A chawan, or a tea bowl, is essentially a bowl that is used in the highly regarded Japanese tea ceremony for the preparation and drinking of matcha or powdered green tea. There are various types of the tea bowls used in the tea ceremony and the choice of their use is largely dependent on the various considerations, of which personal preferences is just one.
It is important to note that the term 'chawan' in Japan is also generally used for bowls of rice and here, to distinguish, those used for preparation and consumption of tea in the ceremony are locally called matchawan. There are many different types of chawans in Japan. Traditionally used only for the tea ceremony, the tea bowls are also sometimes used in households, although the designs used in homes could differ from the ceremonial bowls.
In today's times, chawans are easily available for purchase. The chawan set, complete with a strainer, tea measurer, cup, mixer, stirrer, etc., can also be bought.
Although chawans are today pre-dominantly used in Japan, their origin has often been traced back to China.
Types of Chawans
Chawans are classified based on various factors like place of origin or making, shape, color, material and other attributes. It is interesting to note that more than one classification can often apply to a given tea bowl.
While most Japanese tea bowls are bowl-shaped, the shapes can vary. For each shape, there are names. Cylindrical, round and flat are the most common shapes and while cylindrical chawans are called tsutsu-jawan, shallow, flatter bowls are known as hira-jawan.
The bowls are also classified based on the type of tea that is served in them. For thin tea or usucha, usuchawans are used and for thick tea of koicha, koichawan are used.
Karamono - Chawans that originated in China; further divided into Taihisan, Kensan, Yoehn, Kensan and Hakuji, to name a few.
Kōraimono - These tea bowls originated in Korea. Iji, Ido, Kinsan, Hagame and Tamagote are a few Kōraimono types.
Wamono - A traditionally Japanese chawan, made within the country.
Chawan Tea Bowl Buying Tips
The interiors of the bowl should be checked if they are curved and the walls inside the chawan should also be noted, which do not meet the bottom at a 90 degree angle.
The proportions should be checked before buying and it is should be ensured that the bowl is well-proportioned and well-designed.
The matchawan tea bowl should be of appropriate weight. If too heavy, it will be difficult to handle and if too light, the tea might not turn out the way it is supposed to.
Whenever the word 'chawan' stands alone in Japan, it is usually prefixed with the Japanese honorific ‘o-'.