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Using a gaiwan: how to & hidden meaning (with video)

Using a gaiwan

Using a gaiwan to make tea is one of the most pleasant and rewarding way to enjoy our favourite leaves. There is, however, a little learning curve, before you completely master it. In this post, we will show you some easy rules to correctly handle this three-parted brewing vessel. In the second part, we will explain its symbolic meaning. Finally, a short video made by us, demonstrating how to use it.

Some tips for correctly using a gaiwan

  • Design matters. Before you even start to use it, make sure your gaiwan is well designed. It should feel solid and sturdy in your hands.
  • Know your gaiwan. Some are intended to serve as drinking vessels, as well as brewing vessels. If you use smaller, rounder models, you should only use them as brewing vessels. In that case let your tea into a pitcher, or directly into your cup, just as you would do with a teapot.
  • Pour water the right way. Burning fingers is the most common problem encountered by beginners. The trick is to pour water on one of the sides, where you will not be holding your gaiwan with your fingers. Let the water gently flow from that side. This way, the tea leaves don’t get swirled in all directions and your fingers don’t get splashed.

What does it mean to be using a gaiwan for making tea?

Literally, the word gaiwan (盖碗) means bowl with a cover. However, most gaiwans are made of three parts: the cover, the bowl and the bottom saucer, on which the bowl stands. The popular tradition has since long attributed a meaning to each of this three parts. The bottom symbolizes the earth; the bowl symbolizes a woman or a man; the cover stands for the sky. Together they form the unity of man and nature under the sky (天地人和). In Chinese thought, this is the ultimate harmony and the highest objective to aim at.

Drinking tea in itself is both a calming and focusing activity. Using a gaiwan will help you at this, because a correctly sized gaiwan will not allow you to brew too much tea at once. It will therefore force you to drink your tea one cup at a time, which is the most relaxing way to drink tea.


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