Posted in Kafevend Blog
Following our blog all about teabags the other week, we started to wonder about the role of the mug. Just as the teabag gradually came to replace loose leaf tea in our everyday lives, so the mug became more and more prevalent at the expense of the cup and saucer. We generally expect to use a cup and saucer on a visit to a tearoom, but generally just on special occasions at home.
So do our lives really revolve around mugs these days? Let's look at the evidence... Teabags are perfectly designed to brew tea in a mug, whether they're the round ones from Tetley that fit so neatly inside, or PG Tips pyramids that allow more space for the tea leaves to move around. Then there are mug trees, the storage device that means there's a handy mug collective by the kettle! Most supermarkets have a tempting range of mugs in their homeware department and then there are mugs for special occasions, mugs for teachers, mugs for golfers, mugs for mums and dads. You name it, there'll be a mug to accommodate it, like a more practical version of a greetings card. It made us wonder: when exactly did the mug become the most popular drinking receptacle for tea?
Tea's longest tradition lies in East Asia. In the tea ceremonies of China, Japan and Korea a tea bowl is used, not only to prepare the tea, but also to serve it to guests. The tea bowl, or chawan, has no handle. In summertime shallower bowls are often used, in order to cool the tea more quickly and by contrast, deeper bowls come into play on cold winter days when you want to keep the tea hot for as long as possible.
When tea first made an appearance in Britain during the latter half of the 1600s it would have been sipped from Chinese porcelain tea bowls that had been imported along with the tea. This continued as standard practice into the 1700s, but by the latter half of the century British inventors such as Josiah Spode had devised bone china. More resilient than porcelain, bone china was a big hit and so too was the new teacup with its higher sides and convenient handle. Saucers were soon part of the scene too, useful for saving surfaces from spills and as a holder for the teaspoon. They served a further purpose too, and sometimes still do, as a drinking receptacle themselves. Tea can be poured into the saucer to cool it more quickly if you're in a hurry, but best not try this one if you're a little on the clumsy side!
Cups and saucers continued to play a prominent role in British domestic life right through the 1800s and for a large swathe of the 1900s too, but the convenience of the teabag gradually won us over and inevitably the mug became the best match for the teabag. Rather than making a pot of tea and pouring yourself a couple of cups, why not cut to the chase and brew your drink in a decent sized mug? By the 1980s we were making half of our tea this way and the balance continued to tip towards the mug and teabag approach until by the end of the twentieth century we were drinking almost all of our tea this way.
Fashions tend to go around in circles though and unsurprisingly, with the renewed interest in high quality loose leaf teas, so too has come a resurgence in popularity for serving this type of tea in cups and saucers. Trade in vintage porcelain and bone china is strong and if you're trying out a new loose leaf, why not make an occasion of it? However, we feel confident that the mug will stay close to our hearts, particularly in our hectic day to day lives when a quickly brewed mug of tea is worth its weight in gold!