As a little teapot, I understand the need for a good teacup or mug. But there are so many that how do you humans choose between them? That choice could make the difference in your level of enjoyment of the tea that I and my cousin teapots around the world do our best to steep perfectly for you. So, of course, we wanted to put up this guide. TOOOT!
Sections in This Guide
|Teacup Styles – Form and Function||More Really BIG Teacups|
Teacup Styles – Form and Function
Form follows function. At least, that’s what a lot of designers, me included, tend to say and follow. It is as true of teacup styles as it is of User Interface Design (my former profession).
First, it might be good to look at what the functions of a teacup are:
- To hold tea
- To drink the tea from
As long as the form is conducive to these functions, then you have a teacup. However, if the form is so fanciful that these functions are not possible (at least, not with fear of physical harm) then you have a teacup that could be merely decoration. Here is one I’ve seen posted a lot online that successfully marries a bit of whimsy in its form and teacup function.
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Some potteries will put a name on their teacup designs. For example, Royal Albert China has shape names like “Avon,” “Corinth,” and “Gainsborough.” See a full list here. You can find other potteries and their shape names here. These shapes are all functional with the added benefit of interesting forms.
When shopping for teacups, keep first in mind the function. If the teacup won’t hold tea well and you can’t drink tea from it, then you had better like it visually as decoration! With so many designs to choose from, you should easily find one that suits you “to a tea.”
The Difference a Teacup Makes
A teacup is a teacup is a teacup — right? Uh, well, to many of us, yes. But to others…
There is that section of the population that observes a vast difference in the flavor of tea when it is sipped daintily from a teacup and saucer made of fine bone china or delicate glass, versus when it is slurped from a thick restaurant-grade mug. My theory (and I have absolutely no scientific evidence for this but plenty of empirical evidence, i.e., personal experience) involves thickness, sound, and lightness.
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The thicker the cup or mug, the more open your mouth has to be, so the less delicate you feel. You also can tend to take in large amounts of tea at a time, making you swallow faster. That means that the tea stays in your mouth a shorter time. As a result, the elements in the tea have less time to stimulate the taste sensors on your tongue. In contrast, the more delicate teacups and saucers don’t require you to open your mouth as wide. This can automatically make you feel like taking things more slowly. Sip. Cup down. Savor. Chat. Repeat.
Then, there is the sound of a teaspoon (a dainty one, of course) against a fine bone china cup or even a delicate glass teacup (they come in various thicknesses) that sets the tone (pun intended) for your teatime. Bone china has a “ring!” to it that regular china does not. It’s one way to verify, when no mark is present on the bottom of the dish, that the item is really bone china.
Next is the matter of light (both as in “weight” and as in “versus dark”) Clear glass teacups are visually light, naturally, since they are transparent. Bone china teacups are translucent (they allow some light to pass through) and so also convey a lightness. Both feel light in the hand, even when brimming with tea. Sipping is definitely a natural when imbibing from such vessels. Heavy china mugs, on the other hand, both look heavy and feel heavy in your hand. They practically beg you to gulp big, full mouthfuls. Shh! You can hear them now: “Go ahead, take a big gulp. Bigger. You call that a gulp?” (Oh, yeah, they tend to be a bit bossy, too.) They convey sturdiness, strength, and a no-nonsense approach to enjoying a hearty cuppa tea.
Tea aficionados know that the teas you steep are suited to different types of steeping vessels (primarily teapots), so why not different drinking vessels? The tea you serve in your fancier teacups could be things like Earl Grey, Jasmine Green, White Eagle Long Life, or a fruity tea like Raspberry Flavored Green Tea. Their more delicate and complex flavors make them great “sipper” teas. The heartier teas go better in those thick mugs. Indian Spice Chai, Borengajuli Estate Assam, or a dark, rich Keemun are good choices. Their bolder flavors make them “gulper” teas.
Maybe I could just develop a split personality. Then, the rough-n-tough side could steep up something like Irish Breakfast and enjoy a mugful. My dainty-flower side could fill an equally dainty teacup with Chai Green, Darjeeling, or Snow Dragon and sip-sip-sip while doing my best to refrain from pinky pointing.
For now, I’ll just flip a coin. Heads: mug. Tails: teacup. Here goes!
Teacup Shapes Compared
Teacup shapes are varied and many. They can be quite mind-boggling, in fact, but a quick comparison will help sort the handy from the not-so-handy, the practical from the impractical, the visually pleasing from the eyesores, and so on. Some folks would probably say that any teacup shape that holds tea is fine. In truth, the shape can have both an aesthetic and a practical side, each of which can affect your tea enjoyment. Let’s start with a couple of handy guides from a couple of well-known potteries. Then, we can look at some other shapes that are common from other makers.
Click on each photo to see details:
Click on each photo to see details:
Just some food for thought for you. Keep it in mind when shopping or when trying to decide which cup to use (it can be very tough sometimes to make a choice).
