“The Mere Chink of Cups and Saucers Tunes the Mind to Happy Repose”

The design and aesthetics of everyday objects has always been fascinating to me. It is no wonder that I enjoy collecting cups and saucers; the endless array of designs, decorative styles, embellishments, colours and shapes. Whether vintage from fifty years ago when it was common to collect the ‘best set of china’ and later pass them on to daughters, nieces and friends. Antique styles if you are fortunate enough to have a relative or friend leave them to you or perhaps collected from antique stores and the odd lucky find at markets and garage sales.

1920’s Shelley Teacup and saucer

Tea and ceramics are inseparable and the shapes of teacups reveal a lot about their age with some shapes including the handle that reflect back to specific periods of production. Each Ceramic or Pottery house has in the past and even today, their own distinctive shaped teacups we automatically associate with that particular brand. So, from this we can work out value if we are interested in antique or even vintage cups and saucers. I am more interested in the history of cup shapes and handles as a design element.

Teacups originally were purely a functional item to drink tea from and were more like a bowl used by the Chinese to drink the first type of tea. It was a thick beverage made from a small cake of ground, roasted tea leaves. More refined tea bowls began to be made in England as porcelain and tea migrated to Europe.

Saucers to match tea cups appeared in the 1700s and used to rest the cup on and pour the tea into, allowing it to cool down more quickly, and could be placed on top of the cup to aid the brewing of the tea. Tea drinkers had been reluctant to put the early tea bowls onto their expensive furniture, so they set them on shallow dishes which had before had been used for pickles, sauces and so the name saucer appeared.

In 1750 a man named -Robert Adams began to design tea sets with handles that were a welcome change for the English ladies who had been burning their delicate fingers on tea bowls. Robert Adams created taller teacups that came with a saucer which the English thought was unique and the The English Tea Service set was born.

Teacups continued to be functional until the 1780s, when they became ornamental and a status symbol. Tea was sipped from beautiful, dainty cups later referred to as teacups. They were hand-painted and produced from then until the 1920s when mass production started, and also coffee drinking began to overtake tea in popularity.

Does the shape and design of your chosen teacup alter the quality or taste of the Tea?

Part of my interest in fine china teacups is in the aesthetics of design. I personally have found when using teacups from my collection that the various qualities of shape and design in different cups or mugs does change and enhance tea drinking as an experience. There was a study done in 2019 that proved this to be true. ( The Influence of Teacup Shape on the Cognitive Perception of Tea, and the Sustainability Value of the Aesthetic and Practical Design of a Teacup Su-Chiu Yang, Li-Hsun Peng, and Li-Chieh Hsu from the Graduate School of Design, National Yunlin University of Science and Technology, Yunlin 64002, Taiwan)

The study showed that the design of a tea-drinking vessel could have an influence on the perception of the taste and scent of the tea.

The causal relationship between teacup design and the taste, bitterness, sweet aftertaste,
astringency, and overall presentation of tea was explored in this study. The study found that the same tea being placed in cups made of the same material but of different designs would not only affect the taste, but also the bitterness, sweet aftertaste, and astringency, which in turn would influence subjects’ perception of the overall presentation of the tea. This proved the important relationship between teacup design and the taste of tea.

That said, there are three main types of teacups we can choose to drink tea from – the classic, the flare and the flute.

The classic teacup shape is the most common shape and is the short, wide teacup They come in a myriad of styles with some being taller, wider, more shallow and some with steep sides or shorter thicker walls. What they all have in common is a design to enhance the texture and mouthfeel of tea from a wide surface area. So these teacups will increase the rate of flow as you lift and tilt the cup to sip. Perfect for velvety rich black teas

The flared teacup shape has a lip or rim that curves outwards and it provides a few functional benefits. The delicate thin walls of a teacup mean the heat reaches our fingers quickly so it’s hot to touch but it also cools down fast. The rim was designed to move part of the teacup away from contact with the hot tea. It creates a space to hold the teacup and not get burnt. The flare also gives a more fine tuned control of how much you sip at once.

The fluted teacup shape has the advantage that the tulip style shape, being tall and cylindrical concentrates the aroma into a smaller area before sending the aroma upwards straight to the olfactory sense.

Within these three main styles are also teacups that are flat on the bottom or on a pedestal or legs and can be plain, scalloped, ribbed, straight or round. The handles are design elements as well, being either angular -popular in the Art Deco period. Or D-shaped, serpentine, ring or curled shapes. Embellishments and decorative features are endless from fruits, flowers, garlands, two toned or monochrome, multi coloured or extravagant gold embellishments that are all applied by hand to white translucent fine bone china and porcelain. In general terms, teacup and saucer shapes vary within a particular brand; Shelley, Royal Albert, Wedgwood, Ansley Minton, Meissin and many more. They have their unique shapes and styles that are named but do not necessarily move from one brand to the other.

In more contemporary teacup and mug design the styles and shapes are often less fussy than previous teacups but certainly the decorative aspects and the range of designs are broad and endless. Sleek, sophisticated, earthy, chunky, minimalist, funny, pastels, brights, photo mugs, scripted, glass, copper, thermal or anything one can think of are available. There is emphasis now on quality tea but in an easy to make more portable fashion. Tea infusers, teabags, tea presses and single serve infusers to go over a mug and lidded mugs are all ways to make tea quickly and easily when time is short.

Size does matter, and although many of us use breakfast cups and large mugs for tea, according to the experts, too large a vessel may diminish our experience of good quality tea. For centuries, the Japanese and Chinese cultures have perfected tea drinking, and both cultures use various styles and sizes of teapots and teacups. In common, though, is the use of tiny teacups- often petite. The thought is that you can experience and taste tea better in small amounts.

And now to the saucer, over the decades teacups have been broken more quickly than saucers so markets, antique shops and garage sales always have saucers available. A British designer Richard Brendon noticed there were thousands of saucers without cups so he decided to reunite them with new cups, and make them useful again. The range is called Brendon’s Reflect line of tea cups.

The saucers are all antiques but the cups in the collection are all new. The premise being that if he designed a simple cup, and gave it a reflective patina, the cup would seamlessly mirror the gorgeous handiwork of the saucers, and look aesthetically unified. The results are stunning and really special.

I wanted the cup to be quiet, and just reflect the pattern

Richard Brendon

The teacups in this innovative range made for the saucers are a “bute shape” designed after the classic Georgian period from 1800 to 1850 and manufactured at Stoke-on-Trent, the historic area of the pottery industry of the UK. During the height of the ceramic industry, 1800-1830 the UK was prosperous and fine bone china sets were designed by the best artists of the day. Also because money was not an issue there was a demand to make teacups and saucers, teapots and tea sets as lavish and beautiful as possible.

Richard Brendon Design

All content Di Baker 2021

Images The first five images Di Baker including the header image

Other Images as cited

Thanks to Fastcompany.com for Richard Brendon images and information