Does teacup size matter?

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Fri Jan 12, 2018 12:05 pm

This week, Ricardo Caicedo published an interesting blog in which he offers 5 reasons why drinking tea from small cups is better than drinking from a mug ( ... small-cups.) For my part, I've been using a mug for over 25 years (when drinking tea alone - not with others) and would argue that it's really the size of the brewing pot and the manner of steeping that matter (I use pots under 200 ml and I recognize that that's still pretty large for some.)

What are your views?
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Fri Jan 12, 2018 1:56 pm

I learned a good lesson recently visiting a friend who would only let me use those big Ikea mugs, totally muted the aromatics and thereby the enjoyment of a high quality Oriental Beauty. The kind of clay and glaze used in cups is a big contributing factor as to how it will perform with tea, along with shape, size and wall thickness. Smaller cups allow for more immediate transport of aromatic compounds. My favorite cups at the moment are very thin porcelain Seifu Yohei IV cups, functionally around 60ml, so larger than normal Japanese cups. Aromatics are transported perfectly and thin porcelain cools tea really well also. I also love using Akira Satake yunomi that is much larger and thicker, functionally around 150ml. This cup is great in the winter with roasted oolongs, warms the hands cooling the tea nicely, and captures aroma swirling it around nicely. I also have new smaller almost paper thin porcelain Japanese cups functionally at 40ml; these cups are great for smaller more focused infusions and when sharing.

Of all my teaware cups are the most changeable accessory, similar to clothing; whatever suits the mood, the tea, and the occasion. Cups are an important part of the overall aesthetic experience of drinking tea, they can elevate the moment to even higher more refined levels.

3 cups L1000639.jpg
3 cups L1000639.jpg (430.74 KiB) Viewed 3074 times
Right to Left; Seifu Yohei IV 60ml porcelain cup, Akira Satake 150ml yunomi, Japanese porcelain 40ml cup
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Sat Jan 13, 2018 10:36 am

I too am in the habit of drinking from mugs and believe that the quality of the ingredients and the skill/method of preparation are the most important factors while the other elements like brewing and drinking vessels are secondary and mostly based on aesthetic and size considerations for me. Even while brewing in smaller vessels, I often combine multiple steeps into a mug.

However, all that is mainly for daily drinking teas (Indian & Chinese - I haven't really drunk anything else). When brewing higher end Chinese teas, I always prepare them gong fu in about 100 ml or smaller vessels and drink in small cups - mainly in order to taste the individual steeps separately.
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Sat Jan 13, 2018 2:11 pm

Victoria wrote:
Fri Jan 12, 2018 1:56 pm
That Seifu Yohei cup looks really nice. :)
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Sat Jan 13, 2018 4:59 pm

I have used many different size and material cups for testing out the effects.... Just try it... Brew your tea the same way as always.. Get a few different cups and you will see that every cup makes a slight change... I use different cups to best suit different teas...

Best to try yourself... And see
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Sun Jan 14, 2018 1:25 am

Cups do make a huge difference: I think a big part of the difference is thermal properties a la teapots. Thicker-walled cups will be more muting and thinner walled cups will accentuate aroma. I tend to use larger cups for pu erh and 15-35ml for oolong tea.
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Sun Jan 14, 2018 1:48 am

Shape is also an important factor, the way our lips interact with them, the way the cool or keep the liquid warm, some are designed to keep small particles from being ingested, lots of things to consider.

Some glazes are outright unpleasant to drink from, the standard washed a 1000 times in a dishwasher mug comes to mind...
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Sun Jan 14, 2018 1:50 am

Size more in the way that a liquid from a small cup makes it seem more precious and we might subconsciously pay more attention to it and appreciate it more as a bottomless cup ;)
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Sun Jan 14, 2018 2:04 am

I’ve tried many different cups and some different materials. I definitely have preferences but I am stumped by why there are such considerable differences.

Regarding materials, I avoid unglazed clay, preferring porcelain to glass. I get a sharp, almost galvanic feeling on my lips when I drink hot tea from glass cups. I don’t get this sensation from porcelain. It is an obvious sensation but I can’t explain it.

The experience of drinking tea from a cha hai or mug is very different than drinking the same tea from a 30-40 ml cup. The tea is plenty aromatic but the flavor is weaker unless I slurp. I tend to gulp from mugs and slurp from small cups. Slurping probably helps with retronasal olfaction, which is the biggest contributor to flavor. The mug will have plenty of aroma from the orthonasal olfaction. This is probably why there seems to be, for me, more aroma in one and more flavor in another.

