Introduction to Rituals: Demystifying the Gaiwan
This blog post is part of our Voices of PARU series in which PARU Tea-m members share their personal experiences and curiosities regarding their tea journeys.
When you think of ritual in the context of tea, what do you usually picture? Do you see matcha being prepared in traditional Japanese tea ceremonies? Or do you see fancy teapots and pastries?
When I asked my fellow PARU Tea-m members what ritual looks like to them, one responded that they pictured preparing matcha in the comfort of their own home while another said it looked like sharing a cup of tea with loved ones. Ritual looks different from person to person, but I think at its core, it’s about offering your time and attention—and this is especially true for tea.
For me, ritual looks like preparing oolong tea in a gaiwan.
A gaiwan is a traditional tea vessel from China but is used throughout the world to prepare tea. The literal translation of gaiwan is “lidded bowl,” and it comprises a bowl, a lid, and a saucer.
Before I incorporated a gaiwan into my setup, my way of preparing tea consisted of boiling water on a stove and leaving oolong tea bags in my mug. I remember sifting through Korean, Chinese, and Japanese tea brands at my local H-Mart, thinking I knew what was best and going with the cheapest option. Then I made quite the jump—intimidating even—but one that I don’t regret taking.
And for me, this jump came in the form of signing up for a “Gaiwan Workshop for Beginners” right here at PARU! Signing up, I had no idea what to expect. The session was intimate with only a handful of people in attendance. Amy Truong, one of PARU’s founders, exhibited different ways of holding and using a porcelain gaiwan. Then, it was our turn to try it out. Almost immediately after attending, I learned not only how easy it was to use a gaiwan, but I also developed a greater appreciation for tea and the whole ritual aspect of it, which I did not anticipate.
If you are just getting into tea, the idea of incorporating a gaiwan into your everyday routine can be daunting. I remember when I first saw it, I thought, “Oh man, is this even something I’m allowed to use?” In retrospect, I am glad I delved further into using this vessel and the practice of gong fu cha.
“Gong fu cha” means “making tea with skill,” and though I’m just scratching the surface when it comes to my tea knowledge, I admit that I feel quite cool pouring tea for customers with a gaiwan when we’re doing samples. I’m able to show them how simple it is to use one and the exact steps I take when preparing tea at home.
If you’re interested in incorporating a gaiwan into your daily routine, PARU has a few things to help jumpstart your experience. The Daily Gaiwan is what I use, but the Chenpi Gaiwan, which we released recently, will make a cute addition to any home. Other cute but equally practical additions include our PARU Pal tea pets, which not only provide companionship during tea time, but they can also work to bring different forms of good luck. The Glass Fairness Cup, or gong dao bei, allows you to pour the tea from the gaiwan into a separate glass for ease of pouring, admiring the color of the liquor, and an even steep for everyone tasting. The final piece I’d recommend adding to anyone just getting into gong fu cha is the tea tray. Made of bamboo, the tray acts as the perfect vessel for catching any excess tea and water. Once everything is laid out on the tray, it forces you to focus only on the objects in front of you. Over time, there are many other accessories and resources you can explore to expand your skills and presentation.
For many of us, it’s not uncommon to adopt a very “go-go-go” type of mentality, where we feel that there are not enough hours in the day and that the list of tasks we have yet to complete is never-ending. Liana Sayer, the director of the Maryland Time Use Laboratory, says that “many Americans … feel shorter on time today than [Americans] did several decades ago."
While tea won’t magically increase the hours we have in a day, setting time aside definitely forces you to slow down and really take in the moment, which I love. And adding a gaiwan into that experience truly solidifies this as a ritual for me. From pre-heating my gaiwan and fairness cup before I use them to taking in the aroma of the teas after each steep, this time that I have created for tea grounds me in the moment and makes me focus on the task at hand—making this cup of tea. And while this might sound ridiculous, being able to step away from all the happenings of the world for this brief moment is true bliss.
So while this is what “ritual” looks like and means to me, perhaps for you, ritual is something entirely different. And that’s completely fine! I just hope my experience helps spark your curiosity and reminds you that even though there will be parts of tea culture that you might not be accustomed to, it’s always worth exploring further. Who knows? Your views on tea can change and your ritual might grow and evolve with it, just like mine have.
Pre-heating a gong fu cha set at PARU La Jolla
Filling a porcelain gaiwan with Honey Orchid (Mi Lan Xiang) Oolong tea, sourced from Guangdong, China
Rinsing the tea to wake the leaves
Pouring tea from gaiwan to fairness cup
Nourishing Inviting Cat with a rinse of tea prior to the first steep
Gazing at the beautiful liquor from the first full steep
Evenly distributing the tea into tasting cups so that customers can have a taste
All photos by jon osio lardizabal