Teacups! They come in so many different shapes and sizes. Growing up in the west, I was always used to drinking tea from giant mugs. And the more absurdly giant the cup was — the better! I still remember like it was yesterday, the day I first tried tea from a tiny teacup, which barely fit in my fingers. It seemed it wasn’t even enough tea for half a sip. However, that half a sip was incomparable to any of the giant tea gulps I’ve had before!
Indeed, it was during a gongfu tea ceremony—my first one. Then, the tea master explained to me that the size of the cup is crucial to the tea tasting experience. When we have one small, concentrated sip of tea, we can focus more on the flavor, receiving everything the brew has to give.
There exist many different styles of teacups used for both the tea ceremony and casual tea drinking. Let’s take a look at each one.
Chinese Tea Ceremony
Gong Fu Tea Cups
In Chinese, these are known as Pinming cups. Teacups used for Gong Fu Cha (the Chinese tea ceremony) can vary significantly in style and material used. In general, I am referring to the small cups used for the tea ceremony. They are usually small, thin, light, and hold anywhere from 20 to 50 ml, which equals to two small sips of tea.
Enjoy with any variety of Chinese loose leaf tea.
In Chinese, these are known as wen xiang bei. As the name suggests, aroma cups are explicitly made for enjoying the delicate scent of tea. It is said that aroma cups were invented specifically to use with Taiwanese teas. To this day, aroma cups are most commonly used when drinking Taiwanese high mountain oolongs, as well as other light oolong varieties.
How To Use Aroma Cups?
After brewing tea, pour it from the Cha Hai into the aroma cup (the narrow and tall one). Cover the aroma cup with the tasting cup (the short and wide one). Pressing both cups together with your index and thumb finger, flip the cups over so that the aroma cup is now on top. Slowly lift the aroma cup, so the tea remains in the tasting cup. Enjoy the scent of the aroma cup before taking a sip of the delicious tea. The aroma cup will open up smells that would normally go unnoticed!
Using the aroma cups may take a few tries to get the hang of. The swiftness of the hand is crucial. It is always fun practicing using the aroma cups.
Enjoy with light oolong teas.
Jianzhan Tea Cups
During the Song Dynasty, Jianzhan tea cups were an integral part of the tea ceremony. For centuries Chinese Jian Zhan teacups were a lost art form. Now they are once again being revived by potters throughout China. What makes these teacups particularly unique for tea drinking is the mineral-rich clay and glaze from which they are made. The best tea to enjoy from these teacups is Chinese green tea. Not only does the glaze look beautiful through the light tea brew, but these cups are also known to smooth and soften some of the more tannic qualities of green tea. (Read more)
Enjoy with Chinese green teas.
Japanese Tea Ceremony
Japanese tea cups are generally larger and sturdier than Chinese tea cups. It is very comfortable to cup your hands around such teacups, in turn receiving their warmth.
From Japanese, “chawan” is literally translated as a tea bowl. Indeed it is one of the most iconic parts of the Japanese matcha tea ceremony, chanoyu. The chawan is used to make and drink matcha from. Compared to the traditional gong fu teacups, a chawan is quite large and wide. This way, we can ensure there is enough space to whisk the matcha properly.
Originally the Chawan came from the Chinese Jian Zhan teacups, which were similar in size and also used for whisking powdered tea during the Song Dynasty. For centuries chawan with tenmoku glaze (originating from Jian Zhan glaze) were the most preferred cups for matcha ceremonies. With the rise of wabi culture, Japanese tea practitioners started preferring simpler and more rugged tea bowls.
Japanese tea bowls are commonly measured by width, with the standard chawan being around 13 cm in width.
Enjoy with matcha green tea powder.
Yunomi teacups are medium-sized teacups ranging anywhere from 90 to 160 ml. Found in almost every Japanese home and eatery, they are the most commonly used teacups in Japan. Unlike the formal chawan, Yunomi cups are used for casual everyday tea drinking.
If you are choosing a teacup of a specific material, the general rule of thumb is:
- Light teas like light oolongs, green teas, and white teas go well with teacups made of porcelain, glass, or glazed teacups.
- Unglazed tea cups like those made of yixing clay pair better with dark teas like dark oolongs, black tea, and pu-erh.