Glass tea cups & some teas

I’ve been searching for a nice gaibei/gaiwan (蓋杯/ 蓋碗) for some time now. My tea pots are all far too big for one person, especially for drinking fine teas which should only be consumed in miniscule amounts (partly because of their high caffeine content and very cooling properties, but also in order to savour their delicate tastes). I thought a gaiwanwould be ideal as it can be used for brewing tea as well as drinking milder teas, which can be consumed in larger quantities.

I’ve also always found glass tea utensils to be very pretty as you can see the leaves unfolding and admire the colour of the tea.

These Hario handmade glass items are now on sale in Takashimaya and Istean and I was attracted by their lovely, light, delicate feel. This 85ml fluted gaibei I chose is the cheaper of the two available – S$7.50 (Takashimaya)/S$9 (Isetan & Carrefour) as opposed to the plain glass one at S$23. Oddly enough, in the Hario 2004 catalogue, the fluted cup is 1800¥ and the plain one is 1600¥, so it’s a real steal! I think they are being sold off cheap because they are the last few pieces of a line that’s been discontinued as you can no longer find the fluted items in the 2006 catalogue.

Hario gaibei

The tea shown here is Mitoku brand Mu (無) tea, a blend of sixteen traditional Chinese medicine plants & herbs (in tea bag form), developed by macrobiotic guru, George Ohsawa. The distinctive aroma is pretty powerful, and quite likely to be palatable only to those who are used to drinking Chinese herbal soups and TCM medicinal potions. It’s a potent brew – a tiny shot of this really hits my system! With its pervasive herbal smell, Mu tea is best served in a glass cup like this which won’t absorb the smell. The easiest place to find this Mu (無) tea is at Meidi-ya supermarket at Liang Court, which sells Mitoku products noticeably cheaper than any of the health food shops I’ve been to.

Hario gaibei & cup

In addition to the gaibei, I also bought two tiny matching tea cups (70ml, S$1.90 [Takashimaya]/S$3 [Isetan & Carrefour] each). The 85ml gaibei can brew enough to fill each of the two cups just over half full. The decorative plastic tray is from Daiso (S$2). The fluted decorations give these cups a uniquely retro feel. When he first saw these, my father thought I had dug up some of grandma’s old glassware :).

As glass cups are thin and can be very hot to the touch, they are only suitable for teas which are not brewed with boiling water, i.e. green teas. High quality green teas, such as gyokuro, should be brewed at 50°C-60°C, and everyday green teas at 80°C. Chinese oolong tea, which is a semi-fermented tea, should be brewed at 80°C-90°C. See this temperature chart for Japanese teas.

The tea being served here is Fukujuen brand Japanese gyokuro karigane (to be brewed at 60°C-70°C). Karigane tea is a kind of kukicha as it is the stems and veins of the tea plant, produced as a by-product of either sencha, or in this case, gyokuro. The word ‘karigane’ means ‘wild geese’ because the floating twigs resemble wild geese who rest on the ocean surface with their wings open in the course of their migratory journeys (read more here).

The imagery is so evocative and poetic, and is a reflection of the spirit of tea culture. As my tea appreciation teacher would often say, drinking tea is a way to bring a little window of calmness into our hectic lives. The careful attention we pay to the brewing of the tea and elegant use of the brewing utensils strikes me as being very meditative. To smoothly pour the water from the kettle to the pot, and from the pot to the cups, our hearts must be still and we must focus our concentration on the task at hand.

All the more reason to brew karigane in a glass container to watch the floating wild geese (^_^) …


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