5 Teacup Styles Explored
Teacups come in a wide array of sizes and shapes. They all have that essential characteristic: being able to hold tea liquid. But from there they cover quite a design spectrum. To keep this down to a manageable size (we’re talking blog article here, not doctoral dissertation), I will limit my coverage here to five teacup styles, based on general design, materials, and period.
Click on each photo to see details:
1 Cups without Handles
These are often called “sipper cups.” They are probably the oldest form of tea cup. To use them properly you need to put two fingers under and your thumb on top of the cup. I use an alternate method where I fill the cup only about two-thirds full so that the top edge remains relatively cool. I can then lift by that edge and sip without scorching my fingertips.
2 Footed Cups
There are two basic versions: feet and pedestals. Either way, they do not serve a really practical purpose. They simply make the teacup seem more delicate and are usually on teacups that are part of cup/saucer sets. More details here.
3 Lidded Cups
These are ceramic usually and have lids made to match the cup. The lid serves two practical purposes: first, if you steep in the cup, the lid will help the tea steep better; second, after steeping the lid will help the tea stay warm longer.
4 Travel Cups
Some are meant for steeping and drinking tea. Others are best for steeping in a teapot and then pouring the tea into the travel cup to keep it warm and from spilling as you drive, jog, etc. Some are overly complicated and therefore of little practical use while others are simple and very utilitarian.
5 Cups Made of Unusual Materials
Leaving out Styrofoam, paper, and even heavy plastic, there are some other materials used to make teacups but much less frequently than the usual porcelain, ceramic, metal, and glass. One is wood, including bamboo. Another is semi-precious stone (onyx, agate, etc.) using a super adhesive to attach spouts, handles, and lid finials.
Whatever cup style you choose, be sure to fill it with a tea worthy of such a vessel. Enjoy!
A Teacup for Every Tea
Some teacups seem to go naturally with certain types of tea. Green tea seems best in a handleless cup, for example, while a hearty English or Irish Breakfast tea isn’t quite the same if not served in a sturdy mug. As I learn more about teas and living the “tea life,” my collection of teacups and mugs grows, along with my bevy of teapots. (All you people out there with a silver teapot, especially if it’s an antique, have my envy. I’ll have one someday!)
Teacups come in an array of shapes and sizes. They are also made from different materials. There’s fine bone china, so delicate that if you hold your cup or saucer up to the light, you can see a glow through it. Glass is another option; I like these for teas such as Keemun, Assam, breakfast blends in which I use milk so, as the milk is slowly added, I can watch the interaction, partly of cold against hot, and partly the heavier, denser “cloud” of milk versus the less dense tea (yes, sometimes I still play with my food). A durable porcelain cup also works well for these teas where milk and possibly sweetener are added; they have an air of delicacy in their design yet give a sturdy feel in the hand, just as the tea seems to fill a void inside as you drink.
Then, there are mugs. What can I say? The variety is seemingly endless, in either porcelain, ceramic, glass, or even some metals (pewter used to be popular). Sizes, shapes, colors, handle size and location, lidded or lidless, and decoration are restricted only by imagination (and certain practical considerations). Brick-and-mortar stores carry limited selections, but online shops seem to offer an infinite variety. Decorations cover holidays, sports, hobbies, professions, humor, and on and on. Small wonder. A nice mug is the quintessential gift. Is a relative having a birthday? Give ’em a mug. Your son or daughter have a favorite teacher? Say “Thanks” with a nice mug. But that’s not the only reason for the popularity of mugs. A mug in the hand, whether filled with coffee, cocoa, or tea, is comforting. It takes away the chill of a Winter’s day, especially after you’ve been outside for hours, raking leaves or shoveling snow. It also fills the hand just right, giving you something homey and solid to hold onto. Just about any of the darker, stronger tasting teas go great in a mug. From hearty PG Tips to Pumpkin Spice Black Tea.
Don’t forget the little handleless cups used in Asian restaurants. Imagine munching on sushi, octopus, dim sum, or other delicacies, and then reaching for a big mug to sip on a delicate Oolong or green tea. Something about this picture doesn’t seem quite right. I just had to have a few of handleless cups at home for when I enjoy one of these teas and an appropriate taste treat.
As for tisanes or a Moroccan mint tea, a tall glass in a silver holder, like the ones seen in the “Poirot” series starring David Suchet in the title role, is for me the definitive container. The style and grace of such vessels sets a teatime tone that says, “Time to pause and enjoy a moment to yourself.”
Time to pick a tea and the right teacup or mug to enjoy it in. Cheers!
Elements of a Stylish Tea Mug Design
A mug is a mug is a mug…or is it? A stylish tea mug will usually have certain elements in its design. Here are a few to look for when selecting the perfect mugs for your special tea parties or even those solo tea moments.
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Body shape, handle design, and pattern on the exterior all combine to make your mug totally stylish. Fill it with your favorite tea and have a wonderful time.
