This blog is meant to be informative, and sometimes it is also my personal musings. My recent article about chawans, teacups, and mugs was a bit of both. And it stirred up some interest and controversy, both of which are very welcome here. In fact, my thanks go to two astute readers for pointing out some things that I had not considered:
- Chawans are used by a lot of folks strictly for whisking up matcha, not for sipping other fine teas.
- Handles on cups and mugs is, at least these days, not such a tricky business (for a talented potter or ceramist, although some amateurs make it really seem that way, and it certainly seems tricky to me!).
Chawans – Not Just for Matcha?
I gave serious consideration to that one reader’s comment about chawans being just for matcha and have to say, after some additional research, that no they are not. There are chawans made specifically for matcha, but chawan is a more general term and means “tea bowl” or “tea cup.” (Considering that many translate the Chinese term for the tea liquid as “tea soup,” this translation of chawan as “tea bowl” makes perfect sense.)
A bit more info about chawans:
- Basic shape – will depend on the intended use, with the ones designed for matcha having higher sides so you don’t slop water and powdered green tea all over when whisking it; those intended for sipping the infused tea need to be short and wide, as opposed to the tall, narrow aroma sniffer cups, for sipping.
- Various sizes – a wide variety here, with the ones designed for matcha being larger so there is room for a chasen (a special whisk, usually made of bamboo) but not much wider than it; sipper chawans will be anything from the tiny white ones that I find perfect for aromatic oolongs like the Dancong ones on my online store to larger ones like this Chinese Ancient Four Beauties set of four (120ml cap. each); smaller cups are best for a gongfu session of multiple short steeps where you are sipping the tea, but a slightly larger cup is good for darker roasted oolongs and fine black teas and ripe (shu, cooked) pu-erhs where you fill the cup about halfway and have the top part stay cool as you sip – but that is part of my musings here since this has been my personal experience.
Handles on Cups and Mugs
A handled cup has two basic parts: a body (“bowl”) that holds the liquid and from which you drink, and a handle that you grasp to lift the cup without burning your fingers (the “bowl” often heats up when you pour your hot beverage in it). The first criteria for a cup handle is that it stays attached to the “bowl” when you try to use it. This is what seems tricky to me. The bowl needs to be dried enough for the potter to pick it up without destroying the shape, and the spots where the handle is to be attached needs to be wetted and scored so that the softer, damper clay of the handle will adhere. That handle clay needs to be dried enough not to droop when you set that cup down after attaching that handle. To you experienced potters, it’s no doubt a simple task, but to me it seems almost miraculous.
Handles come in a lot of sizes and shapes, some more accommodating than others. What “accommodating” is can depend a lot on you. Fingers range from long and bony to stubby to beefy. Handles should have enough room in their “loop” for at least one of your fingers and ideally two fingers. If you are attending a proper “afternoon tea,” etiquette says you grasp the handle between thumb and the first two fingers instead of putting your fingertips in the handle. A good thing since some of those teensy dainty teacups seem scaled for a young child’s hands.
My Musings Done, Your Thoughts Welcome
Hope this clarifies some things. But of course you are welcome to add in your comments and thoughts here, especially if I’ve missed any salient points.
Thanks for reading.