Wednesday, August 8, 2012

On Cups

Are there particular styles of teacups that are better suited for drinking particular types of tea? Probably... but it would no doubt vary from person to person, tea to tea, and even day to day.

Usually, I try not to dwell on which cup I'm going to use when I brew my tea. The first teacup that comes to mind will very likely be the best choice. Besides, there are so many other variables involved in tea brewing that it's better, for me anyways, just to go into autopilot and get the job done. That being said, once in a while, if I'm drinking a very special tea, or I'm serving tea for a formal tasting or class, or if I'm just feeling extra indecisive, I'll start to give this gigantic subject some more consideration. Perhaps more than it even deserves.

Teacups come in so many sizes, styles and materials and I, for better or for worse, have many cups to choose from. Today I spent some time examining my favorite teacups and pondering the reasons I like them and the teas I normally pour into them. Here's what I came up with.

I will usually choose...

Teacups made in the same country as the tea I'm drinking.

Handled cups, such as mugs or porcelain cup-and-saucer-sets for strong black teas and masala chai.

Thin, delicate cups for lighter oolongs or green teas.

I love...

Porcelain cups with flared out rims because they feel so nice on my lips.

Small cylindrical cups because they feel so nice in my hands.

Finding good teacups at thrift stores.

Using rustic, handmade, pottery (especially for drinking roasted oolongs, aged oolongs, and puer teas).

I typically do not like...

Tiny teacups. Small is fine, but in my opinion, less than 50 ml is just a tease (pun unavoidable).

Glass cups (with the exception of tall water glasses or mason jars for drinking Chinese green teas.)

Cups with dark colored interiors.

I'm amused by, but not interested in owning...

Mass produced teacups with cats, flowers or Mr. T printed on them.

After all this pontificating I think I should state that I'm really not very picky when it comes to teacups and I will gladly drink out of whatever cup my host chooses to serve me with. These are just some of the personal biases I have developed over the past decade. How do my biases compare to your own?


Alanna said...

Love this post! I never thought much about cup choice, but it does deserve some examination, and made for an interesting and amusing post.

Alex Zorach said...

I never really thought about Mr. T being printed on a tea cup. That's rather amusing though.

I most like drinking tea from a mug, or from small teacups like the standard size served in most Chinese restaurants, but I don't like the shape / type of cup served in these restaurants.

When using small teacups, I like the rim to be flared outward rather than going straight up, because if it's flared outward, the rim will be cooler to the touch and I can fill the cup mostly full but still comfortably pick it up by the rim when the tea is still hot.

When using large mugs, I like the mug to be thick enough that it becomes warm, but not uncomfortably hot, so I can hold it in the winter and warm up my hand without burning myself.

I also have a rather odd teacup which is Japanese and modern, and it is rather tall and cylindrical. I actually find it is quite good for drinking tea from, and results in a different sort of experience.

Anonymous said...

I agree for the most part. I have slowly migrated to using ceramic vessels, particularly yixing, regularly. I am also very fond of Japanese matcha ceremony cups, beautiful and larger format. I do not believe it necessary to have a particular cup for particular teas, like wine, unless it is tied to a cultural tradition. For example, when I am evaluating Chinese tea, I prefer to use a traditional yixing set with white enamel interior and narrow receiving vessel for aromatic evaluation prior to pouring into standard tasting vessel. That said, once I have established the baseline "traditional" tea character, I love experimenting with different temperatures of water and duration of infusion. Any cup will do at that point, but my favorite is Japanese tea ceremony tasting cup for general consumption...yixing for a more reflective mood. I find those tiny fine clay vessels act as a quiet reminder that life is better in the moment when we can maintain that awareness.