Tea bowls are a testament not only to the history of tea drinking, but to the popularity of the ritual throughout Asia. The many shapes all tell a story of their place of origin, point of popularity in time, and of special-use attributes. Of course, a tea bowl is also a very personal choice, reflecting a tea drinker’s particular preferences.
A Brief History of Tea Bowls in Japan
Many of the tea bowl shapes known today are borrowed from various Asian tablewares, a phenomenon that coincided with the dissemination of tea from China to neighboring regions. In Japanese tea tradition, tea bowls are called chawan. Chawan are not only drinking vessels but are also used as whisking bowls to combine matcha and water.
Japan is one of the oldest producers of pottery in the world, dating back to the Neolithic period (10,000 - 300 BCE). Furthermore, Japanese pottery is set apart from ceramics of other regions by the high regard the craft holds within the country’s artistic tradition. Three aesthetic currents characterize most Japanese pottery. For one, there is the tradition of very simple and roughly finished pottery which is usually hand-shaped. Chawan made in this style reflect the principle of wabi-sabi, an aesthetic that appreciates the beauty of the imperfect, unfinished, and ephemeral, and is closely associated with Zen Buddhism. One widely known example is raku ware, dating back to the 16th century. A second aesthetic tradition is heavily influenced by Chinese ceramics and is highly finished and colorfully glazed. A third is more closely related to Korean styles of pottery. These are simple and humble but perfectly formed bowls.
A Bowl for Every Day
When choosing a chawan for personal use or as a gift, the variety of traditional shapes might seem a bit overwhelming. Luckily, every shape of chawan has its own particular attributes reflected in the design. The hatazori-gata for example, has an outward curved lip that makes drinking from the bowl easy and enjoyable. However, this shape makes whisking a bit more difficult as tea is prone to splash out due to the curvature. A tsutsu-gata is a popular winter chawan. It is more narrow and tall, preserving the heat of matcha better than other shapes. On the other hand, the hira-gata is a summer chawan with a wide shallow shape helping to cool the matcha while whisking.
Matchaful’s Artisan-Made Tea Bowls
At Matchaful we work with female artisans who create small batches of tea bowls exclusively for us. Each collaboration is a reflection of Matchaful’s values and the unique style of the artist.
Japanese ceramist Kai Fukunaga creates the rustic yet refined ‘Polygon’ and ‘Vertical Stripe’ chawan from iron-rich red clay at the BKLYN Clay studio in Brooklyn, NY. The white and black ‘Seighaia’ bowls are made by Manhattan-based ceramist Julie Hadley and feature our signature wave pattern. Oregon-based ceramic artist Nicki Kriara makes our ever popular ‘Kintsugi’ bowl inspired by the Japanese tradition of artistic pottery repair that elevates the ordinary to be extraordinary.
The Kai Fukunaga Whisking Bowl
At our cafés, we use whisking bowls with convenient pouring spouts to prepare the matcha before we add it to our latte creations. We love using these larger bowls for extra dense froth and for the step of care and contemplation they add to our ritual.
We partnered with Japanese ceramist Kai Fukunaga and the Team at BKLYN Clay to create unique whisking bowls exclusively available at Matchaful. The spherical inside shape and super smooth glaze provide an optimal surface area and texture for whisking and the pronounced pouring spout ensures you are serving your matcha without a mess.
The connection between ceramics and tea is as old as the ritual of preparing and drinking tea. While the simple daily routine—or elaborate ceremony—connects millions of people in a meditative ritual, the unique personality of every single tea drinker is reflected in the unique drinking vessel they choose.