Why teacups are special: the tea tastes better

April 14, 2023 | 19 Comments

This next part in my Why teacups are special series is all about tea!

And before I start sharing my thoughts on the subject I need to stress that these are my personal preferences and although I have high standards for the tea that I prepare for myself on a daily basis I’m not a tea snob! I will very happily drink teabag tea in thick-rimmed coffee mugs when I’m out and about.

Okay, the disclaimer is now out of the way so for the rest of the article I’m potentially going to be making some outrageously dogmatic statements!

I firmly believe that tea (and I’m referring to loose-leaf tea at this point) tastes better in thin-rimmed fine china teacups! There are scientific reasons – the china is smoother and a thinner rim means the tea gets to the tongue quickly increasing the taste.  Fine china retains the heat longer. And… the more elegant the drinking vessel the better the taste!

For years (ever since I was about 15 years old) I’ve drunk tea out of thin-rimmed tall fine china mugs such as this Ashdene one. I would use this type of mug and a small teapot at work too (in the days when I worked full-time as an architect)! And I acutally found one of my old work china mugs (The Maxwell and William one).

But since 2009 (as mentioned in my previous article on Personal Memories) I started using a teacup and saucer at home. This leads me to my second statement…

Tea tastes better in smaller vessels. A typical teacup has a capacity of 200-250 mL (6-8oz) and I think that the second cup which I pour from my teapot tastes better than the second half of a tall mug (even if it’s fine china!)

This brings up the question of teapots – so this little diagram explains the perfect arrangement of a teapot so that the strength of the tea remains consistent for multiple teacups (assuming that I’m just making the pot for myself).

And here is a smaller pot – the one I used for many years at home and at work.

Of course, a mug is more convenient, so if you are having a cup of tea (or coffee) while doing something else as well, a mug is a good option… but this thought is leading to the topic I will discuss next week.

Two other personal preferences on this topic:

  • I’m less fussy about herbal tea and can drink it out of fine china, china mugs, or thick-rimmed coffee cups/mugs.
  • I love drinking coffee out of thick-rimmed cups or mugs. My preference is to drink coffee out of a cup and saucer and I have a selection of earthy/textured cups and saucers that make up my ‘coffee cup collection’. And interestingly I don’t really like drinking coffee out of fine china.

Final thoughts …

Yes, this article is a little geeky – but I do love a good cuppa! Although I do believe that tea tastes better in fine china and use my teacups as much as possible in my daily life,  if I’m offered a hot beverage in any kind of vessel I will drink it!

So do you have any tea or coffee preferences? Let me know in the comments below.

(If you are reading this via email, please click on the article title link below and add a comment on my blog. Thanks!)

And one final-final thought – you don’t have to be a tea (or a coffee drinker) to do my Teacups course. 🙂

The Teacups Course is now open for enrollment – and available as a self-paced course!

Find out more and enroll here!



  • Elaine McGann says:

    You write such delightful stories. I m smiling —although i drink neither tea or coffee. I have been known to drink hot water to get warmed up on a cold day. I look forward to new course. Enjoy your day!

  • Antje says:

    I think you are saying many good things here, Liz – and you’re helping me understand why my husband who loves coffee but doesn’t drink tea resists my wish to replace our everyday mugs (for everything) with delicate china mugs ?

  • Susanna says:

    I loved reading this terrific and well-illustrated post! I learned from my British mother that black tea absolutely tastes better from a thin porcelain teacup (English bone china, of course!)
    Late in her life, when she couldn’t manage a cup and saucer, I bought her thin English bone china mug which brought her joy and eased some of the challenges of using her frail, shaking hand.
    But, despite my heritage, her herb tea & coffee-loving daughter drinks her steeps & brews from hand-thrown mugs….but they must have a smooth glaze. 🙂

  • evensupposing says:

    I absolutely agree with all this dogma. When we switched to tea cups the difference was noticeable. A hectic life lately has led to lots of tea in mugs, but today you inspired me to pull out my teacups again!

  • Diane Warger says:

    You are so funny. I love your dogmatic views!

    Though my mum is Canadian, she was born in England moving to Canada when she was ten. I grew up around a lot of teacups and was taught the difference between tea in china, bone china, and fine bone china. Like you, my mum would drink tea out of any cup or mug, but preferred tea in a fine china cup because both the tea and the experience was nicer.

    My uncle had a few views on tea as well. He refused to drink tea or coffee in a clear glass cup or mug, and didn’t know why those things were made! He also said that the same tea leaves can be used for 4-5 times in the same day and the tea will be better each time the leaves are rehydrated.

    I’m really looking forward to your teacup workshop as I’m going to use some of my mum’s teacups.

  • Janet Jones says:

    I can’t wait to rediscover my rather large tea cup collection , which I have to say, sadly that I don’t use. I am inspired to get them out!

  • Luisa says:

    I totally agree with you. I have a collection of about 30 teapots from all over the world. They are my favorite kind of souvenir. Every Sunday I rotate teapots. ?

  • Jay says:

    A wonderful and accurate analysis. I began drinking tea in a teacup and saucer with my grandmother and I’ve been spoiled since then. I also go with whatever’s on hand, but there’s truly no comparison. I savour my tea set on the weekends.

  • Jim Cussen says:

    An inveterate tea drinker, I sip, slurp and guzzle this black gold (no milk) from whatever cup is to hand. I’ve always known tea tastes better in a china cup – but not known why. So, thank you. ?