Dunoon Tea Mug Design Classics
Some of my favorite tea mugs are from Dunoon. I have sipped many a hot cuppa with meals or by itself, during stormy weather or clear, in beastly heat or bone-chilling cold. Those mugs have never let me down. Time to check out some of their classic designs and see which you might want for your own collection and tea sipping.
The Dunoon company is based in Staffordshire, UK. It was founded in 1974 and remains a family business that produces high quality bone china mugs. The fine clays used come from Cornwall, S.W. England. They account for the brilliant white, resilient, and somewhat translucent quality of the finished product. A traditional process known as “slip casting” is the only one they use as part of their commitment to the highest manufacturing standards. They use only liquid clay in this process, not machine made. The mugs are fine to the touch, light to hold, and a joy to sip your favorite tea from. From clay to mug, the product is handled by mostly skilled craftsmen and assures that the Dunoon reputation for excellence in pottery making is maintained.
Dunoon tea mugs are sought after as classics. Many have that very recognizable slight curving outward of the upper rim. But others sport shapes that are classics in themselves, as shown in this diagram from the Dunoon Web site:
Ranging from flowers to butterflies and dragonflies to cats and dogs to golf and much more, there is a design for every taste. They are created by an in-house team of talented designers and by gifted freelance artists, many associated with Dunoon for 25 years or more.
Dunoon uses high-quality glazes and prints with keen attention to accurate color reproduction to assure all the detail and rich shades intended by the designer are there on the mugs.
Some true classics (and just outright adorable):
- Clan Tartans Glencoe shape Mug
- Birdlife Henley shape Mug
- Cottage Doorways White Wessex shape Mug
- Know Your Cricket Cairngorm shape Mug
- Pipers Galore Lomond shape Mug
- Dark Cherry Blossom Suffolk shape Mug
- How To Be The Boss Cotswold shape Mug
I wanted to include a picture of each of the above, but time and space here did not allow. Hopefully, you will take time to see each of these for yourselves.
Be sure to check out their special commemorative mugs like this one:
My Dunoon tea mug collection so far:
It started with a Devon shape mug someone gave me as a gift. You know how it goes. You get that freebie. And you’re hooked! Then I started prowling the shops, looking at the bottom of every mug I saw for that “Dunoon” name. And, as you know, with any addiction, stopping is the hard part.
Click on each photo to see details:
Start your collection here and fill those tea mugs with your favorite tasty tea!
5 Reasons You Should Clean Your Tea Cup or Mug Between Uses
There are those among us who are … uh … well … less than fastidious about keeping their teacup or mug clean between uses. Let’s face it — we have busy lives and sometimes we are in situations where such cleaning is not very practical. Hubby used to work in a small office (four people) where their tiny lunch room (actually, a corner of the storage room) had no sink. So, his cup would get a bit crusty and would need to be brought home for a run (or two or three) through the dishwasher that we had then. “Why bother?” you might ask. Several reasons, as you will see below.
1 Minimize Staining
Tea and coffee tend to stain ceramic, enamel (such as on your teeth), and porcelain, especially in any areas that are cracked or where the glazing is thin. I have even had stains build up on stainless steel. Tea stains are a type of tannin stain that build up over time. They cause discoloration and should be removed to ensure a flavorful cup of tea. Common household substances can be used to remove these stains. One method is to use a little baking soda (add a bit of table salt for more scrubbing power) on a damp cloth (dampen the inside of the teacup or mug first), scrubbing, rinsing thoroughly and then washing normally with dish soap.
2 Avoid Cross Flavoring
Those same tannins in the tea build up a residue that can alter the flavor of future cups of tea. This is especially important if you enjoy various flavored teas. If you have cup of Earl Grey tea and then a cup of Holiday Spice tea, your Holiday Spice will taste like Earl Grey. The same is true if the order is reversed. Also, jasmines, mint, and other fairly strongly flavored teas will flavor whatever tea you have in the cup or mug next.
3 Prevent Bacterial Growth
That crusty residue, especially if you put milk in your tea, can end up being a haven for bacteria. Plus your lips leave a residue on the rim of the cup/mug. Of course, if you wash the cup/mug at the office break room sink, avoid that germ-laden sponge or scrub brush. I found that washing with hot water and soap and drying with a paper towel removes most residue and that a weekly washing at home (in the dishwasher and using the dry cycle if possible) will keep the cup fairly germ free.
4 Consideration for Family and Co-Workers
In either your home or workplace, a totally grody cup or mug can cause those around you to become nauseated and even lose their appetites. They might develop the habit of scurrying away whenever you approach carrying that cup/mug or at least averting their gaze away from the offending vessel. They might even designate a corner just for you to enjoy your cuppa without them having to see and imagine the gunk inside that cup/mug. Ugh!
5 Preserve the Cup/Mug for Future Generations
Depending on how special that cup/mug is, you may have thoughts of preserving it for posterity, bequeathing it to a son, daughter, niece, nephew, or some other special person in your life. Passing on to them something grotesquely layered with tea residue is hardly thoughtful!
