Awhile ago, we wrote about some tricks for using a gaiwan. One of the things we didn’t include, because quite frankly it seemed too obvious, was keeping the lid on the gaiwan during steeping. Amazingly, though, some folks are surprised at the need to do this. What is causing this confusion? The plethora of photos online showing gaiwans with the lids off and tea leaves supposedly steeping. The assumption is that this is how it’s done. Not quite. Time to clarify.
There are actually two good reasons to keep that gaiwan lid on: 1) to keep some of the heat in; and 2) to keep some of that great aroma in until it’s time to enjoy it. The lid is also great for keeping those tea leaves in the bowl when you pour – well, most of them anyway.
Keeping in the Heat
Many of you are probably thinking: “How much heat can be lost during those brief steep times?” Good point. Sometimes the steeps are 10, 15, 20 seconds. Not a lot of heat lost there – right? Sure. But longer steeps will incur some heat loss. Some think this is good and avoids “cooking” the leaves. Others think that a drop in temperature will fail to get the flavors out of the leaves. From personal experience, we can say that keeping the heat in is best and can shorten the steeping time a bit.
Hoarding that Aroma
Yes, hoarding. Keep that aroma under the gaiwan lid until it’s ready to be enjoyed. The lid is a dome and holds air in place over the liquid and leaves. The steam will rise off the water into that air space. Minute drops will attach to the underside of the lid. When you lift that lid at the end of the steeping time, take a whiff to get that aroma burst. Then, put the lid back on the gaiwan bowl to strain the leaves when pouring.
Get the most from your fine teas. Gaiwans are a great way to do that, if used properly. One caution: they can get hot to the touch, so handle carefully.