Strangest of all— teas that usually make me chazui after a few small cups, don’t make me chazui from a mug. All other parameters being the same. I am thoroughly baffled by this and feel uneasy even admitting it.

The shape matters as well. I tend to favor tulip-shaped cups for both the nose and flavor.

Because of all of the above: I drink from small cups for teas I intend to focus on; I use larger cups or yunomi for tea I intend to get comfort from as I work or do some other distracting activity.
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Sun Jan 14, 2018 6:05 am

Maybe we can summarize and simplify this answer as convenience versus quality?

One of the best advantages of brewing gongfu style is that it uses less water and smaller cups, helping to brew and drink tea while it's still hot. The aroma of hot tea is much superior to cool tea and multiple steeps can reveal a complexity found in high-quality teas. While I don't mind drinking cold tea, I would always prefer the hot tea experience, and particularly so with premium productions which are processed specifically with hot drinking in mind. It may be considered a 'waste' to brew premium leaves to be consumed in a large mug - although I've done this and enjoyed it, just not as much as a proper gongfu session.

While a well-prepared mug of tea will exhibit good aroma to start with, it's rare to enjoy the whole mug's worth of tea at a similar temperature. Of course, some people prefer to drink large gulps and for that reason dislike small cups, which is reasonable for personal preferences.
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Sun Jan 14, 2018 11:35 am

Baisao wrote:
Sun Jan 14, 2018 2:04 am
Because of all of the above: I drink from small cups for teas I intend to focus on; I use larger cups or yunomi for tea I intend to get comfort from as I work or do some other distracting activity.
I agree with you - it is principally a matter of what one is focusing upon. Yet when i drink from my mug, it never contains more than 200 ml as I don't stack steeps. I do spend a lot of time running to the kettle though.

By the way, my mug is porcelain and, for a mug, relatively thin walled.
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Wed Feb 07, 2018 4:25 pm

Ditto. I use yunomi/larger cups (and correspondingly larger pots) if I'm just brewing casually, for something to drink while working or reading. Smaller pots and cups come into play when I really want to sit down and enjoy my tea (and am willing to take the time to set up the pot, etc, so that I don't have to run back and forth to the kitchen for more hot water!)
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Thu Feb 08, 2018 10:05 am

I use larger cups when I'm
not sticking close to the tea table while drinking
prepping matcha
infusion grandpa style
drinking teas that don't change much infusion to infusion (some shu puerhs, some deeper roast oolongs)
I just want to enjoy a particular large cup/bowl

I use smaller cups for
gongfu sessions
dan cong oolongs
sheng puerh
I just want to enjoy a particular cup/bowl

It is lovely to have a variety to choose from to suit the tea, mood, and practical requirements of the day...

This morning, my Tsuen gyokuro is being enjoyed from one of the new Mukuhara Kashun bowls, a quite large bowl dwarfing my very small left handed Shimizu Ken kyusu, because I just wanted to enjoy this cup again.
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Sat Mar 31, 2018 12:27 pm

The size, shape and thickness of the cup definitely have an effect on taste and aroma. (I suspect that the ability of a vessel to shape a tea's aroma is why we have such a different experience with "taste".)

It's fun sometimes to brew a tea, pour it into 3 or 4 different vessels, and taste for yourself what the difference is.

But the sensory experience has to play a part too, doesn't it? If a cup is exquisite to look at, it's bound to improve your experience. I know that a "corset" teacup's main claim to fame (aside from its idiotic beauty) is the comparatively huge amount of surface area at the top, which makes the tea cool down faster. But when I drink from one, it just feels more elegant. Same with the tactile experience: some cups or bowls are unbelievably enjoyable to cradle in your hands, or they seem to caress the lips.

Well, I'm not telling saying anything you don't already know :)

Anyway, this conversation reminds me of a statement by -- I think it was John Gauntner, the guru of sake, but it could also have been Robert Yellin. He said that the taste of sake changes depending on the shape and thickness of the cup edge that you drink from. It will be perceived as more or less sweet, more or less intense, etc. I have a chawan-shaped guinomi by Sasaki Tadashi that has a "yamamichi-bon" (mountain path) rim of varying thickness, so I tested this out. It's absolutely true... and that's one thing that makes it a great cup to drink sake from.
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Sat Mar 31, 2018 3:50 pm

While I don’t have any specific reasons for it, I prefer to drink from teacups around 40mL, it just feels right to me.
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