Well, I hope this has convinced those of you (and you know who you are) who have let their cups/mugs become so unsightly and disgraceful to “clean up your act” for the sake of your tea taste, your health, and those around you.
Getting a Handle on Tea Cups!
Most tea cups have handles, some being more utilitarian than others. The big question is: What makes a good cup handle? Now, you’re probably thinking something obvious like, “One that helps me hold the cup.” Duh, of course! But what is that? Time to take a closer look.
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. I know this is obvious, but if you have children who have brought home their pottery class project mug where the handle isn’t quite committed to the idea of being part of the whole, then you know what I mean. Nothing is more disconcerting than taking hold of the handle of a cup you have filled with a lovely Darjeeling or some perfectly steeped Keemun, raising the handle up to your lips, and finding that — Yikes! — there is no cup! You do one of those cartoonish doubletakes, looking at the handle in your hands and then at the cup “bowl” sitting on the counter, calmly waiting for you to notice this odd state of affairs. Meanwhile, the tea is cooling in the cup. Sigh!
So, you use a cup that you know absolutely and without a shred of doubt has a handle that there is not the slightest possibility of rebellion when that moment of truth comes.
But that’s not enough.
Handles come in a lot of sizes and shapes, some more accommodating than others. What “accommodating” is can depend a lot on you. Fingers are the anatomical feature that interacts with the cup handle most often. They can range from long and bony to stubby to beefy. Handles have to 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” being served at low tables à la “Anna Duchess of Bedford style,” then etiquette says you don’t put your fingertips in the handle but instead grasp the handle between thumb and the first two fingers. Having seen some of those teensy dainty teacups used for such events, you would know why. They almost seem scaled for a young child’s hands.
The final thing to consider here: Do you need a cup with a handle at all? That’s up to you. Some teas seem to be sipped best from a gaiwan or a small handleless cup like they serve your tea to you in at Chinese and Japanese restaurants. Teas like oolongs, green teas, white teas, and pu-erhs. Others, such as a Breakfast Blend or Earl Grey, seem fit for a nice handled teacup. Sometimes a particular mug or cup, with or without a handle, just feels good in your hands. It has the right “heft” (weight and feel), which can be as comforting as the tea in it.
Whichever way you go, remember that pinky pointing is definitely an etiquette no-no. You could put an eye out that way — probably your own!
Does a Paper Cup Really Affect Tea Taste?
Finding myself out and about one day, and being the total Tea Princess that I am, I needed to purchase a cup of tea from a café. The very thought of drinking tea from a paper cup was intimidating but made me wonder. Does a paper cup really affect tea taste?
Let’s take a moment to look at what a paper cup is made of. In this case, we’re talking about the disposable paper coffee cups found in a majority of commercial coffee shops. They are designed to take the heat and hold liquid without leaking. Start with 100% bleached virgin paperboard, that is, the fiber used to make the paper is not recycled and has been bleached with chemicals to remove the natural pigments from the pulp. [Note: It is becoming more common for these paper cups to contain 10% or more recycled material.] To achieve water-tightness, the cups are coated with polyethylene (a synthetic resin that results from the polymerization of ethylene either removed from natural gas or distilled from petroleum).
Hm… not sounding too appetizing, I must confess.
Well, I bravely proceeded to order my cup of tea and selected a flavored one (cinnamon and other spices plus bits of orange rind, a sure guarantee to cover up any paper taste from the cup). To that tea I added milk and sweetener (2 packets since it was a tall cup). A plastic lid was also provided with the cup. Before putting that lid on the cup, I wanted to see how the tea would taste when sipped straight from the paper rim.
I tried a sip. Ouch! Too hot. So I had a seat at one of the café’s tables, watched the other customers coming and going, and patiently waited for the tea to cool a bit.
I tried another sip. The temp was good now, so I took a bigger sip. Bleh!! Definitely getting that paper fiber taste. Shudder! Worse yet, the cinnamon, spices, and orange flavoring in the tea seemed to make the paper taste even more noticeable, not less. Oddly enough, when I put on the plastic lid and sipped, the paper taste was no longer perceptible. Thank goodness!
Unfortunately, even with the plastic lid, the tea was not palatable — way too much flavorings and virtually no tea flavor. So much for experimenting! I ended up chucking the whole thing and starting over with a nice English Breakfast. Very worthwhile. This Tea Princess was at last satisfied to have a decent cuppa, and I kept the plastic lid on to avoid that paper cup taste.
A Game of “Musical Tea Mugs”
Remember the game of “musical chairs”? Well, “musical tea mugs” is sorta like that. Sorta. The difference is there are no chairs. Uh, also there’s no music. Oh, and there are no people — just mugs. And teacups. So, I guess it is rather different. And the more tea mugs and cups you have, the more likely that they will start playing the game all on their own.
