The Difference a Teacup Makes

A teacup is a teacup is a teacup — right? Uh, well, to many of us, yes. But to others of us…

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.

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 Bohemian Raspberry. 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!

Don’t forget to check out A.C.’s blog, Tea Time with A.C. Cargill!

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