The Relative Sizes of Teawares – Asia vs. Western

Sip cup about half the size of typical Western style cup.

In many parts of the world, generally categorized as Western or simply “not part of Asia,” teaware sizes are quite different than many used in Asia. The reason is simple: a very different approach, generally speaking, to enjoying tea.

How the Tea Is Enjoyed

Bagged tea is extremely popular and common in Western (non-Asian) countries around the globe. This innovation led to a couple of things: steeping tea without a teapot, usually by dunking the teabag into a mug of hot water; and grinding tea to a fine dust so that it will be easier to bag and steep up faster and stronger in that mug. It also led folks away from the real enjoyment of tea – of watching tea leaves expand, of infusing them multiple times and getting subtle nuances of flavor and aroma each time, and of connecting with those who make the teas. Also lost is that precious time spent infusing those leaves when you can break away from all the commotion around you for some truly quality “me time” (a bit of a cliché, but very true and so very needed these days). However, you can also steep up these teas (even bagged ones) by the potful for yourself, family, and friends to enjoy. Tea becomes something to have with various foods and drunk in larger amounts.

The Asian way, generally speaking here, is often from whole leaves or somewhat broken leaves. They are steeped for fairly short times in tiny Yixing (eeshing) teapots made of zisha clays, ceramic, or even glass, and gaiwans (steeping bowls) that are usually porcelain, ceramic, or glass. Multiple infusions are common as is a full appreciation of the tea – dry leaves, aroma after infusing, flavors, and the leaves when steeping is done. More times of infusing the same leaves means smaller amounts of liquid being used. Otherwise, you end up with gallons of liquid (well, maybe quarts or pints). Thus the smaller teawares.

Size Comparisons

Typical sizes of various Western (non-Asian) style teawares:

  • Teacups: 4 to 8 ounces
  • Tea mugs: 6 to 12 ounces
  • Teapots: 1 to 10 cups*

* Each cup is assumed to be 8 ounces here.

Typical sizes of various Asian style teawares:

  • Sipping cups: 35-70ml* is typical, with some being 100-170ml
  • Aroma cups: 30-40ml* is typical
  • Gaiwans: 100- 200ml* is pretty typical
  • Yixing clay teapots: 70-225ml* is a normal range, with plenty of examples outside that range

* sizes sometimes given in cc’s, ml’s, or ounces – we stuck with ml, since it seems more common

The Size Factor on Aroma and Flavor

Shapes of tea cups, gaiwans, teapots, and teacups can make a difference in how you perceive the flavors and aromas. Straight-sided aroma cups help funnel the scents to your nose, increasing your perception of the flavors of the tea. The more flared and rounded sides of the tea cups help cool the tea. The teapots are usually wider than they are tall with a squat appearance – the basic shape assures maximum contact of the leaves with the water – and the smaller size makes them more suitable, as earlier stated, for multiple infusions of the leaves. Gaiwans are well rounded and also assure the leaves interact well with the water and can be infused many times. The materials can also make a difference, with many Westerners swearing by porcelain and bone china as the only way to enjoy a nice cup of tea and those who prefer the Asian style preferring those small sipper cups (usually ceramic) for their thin edges and smooth surfaces. The larger Western teapots ensure enough for guests, especially since the tea is usually only infused once.

Just some thoughts and observations for you to keep in mind when using them.

About Janice and Stephen Shelton

Purveyors of Premium Teas
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