Tea is such a big deal in our house that it seems like everything in the kitchen wants in on the action. The first time we noticed this was when the cheese grater was caught sitting in the tea station (actually, inside the tea cozy for our blue 6-cup teapot we call “Betty”). Then, we started finding our teawares holding card games in the wee hours.
Now, we find our tea mugs in distinctly different places in the morning than they were the previous night. (Just in case you’re wondering, neither hubby nor I imbibe “strong drink,” just strong tea. So, there’s no chance of this being some optical illusion.) The game of “musical tea mugs” gets more frantic with every purchase we make of a new mug or teacup (they join in the game almost as soon as we bring them home). Often, they end up in the tea pantry clustered around their favorite teas.
Yes, tea mugs and cups have their favorites. And for every mug and cup there is a particular tea that seems best suited for it. Sipper teas are best in handleless cups and delicate porcelain and bone china cups. Fruity and fragrant Darjeelings, especially First Flush, are reserved for some of my best cups found while foraging in various antique stores. We purchased a couple of small handleless cups that are probably for saki but that work equally well for a pale white tea like Adam’s Peak or a fresh green Sencha. We keep the dainty teacups in the dining room and the small handleless cups on a shelf in the kitchen, so how do they end up snuggled next to the teas they (and we) love?
Our mugs are for the more hearty gulper teas and vary from some more delicate ones to others that are quite clunky. The smaller ones hold a mere 2 or 3 ounces while the largest ones hold a full pint (16 ounces), so when we say we’re going to “hoist a few pints,” we definitely mean tea! Our collection grows with almost every excursion we make beyond the threshold of our house. New designs and older, classic ones beckon. These mugs are partial to Assams, Nilgiris, black Ceylons, black Chinese teas, pu-erhs, and even stronger Oolongs. At least, that’s where we tend to find them in the morning after washing, drying, and putting them in the cupboard. We know as soon as we come in the kitchen and see the pantry door ajar that that game of “musical tea mugs” has been going on again.
I think at this point that hubby and I must concede that our house is now a “tea house” — that is, the teas and teawares are in total control!
Really BIG Tea Mugs and Cups
If you’ve ever experienced empty teacup syndrome, you know the importance of a really BIG tea mug or cup. Some are big enough that, when they’re brimming with tea, you need two hands to bring them steadily to your lips — or you can leave yours sitting on the table or counter and sip from it there. Sluuuurp! These oversized beauties need “gulper” teas to fill them properly and have the flavor last to that final drop!
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You can also grab one of those handled soup bowls and put it to use satisfying your tea need BIG time! You coffee drinkers probably already have oversized and larger-than-usual mugs and cups around. Lend ’em to that tea drinker so he/she can have an extra dose of CTC Assam, Ceylon Black, or even an Oolong. They’re especially great for chai lattés.
No need to skimp on your tea consumption or to run out in the middle of a paragraph. Just use one of those really BIG mugs or cups. Enjoy!
More Really BIG Teacups
Teacup dimensions have quite a wide range. Some are really small and others are rather big. More BIG teacups have popped up online on social media sites, prompting me to do a bit of searching around to see what I missed in my previous article on the subject. Setting aside the cups large enough to hold a person and used for amusement park rides and party attractions and the ones used for business signs (especially appropriate for tea plantations like the bright yellow one shown below), there are plenty of teacups that can really be used for tea and that are quite generously proportioned.
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These huge teacups don’t always get used for tea, even though they could be. Sometimes they are table décor, holding anything from craft and party supplies to a host of treats for nibbling while you and your guests imbibe your tea from more normal sized cups. Others are used as planters, holding profusions of brightly colored geraniums, pansies, or other planter favorites. Sometimes kitties take these over before you can plant anything in them and use them for their 20 hours per day of nap time.
For those of you wishing to have a really BIG cup of tea, though, these cups are the answer, but there are some tips that will help you handle the situation, as follows:
- Don’t steep a sipper tea, go for a gulper tea instead.
- Steep the tea up stronger than usual.
- Add in any milk, sugar, honey, etc., in amounts proportional to the cup volume.
- Wear a bib while drinking.
- Have a friend or family member help you lift the full cup.
- Have lots of “biccies” (Brit for biscuits, which we call “cookies”) handy.
- Be near a restroom.
Are you up for that giant cup of tea? Great! Put that kettle on and start steeping!
What Your Choice of Teacup Says About You
Many of us think of a teacup as just something to hold the tea for us to drink. Others use teacups to read the signs and see what the future holds. And still others think a teacup is an extension of themselves and their personality. Well, that last one is so true. Time to see what your choice of teacup says about you.
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The No-nonsense Teacups
They’re sturdy. They have good-sized handles. They sit firmly on whatever surface you place them on. They can do the job by themselves or with a partner (a saucer). They can go in a dishwasher and a microwave (obviously not at the same time unless you can bend the laws of physics so that the same object can be in two places at the same time). These cups say that to you tea is that take-it-with-you beverage, since you can carry these cups around the house or office and sit them beside whatever you’re working on – craft projects, the computer, putting on a new roof on your house (well, maybe not). Sure, you could use a travel mug instead, but these cups avoid that clunky character many of them have, that “I just got done sweating at the gym” look.
