A Gaiwan, 盖碗 in Chinese, means bowl with a lid, which is basically what it is if you include a small saucer. What it does is prepare tea.
I decided to make one for myself, because I’d have to order it off Amazon if I didn’t, as there is very little interest in loose-leaf tea in the UK. You will be thought very fancy if you even recognise that tea has types beyond English Breakfast, Pigi Tips, Earl Grey, and “just tea”. As in: “What kind of tea is that?” “Tea.”
Generally you would use a gaiwan to prepare loose-leaf green or oolong teas (Chinese 乌龙, black dragon… for some reason. It means semi-fermented tea, somewhere midway between green tea and black tea). You put the leaves in the bowl, pour hot-but-not-boiling water inside, close the lid, wait about a minute. This makes the tea. The interesting bit is pouring it – you don’t just drink it out of the gaiwan, there is a dedicated bowl for that. Instead, you shift the lid a bit, keep it on, take the gaiwan in one hand (the thumb resting on the lid’s knob), and pour the tea into the bowl between the lid and the lip of the gaiwan. Simple enough, but takes practice, and what wouldn’t a proper poser do for a semblance of skill?
Usually, there is a 茶盘, brewing tray, under it. It’s essentially a wooden box with holes in the top, collecting spilled liquid in a metal pan of sorts to be poured into the drain later. If that’s not enough to prevent you from sloppily pouring your tea all over the table and beyond, soiling your art history notes or precious double monkstraps, there is always the saucer under the gaiwan bowl.
The tray and drinking bowl will have to wait. I’m going to make the gaiwan first, hoping that the gods will not strike me down for not drinking my fancy tea out of the proper bowl and that I won’t spill it all over my laptop.