There is a scene from a famous movie about California wine country that has always stuck with me. One of the characters is a wine nut, he lives and breathes the stuff. And throughout the movie he talks about this amazing wine he has been saving for a very special occasion. Near the end of the movie they cut to a scene where he is depressed, eating fast food and drinking this wine out of a Styrofoam cup.
I remember thinking that this guy must really be in the pits. But not only that, I remember feeling so horribly bad for this poor fellow. How bad must he feel about his life to drink an amazing wine from a Styrofoam cup?
But recently I realized that people do things like this all the time with tea. For some reason, most will insist on having a wine glass but will settle for tea in a coffee mug or even a (gulp) Styrofoam cup. This is a double standard that needs to be explored.
Why the material of your teacup matters
While your teacup may seem like a personal preference, there are three really important things that will make a difference in how your tea tastes and how practical the teacup is.
The inside of the cup needs to be as smooth as possible
The reason for this is a little bit scientific so I am going to give the bare bones version. If the inside surface of the teacup is porous (as in it has a lot of pores) it will absorb and retain different flavors and aromas. But, if the inside of the cup is not porous, those same flavors will remain in the tea and the aroma will escape out the top of the cup.
When it comes to tasting tea, or anything for that matter, your nose is actually more important than your tongue. You literally taste food and drinks with your sense of smell (this is a different topic that I will delve into at a later date). So letting the flavors and aromas escape from your cup will definitely make your tea taste better and the best way to do this is by having a really smooth inside of your teacup.
The lip needs to be thin
Let’s go back to our wine analogy. If you look at any wine glass you will notice the rim is almost razor thin. The reason for this is it allows the liquid to roll off the end of the glass and onto your tongue in a nice smooth manner. Tea is the same way. You want to have a teacup with a thin lip that is tapered at the end. This way the tea will glide onto your tongue giving your taste buds maximum exposure. And, if you want to test this, try taking a drink of water from a ladle compared to a teaspoon. The difference is significant.
Your teacup needs to be practical
It would be great if we could all wake up in the morning and use an 18th Century piece of antique teaware. But, when it comes to everyday use, we need something that will be convenient and easy to clean. This is why I always use cups that will not burn my fingers for my everyday teacup. The best way to do this is to find a cup with a nice handle or some type of silicone cover that allows you to hold the cup without burning your hands. And as far as easy to clean, just make sure they are dishwasher proof.
So, what is the best material for a teacup?
First, let’s rule out some popular styles of teacups
Stoneware – This is what coffee mugs are made of. While durable, they are not good because they are porous and their lip is too thick. Unless you find a stoneware teacup made specifically for tea this is not good for flavor
Glass – They are super smooth and durable, but because glass teacups have to deal with a lot of heat, their lip is almost always too thick. Not a bad option
Styrofoam – Just kidding
That leaves us with porcelain
Porcelain is king because it is ridiculously smooth, most have a fantastic lip because they are thin and they make all teas taste their best. Just be sure to find a teacup that will be durable enough because some porcelain can actually be too thin and will easily break
Don’t be they person drinking a $400 bottle of wine out of a Styrofoam cup. A nice teacup will enhance your tea drinking experience in ways you would never imagine. If you pick a porcelain one, they can last a long time, long enough to even pass them down from generation to generation.