The “Tea Is Really Special to Me” Teacups
They are more delicate in their design but not too delicate. They are bone china or porcelain or a finer quality ceramic. They are best used with their partner saucers. They encourage gentle sipping of the tea. They need to be handled carefully, both when sipping from them, cleaning them, and then carefully putting them away for next time. These cups say that to you tea is an occasion, a reason to stop what you’re doing and really pay attention to that tea, or to enjoy with the book you’re reading, the embroidery project you’re working on, or any other task that is fairly sedentary in nature.
The Pampering Yourself Teacups
They have gold, silver, or even platinum trim. They may have those little feet or a pedestal base. They are the essence of daintiness crafted in bone china that is eggshell thin. The designs on them are often classics evoking a bygone era of palatial sitting rooms or the guest parlor of some country cottage or estate. These cups say that you deserve a bit of luxury at tea time, that you and your guests are worthy of some lavishing, especially at tea time.
So what do your teacups say about you? Mine are having quite a discussion amongst themselves right now, and I’m pretty sure it’s all about me.
The Language of Teacup Design
Teacup designs have a language all their own, and when you learn it, you can enjoy your tea even more! Here is a handy chart (with mostly teacups from my own collection but one or two found online) to serve as your interpreter:
Click on each photo to see details:
Now that you have some idea of what those teacups are saying, listen carefully at tea time. You might hear something very interesting!
The Horror of Lip Marks on Your Teacups
Oh the horror of lip marks on your teacups. But let’s face it, folks, life is messy. When your teacup gets those nasty lip marks on it that never seem to wash off and just keep building up, your life can seem even messier, bordering on total disaster. Lipstick is, of course, a culprit here, as are lip balms. But even when your lips are bare, they can leave residue behind. Bits of skin and oils combined with tea (trying to be delicate, but the truth is a necessity). Improperly cleaning the teacup after imbibing a tasty tea can really exacerbate the problem.
Here’s a way to get rid of even the worst lip marks:
Wash thoroughly after every use to avoid buildup.
Ha! Just kidding, although that’s not a bad idea. When you wash your cup, it can be easy to do a quick job of it. Tea is, after all, just a liquid. You might even be tempted simply to rinse out your teacup. But you must resist. Grab that sponge or dishcloth, get it wet with hot water, and add some dishwashing liquid. Then, commence thoroughly scrubbing that teacup, with careful attention being paid to the rim. Do this after every use of the teacup. It will assure a nice clean taste experience for the next use.
Now, you’re probably thinking, “Geez, why do you feel it necessary to tell us this?” The reason is simple: I am guilty of the horror of lip marks on my teacups and until recently would merely rinse my special teacup (the one I use on a daily basis for that wake-up cuppa and later for that lunch time cuppa, afternoon cuppa, evening cuppa, etc.) after use. Don’t worry, it’s a cup that only I use. The rest of our dishes get the full wash up treatment.
You folks used to having guests in for tea will understand the importance of serving that tea in very clean teacups, free of any lip marks, especially where lipstick is involved. Just be sure to scrub thoroughly after each use (some dishwashing machines don’t quite do the job, so you may have to scrub a bit before putting the cups in the machine). Then your nice clean teacups will be free of that horror and be ready for the next use.
The Demise of the Teacup and Saucer?
Is the teacup and saucer disappearing from our arsenal of potable toters? Do we no longer have time for the more genteel and somewhat slower pace that lifting teacup to lips and setting it gently back down on the saucer practically demands? Or are we just so connected to dunking a teabag in a mug of hot water to make our tea that we have abandoned this emblem of a more civilized life? No idea.
What I do know is the other day in a large housewares store I asked where the teacups and saucers were and was told that they didn’t carry them any longer, that customers just wanted mugs. The store employee then proceeded to show me their wide array of mug choices, and quite an array it was! There were ceramic mugs in a rainbow of colors. Many were plain, but others had a variety of designs or product logos on them. Some had lids. Others had both lids and ceramic infuser baskets. Some had little “addendums” on the side for your spent teabag. Others had a “strainer lip” built in for us loose tea lovers. Some even came with little matching spoons.
Hm… maybe that employee was right! Mugs seemed to be dominating the store shelves. There were teacup/saucer pairs here and there, mostly in boxed sets. But they were rather unappealing overall.
Off I went to another store, one that carried lots of dishes, kitchenwares, etc. Unfortunately, their teacups and saucers were part of dish sets. I didn’t need four dinner plates, four salad/dessert plates, and four soup/cereal bowls along with four teacups and four saucers. In fact, I was only looking for another nice teacup and saucer set to add to my rather eclectic collection.
