For many Westerners, teacups are sizeable and have handles. That’s why they get surprised to find teaware in other regions, especially Asian region different. From tiny Gongfu cups, which are good for one sip to large Japanese cups without handles. For someone who is used to sizeable western teacups with well-designed handles, handle-less teacups may come as a surprise. How do people even hold these cups without getting burned? Many ask.
However, the truth is that tea ceremonies in the Eastside have its cultural part, and one of the things they uphold is their unique style of teaware.
Among the most popular places where tea is a popular beverage is Japan, and they have their unique teacups called Yunomi. These teacups are ideal for drinking loose lea teas such as Gyokuro or Sencha.
Although these cups do not feature handles, they are different from tea bowls, which are normally used for drinking matcha.
While Japanese tea bowls are wide and short to allow for vigorous whisking of tea, Yunomi teacups are taller than the bowl and not as wide. They have a small, well-defined foot on their base.
These teacups became popular between the 17th and 19th centuries as they were used for drinking Sencha tea. This beverage became popular at that time as it was seen as an alternative to the rigid matcha tea ceremony. These days, Yunomi teacups are available in different variety of designs, shapes, and colors; ranging from the vintage Japanese teacups to the modern handle-less tea cups.
More about Yunomi
Yunomi is one of the most popular Japanese teacups that is made for informal and daily tea drinking. These cups come in different forms and mainly takes cylindrical shape, with their ideal size ranging between 90ml-160ml.
Unlike Chawan, which is used in formal Japanese tea ceremonies, Yunomi cups are for informal, everyday tea drinking. They can take many forms ranging from stoneware, glazed, porcelain, and unglazed teacups.
Different Varieties of Yunomi Teacup Styles
There are many varieties of Yunomi styles, with some dating back to as far back as 16th century. Here are the most common styles of Yunomi;
- Hagi. Originating from the traditional style of pottery among the Koreans, Hagi is a glazed type of stoneware that is preferred by many Japanese. These teacups began to rise in popularity in the 15th century after many Korean were brought to Japan during the pottery war that took place in the late 15th Hagi-style Yunomi teacups, with the milky, white-glazed effect is one of the most famous Japanese teacups in Japan.
- Karatsu. With under-glazed iron painting, these high-fired ceramic teacups were revived by a famous Japanese potter known as Nakazato Muan. This was back in 1895-1985. These cups were losing their popularity after the introduction of porcelain. They are still popular today.
- Shino. This was the first high-fired white glazed teaware in Japan. With iron oxide brush markings from the feldspar, a material used for designing this cup, these teacups are among the most popular in Japan.
- Mashiko. Named after a town outside Tokyo that is better known for its pottery, this style of teacup was simply brown in color thanks to the red glazed clay used to make it. The style of these cups have changed over time, and thus you are most likely to encounter different Mashiko styles in the market.
Other Designs of Japanese Teacups;
There are many different designs of Japanese tea cups in the market, and thus you should be able to find a teacup that suits your needs.
Tourist visiting Japan always purchase Yunomi teacups, and Japanese people give them as gifts on different occasions.
You can find these cups in unique shapes including animal-shaped cups as well as Meoto Yunomi teacups (also called couple teacups as they come in pairs and are addressed as ‘husband’ teacup, which is slightly bigger than the ‘wife’ teacup. Meoto Yunomi are a popular present in weddings in Japan.
Before we talk about how to use a Yunomi cup, let’s talk about two confusing Japanese teacups that many people confuse with Yunomi;
Chawan and Matchawan – how are they different from Yunomi?
In most cases, Japanese people use Japanese teacup (Yunomi) for drinking either Kukicha, Bancha, or Sencha tea on a daily basis.
Chawan is a wide bowl that Japanese people use for drinking matcha tea in many formal Japanese tea ceremonies. It is either cylindrical, half-cylindrical, or conical in shape with curving walls on their bottom part.
This cup is preferred for matcha tea since a bamboo whisk called chasen, which is used in preparing this tea can easily reach all corners of the cup. The chasen is not too heavy and thus doesn’t damage the interior. Chawan is sizeable and fits comfortably in the palm,
On the other hand, Matchawan is defined as a bowl for powdered tea. Many people confuse it with Chawan, with the two terms being used interchangeably more often. However, they are functionally different as one is used to make tea from loose leaves while the other one (Matchawan) is used to make tea from powdered tea leaves.
How Does One Drink Tea from a Yunomi Teacup
Japanese teas are normally served at lower temperatures- they are not served hot as it is the case in the west. For example, Japanese green tea is served at a temperature between 55C and 80C. Since this temperature is low, Yunomi teacup will not burn your hands when you are holding it. In turn, when taking during colder months, you warm your hands by cupping them around the teacup.
For people who are not used to handling cups with no handles, there are a few guidelines you need to keep in mind;
- Avoid filling the cup completely as this may lead to spills. Your cup should be half full for you to handle it comfortably
- Do not pour hot tea in a Yunomi cup to avoid burns
- Do not pick Yunomi cups by the sides as you will get burned. Instead, you should pick up by the rim, with two fingers resting on the foot of the cup and your thumb on the rim. If you don’t fill your cup, the rim and the foot will not be hot for your hands.
In other words, the comfortable way to drink tea from a Yunomi teacup is to cup both hands on it. After picking your cup, hold the base with one hand as the other one hold the sideways. Drink your tea slowly as you savor the aroma and flavor of each sip.
What Teas Should One Drink from a Yunomi teacup
As mentioned earlier, Yunomi teacup was invented to act as teaware for drinking Sencha tea, which replaced matcha tea. However, after many years, Japanese people began drinking matcha tea from Yunomi teacups.
Some of the popular teas you can drink from Yunomi cup include Sencha, high-grade Gyokuro, and genmaicha. However, this is more of Japanese culture. For the rest, you can drink virtually any type of tea from the glazed Yunomi teacup.
How to Buy the Right Yunomi Teacup
When buying Yunomi teacup, ensure that it is well-made and is smooth. Keep in mind that small teacups are for drinking high-grade teas such as Gyokuro and Sencha. Therefore, if you are planning on drinking other teas, get a bigger Japanese teacup.
If you want to admire the color of your tea liquor, get a cup that is white on the inside. If you are considering buying them in a set.
The flavor of any tea depends not only on the brewing process and quality of tea, but also on the size, shape, and thickness of the vessel that is brewed and served in. To ensure that you are enjoying the subtle and excellent flavor of high-grade Japanese tea such as Gyokuro or Sencha, it is better to have a teacup that is thin. And if the interior wall of the teacup is white, you can appreciate the distinct color of different tea varieties.
The ideal size of Yunomi is 90ml to 160ml. In contrast to the large-sized tea mugs, which are preferable for black teas, the small size Yunomi teacups are ideal for high-grade teas such as Sencha tea or green tea since they create a quiet contemplation and a feeling of relaxation.
It is best to choose Yunomi teacup that matches your unique style. Japanese teacups not only help you enjoy the taste and aroma of your tea but also offers an opportunity for you to appreciate art whenever you are drinking tea from it.