“Yunomi” is a Japanese tea cup. Unlike European style tea cups, Yunomi does not have a handle. On some formal occasions, the wooden saucer called “Chataku” is used, but in many cases, Yunomi does not have a saucer either. Another difference is that most of Yunomi cups are made thicker than the European style tea cups.
Why doesn’t Yunomi have a handle or saucer? And why made thicker? To know these, I would like to look up the history of Yunomi and the European style tea cup.
Yunomi is a short form of “Yunomi Jawan”. Jawan comes from “Chawan” which nowadays means a rice bawl but the literal meaning is a tea bowl. Originally the tea bowl was imported to Japan from China in the 8th century. Tea bowls were used for drinking tea in everyday life but also used for tea ceremonies.
Different to the everyday use, the tea bowls used for tea ceremonies became fancy as appreciating the tea bowl has been one of the procedures of the tea ceremony. Specifically, the person to whom the tea is served should drink the tea first and then hold the bowl with both hands and feel the bowl surface. Also he or she has to look at the bowl and appreciate the design. Through these cultural practices, the tea bowl which does not have a handle or saucer has become the common tea cup in Japan.
An advantage of using a handle-less cup is that you can feel the temperature of the cup to make sure that the tea is not too hot to drink. In fact, while black tea is made with boiling water, the Japanese tea is made with warm to hot water of which temperature is relatively low, between 40℃ and 85 ℃, so the drinker can easily hold Yunomi with hands. On top of it, most of Yunomis have thicker walls, and therefore it is not so difficult to hold directly. On the other hand, you sometimes misjudge about the temperature of the tea served in the European style tea cup, as you can feel it before drinking. This can lead to burning your lips and tongue.
As for European style tea cups, its original form also came from China. Before that, the silver shallow bawl called porringer was used in Europe. However, silver was a very valuable substance in those days, and gradually silver porringer was replaced with ceramic cups imported from China and Japan. At first, Europeans accepted oriental tea cups that did not have a handle and saucer, but they started thinking that drinking tea by holding the cup did not look elegant and thus added a handle. They also thought a saucer would make the cup more elegant, so they arranged a saucer as well.