The chawan is a great way to savor your premium, and even your so-so, teas. It’s a small bowl that has no handle, originated in China, and became fairly popular in Japan when it arrived there. The chawan (also called simply a teacup) is featured in chanoyu, the Japanese tea ceremony, but can be used for any tea that you want to enjoy in a way that a mug or more European/Western style teacup just doesn’t provide. So, buying one is a pretty important matter, and choosing the right one can make a real difference in your tea experience.
The chawan has been around for several centuries and has been made in various styles and shapes. The main characteristics are that they are wider than they are tall and have no handle plus a bit of a raised base. Some are made with straight sides while others are more flared out where the top is a lot wider than the bottom. The latter design is good for matcha where you need room for the chasen (tea whisk).
The wider opening helps the tea liquid cool so you can enjoy it more fully. Scorching hot tea will burn your tongue and reduce your ability to enjoy its various flavors and aromas, which seem stronger as that liquid cools. A larger-sized chawan will allow you to pour in enough tea liquid to have it a half inch or so below the rim, so if you like, you can lift the chawan by that rim which will be cooler than the part next to the tea liquid. The base will also be cooler and allows you to hold the cup in your hand that way, although I prefer having something between the chawan and my hand anyway.
Aside from these practical considerations, you need to make some very personal decisions about the aesthetics. Tea being a delight for your senses, you will certainly want a cup that also delights. Dark glazes were considered best centuries ago in Japan since they said that the liquid was light so that the dark glaze set it off visually. These days, though, you can see chawans in a variety of colors and glazes.
We feature several chawans on our store site, including the ones shown above made by potter Rod Haaland. While they are not as traditional in their shape, they are still very practical for those wanting to take their time enjoying that tea.
Another chawan we offer (also simply called a teacup) is the Dragon and Phoenix hand-painted version. The white interior is especially nice for seeing the tea liquid color, unlike the dark glaze on the Japanese chawans of old (and even many made today).
Things to keep in mind when you’re shopping for a chawan.