A Tea Addict's Journal

The gaiwan comparison

February 26, 2008 · 7 Comments

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.

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7 responses so far ↓

  • iwii // February 26, 2008 at 2:54 am | Reply

    I don’t like a pot either when I am brewing something too young since the result I got in the past were not that great, and that I don’t think it is very good for the pot when it is seasoned for aged stuff.
    Now regarding older leaves, things are a bit different. They definitely taste and rounder in a pot and overall better, but I think one is loosing a bit of the characteristics of the tea itself by doing so.
    I do prefer a pot, but I cannot help having the bad feeling I am wasting something about my tea by standardizing it.
    So usually, I am using a gaiwan when trying old samples. And am switching to a pot when I am lucky enough to have larger quantities of a given tea, and that I get the feeling I know it well enough so that it doesn’t matter anymore.
    At the end of the day, maybe I am under-using my pots…

  • Anonymous // February 26, 2008 at 6:56 am | Reply

    some time ago i got a cheap thermometer and played with it in the first couple days

    in my thin gaiwan,

    if i put ~200F/93C water:
    in gaiwan warmed to ~77F/25C –> water temp becomes instantly 177F/80.5C –> 161F in 2 min
    in gaiwan warmed to ~107.6F/44C –> water temp becomes instantly 185F/85C –> 177F in 1min –> 168 in 2nd min

  • lewperin // February 26, 2008 at 2:02 pm | Reply

    Can someone measure heat loss in a pot?

    (Sorry, all I have is gaiwans!)

  • Anonymous // February 26, 2008 at 2:52 pm | Reply

    Hey! Stopped by for a daily dose of smart tea writing and I see a mention of my Cha Dao post related to this topic. Don’t lower your standards too much; I’ll stop reading your blog

    You are correct that my “test” was inconclusive, but I think that was partly due to the fact that the first tea lacked much definition that might be used to benchmark “what makes a great tea” – a pot or a gaiwan. It wasn’t a great tea. (Also due to the fact that I ramble without much point.)

    I haven’t had time to write a follow-up, though I’d love to and plan on it, but here are some random thoughts:

    – to my mind, there is definitely a difference between pot and gaiwan, and yes: it depends on the tea.

    – even more interesting to me now is that there is also an enormous difference using different pots. To brew Dahongpao, I started using one pot admired for its visuals: beautifully made, nice clay, wide mouth, flat bottom. And then I started using another, a classic Shi Piao (similar shape to first pot), for general Wuyis. After daily use, with the Shi Piao making teas soar and the other pot being hardly more than dull – I sadly realized my favorite pot might not be up to the job.) I want to explore this a little more before saying any more. My next “test” might be the two pots back-to-back brewing the same tea; but I’d like to have the taster be someone other than me. See what happens.

    – this topic is, to my mind, related to your recent posts about strict timing in tea brewing. (I agree with your thinking in those posts, but find it hard to actually do. I still like to watch the clock and do it more often than not. A bad habit, hard to break.) To me, this is about a desire for *precision* in the tea-making process – an impulse, you might generalize, shared by Westerners teaching themselves the way of tea, but not particularly important for Chinese, for whom tea is deeply entrenched and maybe even imprecise, learned within the family, and is just obvious and …. “simple” or at least easy/easier.

    I would guess that most people (or at least Westerners) reading this blog and others like it aren’t simply enjoying tea for tea’s sake. This is about sifting through true facts and contradictions in an attempt to learn something that isn’t part of the family fabric. As tea is in much of Asia. It’s also about not being cheated by merchants with whom we mostly have long-distance relationships. It might also be about investment, building a collection of teas for aging. The list goes in: and it induces some kind of OCD level of anxiety. “Am I getting this right?”

    Over the years, I’ve occasionally noticed the figurative scratching of the head, by email or in a forum, by some expert or another in Asia who is asked questions to do with precision. How much tea? How long? What temperature? etc. It must look a little naive (if not sometimes outright absurd) – all of us trying to write down the absolutely perfect formula for the perfect cup of tea.

    As we go down this road to tea knowledge, one also becomes aware of the fact that tea manages to give you what you bring to it. In other words, you might be sitting around a dim sum table with generations of your family, and how long the crappy or excellent puerh brews doesn’t really matter. Or, you are brewing tea alone and trying to determine if its worth setting aside for aging. Or something in-between. But for each session mood, attention, focus, and such – make a difference to what you are tasting.

    I don’t really have a point. Other than to say, all of this learning about precision to do with mastering tea (is that possible?) is interesting – but should be abandoned at first opportunity. I think.

    or something.


  • MarshalN // February 26, 2008 at 9:29 pm | Reply

    Good point, Adrian, about me not doing what I preach. Sometimes, I guess, curiosity gets the better of me 🙂

  • Anonymous // February 27, 2008 at 1:30 am | Reply

    Oh, I hope you don’t think I was directing anything at you about how you practice re: your blog. I love reading your daily entries and have learned a tremendous amount; in large part because of your access/travels, but also because you have an excellent mix of passion and skepticism that seems to make for great discovery. (for what it’s worth – in my humble opinion.) do and preach whatever you like, all good by me.

  • Anonymous // February 27, 2008 at 1:32 am | Reply

    btw, i’d love to see an image of the pot (specifically the shape) you use for your aged oolongs. i have brewed those old puppies in both gaiwan and yixing – and the yixing actually doesn’t hold up very well. don’t know why, but i’m in search of the excellent pot for aged oolong and don’t know where to begin.


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