The gaiwan originated in the Ming Dynasty and became popular during the Qing Dynasty in China, although the concept of the bowl/cup and saucer actually first made its appearance as far back as the Tang Dynasty. The bowl is large enough to accommodate tea brewing, yet small enough to be held comfortably for drinking. The gaiwan, which means lidded bowl, consists of a saucer, cup, and lid. Each of the individual components serves a purpose:
- The saucer allows you to hold a cup of hot tea.
- The cup allows you to brew and drink tea.
- The lid allows you to push aside floating tea leaves on the surface of the cup for easy tea enjoyment.
The gaiwan is especially suitable for use with superior spring tea such as Bi Luo Chun, Huangshan Maofeng or Xihu Longjing tea picked before the Pure Brightness Festival. Although one can brew the tea and drink straight from the gaiwan, it is preferable to brew the tea in the gaiwan and then dispense the tea into a serving pitcher (chahai.) From there the tea is poured directly into the aroma cup or tasting cup.