Gaiwan is Chinese for covered bowl. Gai - is cover while Wan is bowl. Interestingly, the Japanese tea bowl is known as Chawan. Chinese tea cups or bowls do not have the characteristic of a western teacup where there is a handle for you to hold and lift the teacup when drinking. The chinese tea bowl is more multi purpose in its use and the tea bowl can be as large as 10 inch diameter across. I believed such large tea bowls are also used for drinking chinese herbal brews.
The 1st pix shows 3 different covered tea bowls. The white one on the right is the traditional gaiwan used in chinese tea. This versatile gaiwan is also used for brewing chinese tea. You will observed, from my earlier blogs with videos (27 april 2009 & 24 april 2010) demonstrates the brewing of pu erh using gaiwans. A plain white gaiwan is inexpensive and is a good way to start a tea hobby. In fact many expert tea users I know use a simple plain white gaiwan to brew their teas. Gaiwan have the advantage over clay teapots, in that the tea will not be affected by the clay teapot. A seasoned teapot may influence the taste of a tea. Many tea experts will attest to the theory that a well seasoned teapot may enhanced the flavor of a tea brew. Using a porcelain gaiwan to taste test a tea, is the preferred method of brewing a tea prior to a tea purchase. Moreover, the tea leaves used may be examined with ease than peering into a clay teapot. It is a practice to use a white gaiwan of approximately 150-200 ml when tea testing a brew. You can normally buy a nicely decorated gaiwan for under us$10.
Gaiwan's principle purpose was to keep the bowl covered. This is to keep the contents from dust or other contaminants. A covered tea bowl will also keep the tea warm and not cool too fast. The Japanese gaiwan (the middle on in the 1st pix) has a larger cover than the bowl that the cover 'drapes' over the cup. I had purchased this antique cup in Tokyo some years ago. You would not be able to brew tea as easily than the chinese gaiwan.
The third 'gaiwan' in the 1st pix (the one on the left), to me does not qualify as a gaiwan. This is an improvisation where a spout is created for easy pouring of tea into teacups. Scott of Yunnan Sourcing labelled this gaiwan as 'easy gaiwan'. This tea brewing gaiwan is much easier on the hand. Let me explain..... When you pour out tea using the traditional gaiwan, the hot steam or heat coming out from the tea, while pouring and holding the cover over the bowl with one hand(see video), may be unbearable and accidents may occur. This 'easy gaiwan' will eliminate this problem and makes brewing of tea much easier. This gaiwan has a scallop shaped rim and the cover has a stylized plant handle. The gaiwan came with a removable filter. The last pix shows another 'easy gaiwan', this time with illustrations and a poem about drinking 7 cups of tea on the exterior of the gaiwan.