Today’s “In Cup” post is actually about the cup itself. Since, like most, I spend most of my waking hours at work I tend to do much of my tea drinking there. I have tried all manner of approach to good tea at my desk, and many have worked well but always had a drawback or two. I’ve gone from three piece ceramic tea brewing mugs (which were a pain to clean), to People’s Brew Baskets in regular white coffee mugs (again a pain to clean and wear out/break quickly), and a few other failed experiments in between… but I never seriously thought of using a gaiwan at work. I always thought them too fragile. I was dead wrong. While I wouldn’t bring a very high-end gaiwan, I have only had one incident in two years, a nice regular quality $10-20 gaiwan is perfect. I’ve been using a very inexpensive one I bought at Kam Man in NYC for about a buck or two for almost all of those two years daily. Here she is:
I had initially thought them to be a bit clunky and formal but the great folks at Rec.Food.Drink.Tea (Usenet group) finally wore me down, and I’m glad they did. I quickly realized that the lack of a basket/infuser meant one less thing to clean which was perfect for work. Except for my one slip up while drying one out at the sink at work where I spent a good half hour cleaning up ceramic shards, they are extremely capable and resistant to the occasional flub. A good rinse and wipe out can keep one in service for some time before taking it home for a full cleaning.
I tailor my teas to the water cooler/heater temps in my office rather than add another piece to the equation for hotter temps. I’m lucky in that we have two water coolers with two different temps so I have some variety. Greens, some oolongs, and yellows do very well and that is fine with me. I enjoy the more serious teas when I can relax and put forth the proper effort at home. I get between 130 and 175 degrees and in between by going to the hotter one and letting it cool to the desired temp. Bi Lo Chun, Huang Shan Yellow, and occasionally a Shui Xian I have that responds well to 175 degrees are my mainstays, but any and all of my work teas get brewed in this manner in my gaiwan. It takes some trial and error but totally worth it. I had used a Hot Shot personal water heater to get hotter temps, but I’ve given it up and just go with what works.
The smaller size is perfect for work since I find I can actually get through the whole cup without being called away for some reason and coming back to ruined tea. I can make multiple infusions or change up teas in the course of a day with no fuss. The only downside is having to explain it to coworkers, but even that can be a good chance to open a dialog.