The Perfect Travel Gaiwan

Loose-leaf tea is a bit of a finicky hobby. Unlike the boring old teabag, you can’t just dump a bunch of tea leaves in a cup of boiling water and expect good results. At the very least, you need a way to strain your tea leaves quickly and without burning yourself. Many tea geeks enjoy the use of gaiwans for this purpose — small, lidded cups whose shape and thermal properties make them useful as single-serving teapots.

But what do you do when you travel?

Gaiwans tend to be made of porcelain or clay, so they’re very fragile. Until recently, I assumed I’d just have to make do with makeshift mug-plus-strainer brews when on the road. But a few months ago, I discovered a wonderful product that effectively fixed this problem, as well as several I didn’t even know I had: the Asobu Imperial Beverage Insulated Cup.

Although not marketed as a travel gaiwan, this product is suited almost perfectly to this role. The lid attaches loosely with a rubber seal, allowing for quick removal and keeping the temperature stable. There’s a hook on the back of the lid that can be used as a handy stopper when tilting it back for straining. The mug is vacuum insulated, allowing you to hold it normally even with boiling hot water inside; there’s no need to perform the crazy hand gymnastics you have to use with an ordinary gaiwan. The insulation also ensures that the temperature inside the mug remains very hot throughout the steeping process — hotter, I would imagine, than any other material, as barely any heat radiates out! Because the mug is made from steel, you can throw it in your backpack without worrying about it breaking. And brewing aside, it’s great for public transit: if you have a thermos full of hot tea or coffee, you can slowly sip from this mug without burning your hands.

Sure, it’s a bit ugly, while my porcelain gaiwan is beautiful. But in all honesty, I’ve been reaching for this mug every time I brew my loose-leaf tea. The practical benefits far outweigh the aesthetic concerns.

There are a few issues worth mentioning. The shape is far blobbier than it looks in the marketing photos. The paint is of poor quality and has chipped away from the bottom even with fairly light use; I’d recommend getting the stainless steel model and avoiding the colors. But overall, this mug is an incredibly functional and unique product that, to my knowledge, has no rival on Amazon.


December 26, 2015