In the Western World, when one hears the word, “tea cup,” the first thing that comes to mind is that of the porcelain variety. One that looks, frankly, like me! But when it comes to tea, as you travel around the world, you’ll see that the word “tea cup” looks rather different depending on where you are.
In Japan, you’ll see ceramic tea bowls being used in the traditional Japanese tea ceremony. Many of the prized tea bowls are crafted by artisans who use specific materials from one geographic region. It is believed that a beautifully crafted vessel can enhance the flavor of the tea and the joy of drinking it.
In parts of India, chai is still served in the traditional red, unglazed, clay cups. These small cups (until recently, they were the norm throughout the country) are a single use vessel. Once the chai is consumed, the cups are discarded on the ground, out a train window, down a river bank. When the rains come, the cups disintegrate and they turn back into India’s red earth. An economical and ecological use of local resources!
Since the 18th century in Russia, tea has been commonly served in drinking glasses in a Podstakannik, or metal tea glass holder. These practical holders allow people to drink hot beverages from their common drinking glasses and also provide additional stability – especially on the Russian trains. (I can vouch for how slippery those dining car tables are!)
In North Africa, traditional mint tea is prepared in the tea pot and then poured from nearly standing height into small glass cups, aerating the tea and creating a bit of a froth that almost resembles beer foam! The tea glasses may be clear or bright and colorful.
In Argentina, where yerba mate is the herbal tisane of choice, the “tea” is served in a gourd or gourd shaped cup and the tea is sipped through a metal straw, or bombilla.
Regardless of your vessel of choice, tea can bridge class, culture, status and state. It brings people together and is a luxury all can afford.
What is your tea cup of choice?