way. Leave the water in the Gaiwan for about 14-18 seconds, tilt the lid on top of the Gaiwan, and pore the tea into your favorite cup. You can see how this is done through the accompanying video on using a Gaiwan.
Typically oolong teas can be steeped anywhere from 5-15 sessions. Once you have completed session number 1, add 4+ seconds to each consecutive steep before removing the liquid. You can keep having sessions until your tea is either clear, absent of flavor, or becomes bitter.
As I mentioned before, this is my very favorite technique. Many people are not aware of this technique, so I wanted to bring it into your worldview and give you the option to have a truly exceptional cup of tea. It will allow you to slow down and enjoy the nature of this sacred herb in a unique way unlike any other process. It will provide you with a much more fulfilling opportunity to get the best out of your tea.
I hope this helps you in deciding your next tea adventure. Typically I bring a Gaiwan with me when I take groups on a hike, or when I’m relaxing by the Boulder Creek. Wherever your destination lies, use tea as part of the journey and enjoy the fantastic new world available to you.
**For more guided and visual information on Gaiwans, check out our YouTube companion video on using a Gaiwan which can be found here.
If you enjoy what you see, please reach out to your friends and help improve their lives with this amazing new technique.