  • David Campbell says:

    I never liked hot tea — too strongly associated with being ill as a child, which is the only time my mother made it for me. I tried it occasionally as an adult, to see whether I still thought it was a vile brew. And then one day, an Irishman friend of a friend made me a cuppa with a splash of milk. What a revelation!

    I still much prefer coffee but it’s nice now to have a safe harbor when I’m in tea territory. I’m not too particular about my coffee’s provenance but I do like a specific way: 4 ounces of ½ dark roast ½ decaf brewed into 4 oz of very warm milk, and a teaspoon of honey. If I want it to vanish instantly, change the honey to Torani Chocolate Milano syrup.

    I’ve just gotten some fine china cup n saucers — why could that be? — so I will try to observe if they elevate my coffee experience. I will reserve judgement until cup three when I am sure to be awake.

  • Jane Grew says:

    I absolutely agree with you. Tea tastes better in fine bone china. It tastes better made in a fine bone china teapot and loose leaf is an absolute winner! Apparently, loose leaf it has less caffeine than tea bags as is of course of a better quality. Cheers to tea! Thanks Liz.

  • Maureen Refior says:

    Hi Liz. I just found your blog and signed up for your mailing list. I apologize ahead of time for the length of this comment.

    I have to preface this entire monologue with the statement that I originated in Belfast, Northern Ireland, in 1963. I come from a very long line of extraordinarily persnickety tea drinkers. And both my Irish Nana and my Granny (my Dad’s mum), along with all the aunties, and I, would have to agree that tea should be brewed in the types of pots you describe, served in thin, fine china cups that hold around 6-8 oz.

    HOWEVER, there were the men. Even in Brooklyn and then Long Island, the grandparents on my mum’s side lived with us, and most of the relatives came over as well because of the Troubles, so it was the same here as there. And my childhood was filled with arguments from the men about mugs. They absolutely hated the delicate cups. My Nana made crazy strong breakfast tea in the morning, and my Granddad would fill a gigantic ceramic mug and drink it, with milk and sugar but still hot, in the same amount of time as it took everyone else to drink their little cups. My Nana had to have been annoyed at having to make another pot every single day, but I suppose that wasn’t the hill she wanted her marriage to die on.

    We were really dirt poor, having never recovered from the potato famine and the Troubles before that even. But the ladies always managed to hold on to their “good china,” and we used the cups every day. I still have some of them, almost 275 years old. A bit chipped and I don’t use them every day anymore, but I cherish them. The tea really did taste better. And it made a little girl with not a whole lot in terms of the material feel very fancy to sit at the table and drink from something beautiful. So many memories are etched into the fine lines in those cups with the tiny pink rosebuds. Family conversations about better days ahead, politics, how some day we’d go back and have a beautiful house in the country in the north (I specifically requested a horse)….

    Yes. Beautiful tea cups are, indeed, very special. Thanks for this post,

  • Jamie C says:

    I quite agree that tea tastes much better loose leaf, and in fine china. I do so love it! i’m not a coffee person at all, so I have tea, usually herbal. I’m fine having it in whatever is handy, but there is some thing very special about china. I bought my first china tea set as soon as I could just after leaving college! (Okay, I bought three china teacups then!) I still have it, and look forward to pulling it out of storage and painting it during class. China isn’t popular here, but I’ve always had a love affair with it! As for teapots, I used a basic ceramic one for all these years, with a ball infuser. Your diagrams above are fascinating to me. There is apparently a world of tea pot science I have missed! Ha! A local herbal tea place used to brew their tea with the plunger style coffee maker, which always made the tea very strong indeed. Oh, I could talk tea and china for hours!

  • Liz Steel says:

    Thanks for all the comments everyone! Love reading them!

  • Marlies Zücker says:

    Hi, I was born in Ostfriesland in Germany, where everyone drinks around 300 liters of tea a year on average. So I have a long family history of tea. The teacups there are only half the size of your teacup. When drinking tea, you get at least three cups of tea, that’s East Frisian law. A strong Assam mixture is preferred, also known as the East Frisian mixture. Here is a link The teaspoons in Ostfriesland are as small as the usual espresso spoons. https://teemuseum.de/ostfriesische-teezeremonie For me personally, however, the cups are too small and the tea becomes bitter too quickly. I prefer Darjeeling tea and drink from a large mug, 440ml, but it’s also made of very thin porcelain.

  • Anne Kay says:

    I use different mugs and cups for different teas, and only loose leaf. For ceremony and relaxation I brew pu-erh tea gong-fu style in tiny (160ml) ceramic teapots or porcelain gaiwans and served in tiny cups. Gong-fu style is multiple very short steeps (15 seconds increasing 5 seconds per steep) of 190C water. I love it because the delicate flavor of the tea is accentuated and the tea is hot with each sip, but also cools quickly enough to drink immediately. I also drink some teas in mugs “grandpa style”. I’m told that is the Chinese term for putting leaves in a large mug, pouring in boiling water and drinking through-out the day. I use black, tie guan yin, or milk oolong in a mug (hand thrown) at times when I don’t have time for ceremony. I absolutely believe the vessel changes the taste of the tea!!

  • A Beth says:

    Since a child, china teacup/saucer sets have fascinated me. My ‘collection’ is limited and each setting very dear ??
    It is time I select one and discover the magical loose leaf cup of comfort!

  • Sara Coronado says:

    I love this article! Thanks for writing and the beautiful sketches! I completely agree tea tastes better in tea cups!
    All the best,

Leave a Reply