Thank goodness for online vendors and antiques stores!
Often, online vendors can carry items in stock that those large brick-and-mortar stores cannot. And antiques stores abound with odds and ends — their specialty! My guess is that the teacup and saucer are alive and well, serving their function of making you slow down just a bit, sip your tea a little more leisurely, and feel, even if only for that few moments, totally at peace with the world.
There is something about the ringing sound of teaspoon against bone china that says, “You are no longer a cave dweller.” And the very feel of that saucer in your hand and cup raised to your lips, then lowered and nesting on that saucer, seems to let stress ooze out of your mind and heart. To make things complete, that saucer is a great place to rest a slice of Bakewell’s, a Walker’s shortbread cookie, a McVitie’s digestive, or some equally scrumptious item you baked up from scratch as the perfect tea time treat!
Yes, I’m quite sure that the teacup and saucer have not demised. They are hanging out online and in the antiques stores, waiting for you to decide, “Time to get civilized!”
The Beauty of Sniffing Cups
An important part of enjoying some fine teas is the sniffing cup (also called the “tall cup”). As more interest in fine teas arises, the use of sniffing cups is also on the rise. The main users are those who want to get the most sensory enjoyment from the premium teas they have been drinking for awhile, sometimes even for years. One thing is for sure: you never run out of new experiences with tea!
Why even use one of these sniffing cups? Aroma. While the senses of taste and smell are closely aligned in the human head (just think back to that bad head cold you had where you could neither taste or smell), the aroma and the flavors in the tea liquid can vary quite a bit from the taste. And the shape of the sniffing cup focuses the aroma in the liquid to make it have an even bigger impact than in the sipping cup (also called a “drinking bowl”) where the aroma is not concentrated and also goes up into the air. Some tea drinkers pour first into the sniffing cup, appreciate the aroma of the tea, and then pour the liquid into the sipping cup. Others enjoy them side by side, comparing the aroma in the sniffing cup to the taste in the sipping cup. They can be quite different. While taste and aroma are closely aligned, they are processed differently by our bodies and brains.
Often the sniffing cups and drinking bowls come as sets. The photo above is made of white celadon, a type of ceramic that originated in China, at such kilns as the notable Longquan in the Zhejiang province. Examples of pieces using a celadon glaze were found dating as long ago as 25–220 AD (the Eastern Han Dynasty). The set shown above is super white, similar to the color of Nephrite Jade. They come in other materials, too, including zisha clay and glass.
Enjoy your next fine tea to its fullest by taking in not just the flavor but all the aroma with sniffing cups.
Souvenir Tea Mugs
True and dedicated tea drinkers know that all of those so-called “coffee mugs” out there are really tea mugs. And souvenir tea mugs are the best, so amassing a collection is a natural thing to do for a tea drinker who travels.
When hubby and I met, he had already acquired several very nice souvenir coff… uh, tea mugs. I quickly caught the souvenir tea mug fever, and so our collection has grown, including various representatives of the main types of souvenir mugs:
- Tourist souvenir mugs with the name of a location and/or images
- Company souvenir mugs with the name of the company and/or its logo and/or motto
- Event souvenir mugs such as for a marathon or charity event
In fact, some decades ago mug makers discovered that emblazoning mugs with these various designs was a sure way to sell a lot of mugs. They’re relatively inexpensive and often get used on a daily basis, even if it’s only as a pencil/pen holder or paperweight. Maybe even as an impromptu vase for that bunch of violets the vendor on the corner was selling when you were out walking around on your lunch break.
These mugs come in a variety of shapes and sizes. One of my favorites is made of frosted glass and was purchased at a gift shop when hubby and I visited Seattle, Washington, home of some great tea businesses. Another great one honors Orville and Wilbur (the Wright Brothers) and is a hefty mug in navy blue with gold printing. Every time I sip tea from it, I am inspired to follow my dreams and dare to be bold!
An unusual and pleasing mug is from a place called “Danfords Inn” in Port Jefferson, New York. It’s a little taller and narrower than standard tea mugs and gives an air of delicacy to even a hearty Assam, Ceylon, or Keemun tea. Other tea mugs in our collection are not so much standouts in the world of mugs as they are reminders of milestones in our lives: the Butterfly Pavilion in Denver, Colorado, where hubby and I spent a beautiful afternoon and thrilled to the site of hatching Monarchs; The Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite National Park where we had a wonderful tea time after a lengthy walk along a nearby trail; and Sedona, Arizona, where we stopped on our trip to visit friends.
As you can see, those souvenir tea mugs hold a lot more than tasty tea — they hold memories that stir the heart with each sip. Start your collection of those souvenir coff… uh, tea mugs and keep your memories alive while enjoying your fave tea in them.
Some of the Strangest Teacups You’ll Ever See
Pretty, dainty, sturdy, glass, bone china, porcelain, ceramic, porcelain — no matter what, teacups are usually great for having tea. Sometimes, though, designers go a bit … uh … off center and … uh … get a bit carried away. This results in teacups that are some of the strangest you’ll ever see. (Some are not included here since they’re… well… just too strange.)
