THE ART OF CHAWAN
Chawan are fascinating bowls made of traditional ceramics and used to drink tea, usually matcha, which have come to us from Japan.
The Japanese fondness for these pieces is very old. It is said that they come from China and were introduced in the country more than 800 years ago. Today they captivate in the West for use in the tea ceremony or simply to put stillness and mental calm in our day at the time of taking this ancient drink and experience it as it deserves.
Along with tea, the Chinese brought to Japan these beautiful bowls that were considered the best for preparing tea. The name chawan comes precisely from the Chinese term for this drink: Cha.
WHERE CHAWAN COMES FROM
Along with tea, the Chinese brought to Japan beautiful ceramic bowls known as Chawan. These bowls were considered the best for preparing tea. The name comes precisely from the Chinese term for this beverage: Cha. “Cup or bowl for tea”.
The Chawan is considered a very important part of Japan’s national heritage. Having one makes drinking tea a special experience. It elevates the everyday bowl to a work of art. In fact, there are eight pieces considered National Treasures of Japan.
Although any everyday bowl can perform the functions of a chawan, tea enthusiasts can spend thousands of euros on these pieces.
The most sought-after Chawan are perhaps those created in Japan during the Edo period (1603-1868). They are made according to the Raku, Hagi and Karatsu styles of pottery, which are famous for their high quality. Some of these very old pieces are still used today in tea ceremonies.
Fortunately nowadays, in addition to Japan, there are artists in the West who have learned this art and make works of great quality, worthy heirs of this Japanese tradition. Making them affordable to people who otherwise could not afford it.
WHAT THEY ARE USED FOR
Chawan are mainly used to prepare matcha tea, although they are also used with other types of tea.
Matcha is a type of powdered green tea made from the dried leaves that dissolves directly in hot water. It is very rich in antioxidants and has great benefits. You can read more about this type of tea here.
The hot water is poured and then a small amount of matcha is added and stirred with a bamboo whisk called Chasen.
Tea drinking in the traditional way is a learning process that requires not only all the right information but, in the case of the tea ceremony, it must be learned in person.
It is important to choose a suitable bowl for this purpose, as it will allow the whisk to move easily. Below we explain what is necessary to choose the type of Chawan.
This utensil, which has a series of thin rods, is traditionally made from a single piece of bamboo. Let’s say that what it does is whisk the mixture, makes the matcha dissolve properly and also provides a nice foam.
It is used by means of an angular movement, not in circles, as would be the case with a traditional spoon.
While we drink our tea it is kept on the side, because if we drink it slowly we give time for the matcha particles to settle and we have to stir again. Let’s say that these tea particles are in suspension, not dissolved as would be the case with sugar in water.
WHAT TYPES OF CHAWAN ARE THERE?
An object so appreciated and with so many nuances, it is logical that it has different varieties.
We will explain the main ones depending on different criteria.
According to its use:
The Japanese call various types of bowls Chawan, including those used for eating rice, so depending on their usefulness, different names are used:
For rice (gohan means rice).
Matchawa or matcha chawan:
For the tea ceremony.
For non-ceremonial use, i.e. for ordinary tea drinking. Yunomi means hot water bowl.
This term is sometimes used for the bowl intended for high quality teas.
Yunomi bowl by GVKeramika.
See artist’s store
According to their origin:
Karamono: The originating ones of China
Kōraimono: From Korea.
Wamono: Those from Japan
According to its shape:
In general a tea drinking bowl, a matcha chawan, will be larger than the typical tea cup we use in the West. Keep in mind that matcha tea is powdered and needs to be stirred into the hot water, so the base of the bowl should be wide enough to allow for easy stirring.
Chawans are often bowl-shaped, but they differ from each other, depending on this the Japanese speak of two types:
It is of more cylindrical proportions which allows it to keep the heat better. This type of bowls are used more in the winter and in cold places. These bowls are also used for what would be an infused tea, such as sencha.
This other type, less cylindrical, would have a more conical shape, being much wider at the top (hira means flat).
This way the tea cools down earlier, which is very welcome in warmer climates. In addition, it is easier to see the tea we are drinking.
Matcha Chawan created by Abilius
See artist’s store
HOW TO CHOOSE OUR CHAWAN
∗ On the one hand, it is necessary to take into account the temperature of the place where we are and we are going to take the infusion, if we need it to retain heat for a long time or not, because there are low temperatures.
If we want to keep the drink hot, a cylindrical shape of the Tsutsu-Chawan type will be better, the thickness will help to keep the temperature and to be able to handle it with our hands without burning ourselves.
The more conical and thinner types will allow it to lose heat sooner and, if it is not cold where we are, we will be grateful to be able to drink matcha earlier.
∗ On the other hand, it is necessary to take into account the movement to beat the tea with the Chasen. This will eventually deteriorate with use.
Tip for beginners: Using a bowl with a rounded bottom to start with will prevent excessive bumping of the bamboo tips and breaking too soon.
If we do not have much experience in using the Chase, the base must be wide enough so that we can move it comfortably and have enough depth so that the mash does not come out of the bowl and splash when doing so.
∗ We must also avoid a surface that is too uneven or rough. The bamboo tines will get caught on it. On the other hand, if it is too smooth (to give you an idea of too smooth, think of a porcelain cup), there will not be enough friction to properly whip the gear and achieve the desired tasty foam.
One last piece of advice:
Once we have talked about the practical part, part of the oriental philosophy emphasizes on trying to see the perfection of things as they are. If you choose your chawan with your heart because it is the one that has captivated you and is the one you want to have in your home, everything will be fine and it won’t matter if you are a beginner (we all are) or if the bowl is tall or short, wide or narrow.
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A work made in ceramic with which we are intimate and that will last us a long time is a way to break with the inertia of consuming, using and throwing away. These millenary bowls are part of the culture that transmits the opposite: choose our own and let it accompany us throughout the years.
We present a gallery of selected works by artists with a long career working with Japanese ceramics and to whom we want to bring visibility from here.
Keep in mind the tips above when choosing your chawan bowl but remember that we can also leave the practical side a little aside and choose one that captivates us without further ado.
Discover pieces that embody the art of chawan and enjoying tea.
Artista: Wild Clay Works
Temmoku ceramic chawan
Marbled tea bowl chawan
Artist: GV Keramika
Chawan with Chasen, stand and spoon
Artist: Soboku Mugs
Chawan Handmade Matcha Tea Bowl
Matcha bowl, Chasen and spoon set
Artist: Tangping Tea
Note: This article contains affiliate links that lead to the artists’ stores outside of the Ateologic website. If you buy something from them, we will receive a small commission that will help us to continue our site and in turn continue to support those artists.
This of course does not affect the selling price.