Why Do Chinese Teacups Have No Handle?

HomeTeawareWhy Do Chinese Teacups Have No Handle?

Last Updated on 07/29/2020 by Desmond

Some tea lovers may ever be confused: Why do the British teacups have a handle, and Chinese teacups do not? And what makes them got a different design?

The Develop Of Chinese Teacups

In the past, the wine got a higher position no matter east or west than tea, and most people prefer wine. So, there is no special ware for tea, and people use the wine set instead of: a big and flat dish. For wine typically is cool, so it does not need handles to avoid the burning fingers problem.

At first, people use a big wine dish for having tea
At first, people use a big wine dish for having tea

Till the Tang Dynasty, tea culture became popular, the special teawares just for tea come. At that time, green tea was the trend, people put the loose tea in a tea bowl, triturate them into powder, and add water for drinking. Yes, that is the way of making matcha, tea also transmission to Japan during the Tang Dynasty, and Japanese still having tea in this way till now. 

As we know, brewing green tea does not need to use high-temperature water, so the tea bowl still not need a handle design. But some people are afraid to burn fingers, so they will use a saucer to hold the tea bowl, which is the rudiment of Gaiwan.

Related ReadingUsing A Gaiwan For Brewing Tea.

The Chinese Gaiwan
The Chinese Gaiwan

The time came in the Song Dynasty, more and more people fall in love with tea. In folk, there was a custom called “Tea Battle,” about who can stir up the much and the most enduring tea foam. So at this time, the tea bowl became higher and a bigger opening; it got a named called “Tea Zhan.” Almost the same time, people found the Kaolin, which can produce the harder porcelain teaware.

Related ReadingDifferent Between Pottery And Porcelain.

Tea Zhan, higher and smaller opening
Tea Zhan, higher and smaller opening

Gradually, people thought to drink tea in this way was too complicated, so they turned to use a teapot for brewing tea when Ming Dynasty. This much close to the modern style. But, the trend at that time was using a small teapot for brewing. Therefore, the Tea Zhan must be smaller correspondingly, or else one teapot just only to serve one bowl, that will be awkward. Finally, the Chinese teacups came.

Related ReadingHow To Pick Suitable Chinese Teacup.

Why Chinese Teacups Have No Handle Design

In fact, some kinds of Chinese teacups also have a handle design. But Chinese tea lovers thought it was not necessary. Because there is a tea saucer for help to avoid burning fingers. Even use hot water to pre-heat the cups, a set of teaware called Tea Art Six Gentlemen can help you. So in the development of Chinese teacups, from a flat dish to a high bowl, then finally to a small cup, the handle design has never been the trend. 3 reasons may be:

  1. Unaesthetic. In traditional Chinese aesthetics, symmetry is important, this is about the balance in philosophy. So the Gaiwan, Tea Zhan, and teacups, all of them will not use the asymmetric design like the British cups. Even though some kinds with handles, they also got two to get the balance.
  2. Easy for placing. In the Chinese tea ceremony, people used to put all the teawares on a tea tray. If the teacups got handles, it would take more space, not convenience for placing and can not storage in a stack up way.
  3. Can not feel the temperature by touching. When we using the Chinese teacups, we typically hold its opening edge with fingers or hold the body. You can easy to feel how hot it is and see whether it is suitable for drinking. You may say if there is a handle, you can hold it up easily and blow a breath on the tea to cool it down. Guys, that will be rude in the Chinese tea ceremony.

Why Do British Teacups Have Handle

Both tea and teawares were transmissions from China to Europe and became popular all over the world. What makes the style between teacups different?

In fact, the teacups that merchants brought back to Europe were also with no handles at the beginning. Even though that was not suitable for their lifestyle, it is easy to stack up and make more space for transportation. And Europeans didn’t know how to produce ceramics at that time, so the ceramics teaware was very popular in the European nobles.

Related ReadingEvolution Of The Black Tea Teaware In Europe.

Joseph Van Aken  (Antwerp-born British painter, c.1699‑1749) An English Family at Tea 1725
Joseph Van Aken (Antwerp-born British painter, c.1699‑1749) An English Family at Tea 1725

But the problem was, the merchants could not distinguish teacups, Gaiwan, and Tea Zhan. The tea saucer, which was for solving the burning fingers problem, didn’t be taken in the buying list. And they also didn’t know how to use the Chinese teawares in the right way. As a result, European made a mistake, they took the Gaiwan as teacup for use, and took a bigger dish instead of the tea saucer.

Due to the Gaiwan has no handle, people have to hold it with two hands alternately, avoid to get burn. Even they used to pour the tea into the dish for cooling down, then sipping(Russians still using this way having tea now. Read more here.) So, in English, there is a saying, “Having a dish of tea.”

Later, the nobles thought having tea in this way is so inelegant. Till the 18th century, they got the skill of how to fire ceramics. Since that, the British teacups with handle came in nature, and love by European at soon. Finally, the European can have tea in grace way.

The final British porcelain teacup with handle
The final British porcelain teacup with handle
Desmond
Just a tea lover. Like to try different types of tea. Do not matter if the brewing is perfect, only enjoy the various charming taste.

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