Prior to the Ming dynasty (1368–1644), tea was normally consumed from the vessel in which it was prepared. As described by the tea master Lu Yu, this special bowl had to be large enough to accommodate the implements and actions of tea brewing, though compact enough to be held comfortably in the hands for consumption. The term for this versatile piece of equipment was chawan (茶碗; lit. "tea bowl"). It was during the Ming dynasty that the innovations in both tea ritual and tea preparation gave rise to the gaiwan. The gaiwan of today are generally smaller and more leaves are used in brewing.
The gaiwan is considered by many tea connoisseurs [weasel words] to be the preferred method for brewing teas with delicate flavors and aromas, such as green tea and white tea, although without the lid in these cases. The versatility of the gaiwan is also noted in the preparation of oolong infusions because of this particular tea's ability to be infused multiple times, but the gaiwan is suitable for any type of tea. The gaiwan is important in tea tasting due to its open and glazed surfaces: the former allows the tea to be viewed while brewing, and the latter prevents altering of the flavour and aroma of the tea during brewing. The gaiwan consists of a saucer, bowl, and lid. The lid allows the tea to be infused right in the bowl and either be drunk right from the bowl (traditionally using the lid to block the leaves for ease of consumption), or decanted into another container. The gaiwan itself can be made from a variety of materials, including porcelain and glass. Gaiwans made from Yixing clay or jade are particularly prized by collectors of tea paraphernalia.
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