When I laid hands on my first gaiwan, it was love. I began my adventures into the world of gong fu cha over a year ago – a difficult thing since Ottawa, Ontario isn’t exactly a hotspot for traditional Chinese tea culture. My first gaiwan was a big, cheap thing that I found in Ottawa’s Chinatown. I was so excited that I managed to even find a gaiwan in Ottawa that it didn’t matter that the gaiwan was too large to pour with one hand and that the shape led to constantly burned fingers. Since then, I’ve found a few tea dealers in the national capital region that sell exactly the type of tea and teaware that I look for (and I have since acquired a much better gaiwan).
Despite my love of the gaiwan, I love experimenting with different brewing methods. For my birthday this year, my parents bought me a beautiful glass teapot. Because it holds about 300mL (about three times more than my beloved gaiwan), I reduce the amount of leaf and lengthen the infusions when brewing with this pot. I was extremely pleased with this method when I tried it with a green tea from Yunnan province in China called Yun Luo Chun. Prepared in the same method as Bi Luo Chun (originally grown in Jiangsu province), Yun Luo Chun takes on that familiar Yunnan taste of hay and a light smokiness ever present in sheng puer. In a gaiwan, this tea takes on the astringent quality of a young sheng puer, and then mellows out in subsequent infusions. When I performed a longer infusion with fewer leaves, I was amazed at the result. The tea was much lighter and smoother than its gaiwan-brewed counterpart. There was even a hint of sweetness. I also had the pleasure of watching the tightly rolled balls unfurl into gorgeous full leaves.
For most teas, I still like to brew using my gaiwan. I find using lots of leaf and doing multiple short infusions is a superior method to bring out changes in taste from infusion to infusion – especially in oolong teas. I tried brewing an Ali Shan oolong in my glass pot with poor results – the intense honey and graham cracker taste that I associate with the tea disappeared leaving a very generic, uninteresting flavour. There are always surprises to be had when experimenting with tea brewing. It just takes a small step away from personal preferences for new, sometimes rewarding experiences to be had.