A few we found online
Click on each photo to see details:
Quite an array, and there are lots more. Take a moment to seek them out. They could liven up your tea time.
Why Do Some Teacups Have Feet?
Awhile back, a regular reader of this blog asked about teacup designs, having seen some of the articles about teapot styles. That led me to wondering about something that has puzzled tea drinkers like that reader and me for a long time: why do some teacups have feet?
First of all, this is not like that joke “Why do feet smell and noses run?” This is a serious look at teacups that could cut and run at a moment’s notice — oh, wait, it’s not that kind of feet.
When looking into this whole topic, the first thing I discovered was that people used the word “pedestal” and “foot” interchangeably for teacups. But from what I saw, there is a distinct difference.
Teacups were often imported from China along with the tea and were the kind without handles, held by the thumb and forefinger at the lip and base of the cup. But since tea drinkers were usually members of the upper echelons of society, considering the high cost of tea at that time, a less finger-scorching and more refined way of holding the teacup was needed. So, craftsmen in Europe began working on making teacups that could take the heat of the tea and that would have a handle. Silver was the first option explored but since it also retained heat well, the cups could be still be too hot to hold. Porcelain was developed in the late 1600s as a replacement, but care had to be taken not to crack them with the hot tea. Adding a little milk into the cup first was started as a way around this.
Designers made their teacups in styles to match the times. And they also competed to create unique designs for those sophisticated tea drinkers who wanted the perfect teacups to impress their guests and serve as conversation pieces. To add to the height and overall delicate air of teacups while keeping the ideal proportions of wide and shallow for the bowl, these craftsmen had to think fast. Something added to the cup’s bottom was seen as a better alternative to making the cup bowl taller. (Generally, teacups are best when they have a wider, shorter body, as the examples shown above do.) Pedestals were one solution and were an extension of the normal base of the cup. Little feet were the other solution; there were sometimes three and sometimes four. These were added on by the potter and were more prone to breaking off during use. The hybrid design is basically a pedestal with broader feet.
You can find teacups with pedestals, feet, and a hybrid of both in antique stores but also made new. The dainty air of these cups keeps them eternally popular. Add a few to your collection. Then, when you hear that pitter patter of little feet, it might just be your teacups!
Click on each photo to see details:
3 Things to Look for When Buying a Chawan (Tea Bowl)
The chawan was in fashion, out of fashion, and is now back in fashion here in the West (Europe and North America). All over the course of a mere three or four centuries. If you’re thinking of buying one or more, there are some things to consider first. Actually, three things top my list of what to look for when buying that chawan.
First, some basic info. A chawan is a small bowl (no handle) used for sipping tea. When tea first came to Europe such small bowls and handleless sipper cups came with it. Tea being enjoyed mainly by the very rich (due to the high cost and risk of bringing the tea to them), they sought a more genteel (and less finger scorching) way of imbibing that wonderful tea liquid. Ceramists in Europe were able to figure out how to attach a handle that would stay cool and attached to the cup all at once. From that point, the chawans and sipper cups were passed over in favor of these new-fangled cups. Today, though, with teas like matcha and the gongfu style of tea steeping gaining in popularity, the chawan is becoming more popular.
Click on each photo to see details:
1 Basic shape
Some chawans are too tall and narrow and shaped more like a sipper cup. They need to be shorter and wider. Some are too straight-sided for my taste versus having a more flared out shape. This is not just a matter of appearance but of practicality since the more flared design is better at allowing a slight cooling of the tea liquid 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. Some of the shape is determined by which tea you will be having in it. A matcha chawan, for example, needs room for that chasen (tea whisk).
2 Good size
No handle. So you’re going to be holding your chawan either cupped in your hand (if it’s cool enough or if you have fingers made of asbestos), with a small cloth under it like in chanoyu, or by the rim which is my usual method. One good reason to have a chawan that is large enough for you to pour enough tea for a good bit of sipping and yet have the liquid low enough so that you can hold it by the rim.
3 Aesthetic qualities
Let’s face it, tea is a sensory experience. The aroma of the dry tea leaves, no matter what form they are in, draws us in. Then of the steeped liquid where the aroma and flavor are closely linked. And the sight of both dry leaves, liquid, and steeped leaves can add to that experience. The teawares are just as important in these respects, a fact that is evident based solely on the endless designs of teapots, teacups, tea boats, and more, that are available. Chawan glazes centuries ago were often dark in color since the lighter tea liquid was supposed to show best against it. I, however, prefer a white interior so that I can see the true liquid color, part of that sensory experience with tea. And luckily today you can find plenty like that.
More Articles on This Topic
- Liberty Cups and the 4th of July!
- The World Is a Tea Party Presents: Your Guide to Tea Steeping Vessels
- Tea and Whiskers
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