Teaware: The Cup
I gathered a usual porcelain gongfu cup that is one of my staple drinking tools, a thicker mold-cast porcelain cup for retail tea service, a fine glazed Yixing cup, and a cheap ceramic cup, all around the same size, for the tasting. A medium quality classic style Phoenix oolong, a Pu’er and a White Peony were infused according to a standard from a gaiwan and even out in a chahai before decanting to the cups.
The Taste Effect
The cheap ceramic cup spoiled the tea. The mold-cast porcelain was okay but pale against the others. The teas were maximized with the other three, but were actually rendered quite differently. The wine cup made them sweeter and softer, the Yixing one gave the most body and the porcelain accentuated the high notes.
We gave a lot of theories as to how this could happen that day. As a matter of fact, it has always been known that different cups should be used in different drinking in traditional Chinese culture. Up to now, however, I have not been able to find any real scientific explanations on these traditions and theories. What will be listed here is totally empirical and I leave the job of theorizing and scientific studies to the right people.
Before going into the gongfu cups, let’s first discuss everybody’s daily teacups.
Conventional Tea Cups
Gongfu Cups and Traditional Chinese Designs
Now back to the little tasting experiment I did with my tea fan. Please note: not all expensive ceramic cups are good. If you do not have enough time (and money) to go about getting all those fancy you to experiment with, stick to the safer, cheaper white porcelain. I know you would say that I am boring (or cheap), but hey, the true adventure should be in the tea and the teamaking! There are so many designs even in white porcelain anyway; getting the good ones within this limitation needs some work already. On the other hand, if you do have the resources, there really are a vast, fine, and reasonably priced range of cups under this category which are both collectibles and highly usable drinking tools. I, for one, used to be quite crazy about this.
The Chinese and the Japanese has a very long history with tea and same for teacups. The ware is not only a utilitarian tool with high degree of sophistication, but also a very personal and affectionate item with cultural, social, and political dimensions. Its making reflects the material culture and the collective aspiration of the time. I shall discuss more about this topic in later writings.
An effective capacity of a cup is the actual liquid that you would put in without making it difficult to handle and causing spills. A cup that contains 150 ml (5 oz) when filled to half an inch (about 15 mm) below the rim usually has a measurable capacity of about 200 to 250 ml (8~8.5 oz).
Double-walled mould cast Yixing with over-glaze
Celadon glaze over Yixing biscuit
Bone china in magnolia shape
High chrome tenmoku glazed stoneware
Hand-thrown Yixing clay, rested on 'Duan' stone.
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