A Cold Day and the Shape of a Bowl of Tea

In the depth of Winter, we can’t help but want to be inside, enjoying the silence, a moment with friends, and nestled-up with a warm bowl of tea. In the tradition of Japanese tea ceremony (茶の湯 chanoyu), 16th century tea master Sen no Rikyu said that “in the Summer suggest coolness, in Winter, warmth”. Beyond the heat of the beverage, this can mean many things. From the positioning of the fire in the tearoom, the transition from the 風炉 furo (lit. “wind brazier”) to 炉 ro (sunken hearth), to even the shape of the teabowl.

In the depths of Winter, one increasingly employs taller, more narrow teabowls, their construction meant to retain the heat of the 抹茶 matcha in what would be a very cold time of year. On the coldest day of the year (usually in January or February), one might employ a 筒茶碗 tsutsu chawan (lit. “tube-shaped teabowl”) or, in my case, a 鉄鉢形茶碗 tetsubachi-nari chawan (iron basin-shapes teabowl). This bowl, with its rounded walls and mottled orange and white complexion I’ve named 柿 “Kaki”, as it resembles a big, round persimmon (a fruit which is dried in Winter and enjoyed dried as a sweet, leathery snack for tea).

As the year transitions from its deep freeze to Spring, Summer and Fall, the shape of the bowl changes. I’ve likened this to the opening of a flower, as teabowls become more and more open, from the 桃型茶碗 momo-gata (“peach shape” teabowl) I might use in Spring, to the wider 平形 hira-gata (flat) or 馬盥 badarai (“horse trough”) teabowls of Summer.

And on the hottest days, even I can’t resist to drink from a rough and misshapen 沓形 kutsu-gata (lit. “clog-shaped”) teabowl (pictured above).

In the Fall, as the world explodes in color and the signs of decay begin to come with the Autumn wind, teabowls once again gold inward, to hold-in the warmth. The sober 楽茶碗 Raku chawan seem to fit this time, as does a repaired 井戸茶碗 Ido chawan (“Ido” Korean-style teabowl) seems to fit this time.

As we enjoy the changes of the year, we can enjoy this in tea as well. Today, on this cold Winter’s day, I offer up this warm bowl of tea.

If you want to learn more about the many shapes of teabowls, the illustration above offers just a glimpse into the diversity of shapes and styles seen throughout the year.


Filed under Ceramics, China, Education, Green Tea, History, Japan, Korea, Matcha, Meditation, Tea, Tea Tasting

6 responses to “A Cold Day and the Shape of a Bowl of Tea

  1. Ellen Best

    Your teaware astounds me.

  2. Gilles Maucout

    hello Scott!

    excellent post indeed!

    and///more than excellent: your way of whipping with your chasen !

    only by looking at the pictures I know the tea will taste so good!

    all your energy is shown there!

    congratulations dear Scott!



    • Just saw this comment Gilles! Lots of practice (and much more to do) can only get the matcha to look this way! It’s delicious when it all comes together! Can’t wait to share and to learn more!

  3. Ross

    Thank you so much for the informative post. Does the mass of the bowl determine the season for use? I have a half-cylinder Hagi chawan, but its walls are quite thin, so I would not think it would be very good in winter. Something more massive would be much better at retaining heat. It is decorated with standing cranes.

    • Thanks for your comment! I love your question. I don’t have an immediate answer (which may inspire a more detailed reply in the form of an upcoming post), as there are a variety of bowls that are used in Winter. As seasons are broken up into two two-week-long 節気 sekki, and again into 5-6 day micro-seasons (候 kō), this can ultimately determine the “ideal” shape and thickness of the bowl. However, as 茶の湯 chanoyu/茶道 sadō also has elements of culture, as well as current and historical “conversations” affecting it, this, too, can determine the “ideal” teabowl. Whether we work within these “ideals” is also up for question and, ultimately, the choices we make that reflect every tea practitioners’ 取り合わせ toriawase.

      The bowl you mention sounds like the 立鶴筒茶碗 tachi-zuru tsutsu-chawan. This particular form tends to be thinner (as many finer 萩焼 Hagi-yaki teabowls can be). Tsutsu-chawan are typically only used in the coldest period of Winter. This occurs around mid-January. With this teabowl shape, thickness of the bowl seems to be secondary to the height of the walls.

      Thickness of the walls tend to be determined more by the potter and possibly the kiln. More “orthodox” Hagi tends to be thinner and lighter. 楽焼 Raku-yaki can be more unctuous but tends to be lighter and not so dense. 備前焼 Bizen-yaki tends to be more dense but can range in thickness. Of course, these differences do help or hinder heat retention. To aide in heat retention (and to “prepare” the bowl to receive hot liquid), we pre-heat the bowl during the preliminary cleansing process (after the 茶筅 chasen is cleansed).

      I’m always happy to further elaborate on these aspects (shape, size, use, etc). As with most things in tea, it’s best to do this in person so you can receive direct experience.

      Again, great question and it sounds like you’re thinking through the ins-and-outs of tea in a critical way!

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