Green Tea and Porcelain

It seems that most tea is served in porcelain and China cups. Why is this particular combination so popular?

Tea historically has come from China, and it is actually only a "recent" import to most of Europe. It was only in the 1500s that the Portuguese began their trade with Japan, and began bringing back tea and porcelain cups from this region. As communications became more stable and shipping lines more established, the tea and porcelain trade became quite regular.

Part of the reason that porcelain was included in the shipments was for simple ship-stability reasons. The old time ships needed "ballast" - or heavy things - in their bottoms to help the ship stay upright. In some parts of the world, wine was used for this purpose. This is part of how fortified wines like Madeira got their start. However, China and Japan are not known for their wine. Europeans didn't appreciate the sake, or rice wine, very much. So shippers looked for something else heavy, cheap, and profitable to sell back at home. Porcelain goods fit the bill quite nicely.

Porcelain is great because it doesn't easily discolor - an important quality when drinking tea. Also, since tea is Chinese, it helped make the experience more "fun" to drink a Chinese liquid from a Chinese container. With the wide variety of porcelain styles being offered, you could have just about any taste in decor and find a porcelain container to meet your needs.

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