Friday, April 22, 2011

Aroma Cups

Drinking tea engages all of the senses -- each sensory dimension adds a shade of meaning to the tea’s individual character. The color, aroma, and mouth feel help create an in depth portrait of the tea. To this end, Gong Fu teacups are designed to fulfill specific sensory functions; the cups’ size and shape enhance various sensory characteristics. In general, the taller of the two is the aroma cup and the shorter, wider rimmed cup is intended for drinking. Tall and cylindrical, the aroma cup holds the scent in denser concentration. The cup’s high walls protect the scent, and the sharper interior edges at the base further heighten the aroma. It seems puzzling that the aroma sticks to porcelain, but a deep inhale will invariably penetrate the soul, leaving an imprint of the particular tea and of the moment itself. Another key consideration when drinking tea in urban areas, and thus for many residents of Taiwan, is that the scent of tea connects people with nature.

The drinking cup has a wider brim. This makes it more conducive to viewing the tea’s color and viscosity. It is also easier and more functional to drink from. The wide brim, shape of the rim, and depth of its pitch all have different effects on the experience of tea. This duo has gone in and out of style in Taiwan over the years, and there are many ways to use the two cups together to present the tea in a harmonious manner. One method involves filling the aroma cup with hot tea, placing the drinking cup atop the aroma cup to act as a lid, and forming a seal. Then, holding both cups together with both hands, the cups are lifted high in the air, rotated, and placed in front of the guest with the drinking cup on the bottom. The tea can be served to the guests in this manner and the host need never touch the rim of the guest’s cup. The guest can then follow the host’s lead and pull the aroma cup from the drinking cup. This movement breaks the seal and releases the brilliantly colored tea into the drinking cup.  The aroma cup’s contents are gone, but it is full of brilliant aroma. Sniff the aroma cup, by inhaling deeply through the nose. The aroma can be very impressive and alluring, but it can also tell us a great deal about the tea.  

Another, more minimalist way to serve tea in this fashion, is simply to heat the drinking and aroma cups and then to provide the guest with the preheated drinking cup and serve the aroma cup with tea. The guest can then, following the host’s lead, pour the oolong tea into the drinking cup. I like this toned down version because it is easy to do, thus making the tea service accessible. By emphasizing function rather than form, this method creates elegance through minimization.

A third, more flashy, and skill intensive method involves setting up like the first method, with the drinking cup atop the aroma cup, which is full of tea. Then, a fluid rolling motion is created by cupping the drinking cup in between the fingers of one hand. This gives creates the impression that the pair of cups is being rolled over the table. When done right, it looks easy, but this serving method is difficult and may take a great deal of practice. It is best to practice when guests are not present until the movements can be accomplished fluidly and without spilling tea so as not to detract from the overall quality of the tea service.

Whichever method you choose, aroma cups prove to be a fun tea tool and invite experimentation. They unveil the tea’s scent and its deeper essence in an enlightening manner, filling the mind with vivid imagery and sensory memories evoked by the aroma.