Thank you for your question, Mark. (Mark actually wrote a longer letter, and I asked him to put his question here — not knowing that there is such a small a character limit on questions asked through the ask box his entire letter follows: “Regarding your last post answering the > question of moving the chawan
> from the dai-temmoku stand to the floor,
> you stated: ‘Modern utensils — especially
> those made to be used for koicha (dai-
> temmoku is a koicha temae, as I am sure
> you are well aware) — are much larger
> than the original bowls that were used in
> this way.’
> “It got me thinking about selecting
> chawan for koicha (especially when it is
> made for one guest - or oneself). Is my
> thinking correct that it stands to reason
> that the selection of the chawan should be
> carefully considered not only in the
> making of koicha (temperature and ability
> to knead properly), but also in the ability
> to drink it and enjoy the tea properly? It
> would seem that smaller and smoother
> texture bowls would make it easier to
> enjoy more of the koicha as opposed to
> larger and rougher texture which would
> ‘hold’ more of the thicker liquid in the
> bottom and sides of the bowl? It seems
> like such a simple concept, yet one that
> didn’t hit me until you mentioned that
> modern bowls tend to be larger and I
> began to think about the consistency and
> small amount of koicha usually in a bowl
> serving only one. No reason to waste
> good koicha and have it relegated to
> cha-no-ato simply because so much
> stayed in the bowl! I guess my question
> comes more into play during more ‘wabi’
> chanoyu when temmoku is not the choice
> of chawan.”
Ok, first of all, people nowadays generally do not like koicha. If you do not like koicha¹, then it is not very likely that you will be able to make good koicha. This is probably the beginning of the problem.
Koicha should of course be thicker than usucha, but not as thick as something like Elmer’s glue! (And in Japan it is frequently made that thick — especially at things like the Iemoto's Hatsu-gama².) As the saying goes, “as above, so below” — if that is how the top people are making it, then that is how the people below do it, too.
When the tea is finished being drunk, there should be a film of tea in the bowl, but it should not be like cake batter, that needs a rubber spatula to scrape off. Let’s think of milkshakes. If it is thick enough to “stand up to a straw” then it is much too thick. The straw should flop to the side pretty fast, yet more slowly than it would if the bowl contained usucha. Once you have the consistency right, then you can think about the chawan.
Historically speaking, the original koicha-chawan were things like temmoku bowls and Kenzan bowls³. These are high-fired stoneware, and so have a generally smooth glaze surface. Nevertheless, the koicha should be thick enough to cling to the inside of the bowl thickly enough that the glaze can not be seen through the tea. If you can see the glaze, the tea is too thin for koicha.
In the wabi setting, the original bowls used as omo-chawan — the bowl in which koicha is served — were the big ido bowls and things like the Shukō chawan (these bowls are around 6” in diameter) that formerly had been used as kae-chawan when tea was served in the shoin room. Nevertheless, the practice was still to serve each guest individually. Therefore, though a large bowl was used, only a single portion of tea was usually made in it⁴.
Even in Jōō’s day (Shukō died in 1502, and Jōō was born the same year and died in 1555, so his active period was during the several decades before the middle of the sixteenth century) the custom of serving single portions of koicha persisted — Jōō’s koboshi [= kensui⁵] was huge: 7-sun (8.5”) across the mouth, 4-sun (4.75”) across the bottom, and 3-sun 5-bu (4”) deep. Around this time, some of the machi-shū started to save tune by making all of the koicha at one time and having the guests pass the bowl around (in a mistaken imitation of what Shukō had done⁶); this abbreviation was one of the things that precipitated the rift between Jōō and the machi-shū.
Only with Rikyū did the host begin to double up the lower guests, though the shōkyaku was still served an individual portion of koicha⁷. If the host was using two bowls to serve three guests, then the larger bowl (usually one of the ido bowls that had been brought to Japan in the fifteenth century — the Shukō-chawan , the other renowned kae-chawan from the early period, was lost in the fire at the Honnō-ji when Nobunaga committed seppuku) was used to serve the single portion to the shōkyaku, and the smaller bowl (usually a red raku bowl in Rikyū’s case⁸) was sometimes used to make the double portion of tea for the second and third guests to share⁹.
Towards the end of his life, he began to change. More and more (according to the records of his gatherings in the last years) he started to use a red bowl when serving koicha in the small room (the occasions when he used a black bowl for koicha are most noteworthy because of their infrequency).
Smoother bowls are generally better. The roughness of the glaze of black raku bowls possibly is why Rikyū did not used them very often for koicha¹⁰. (In addition to the amount of tea that would cling to the rough glaze, the tea also infiltrated into the pock marks in the glaze surface and was difficult or impossible to clean: this meant that many black bowls were intrinsically dirty after their first use, another thing that Rikyū would have frowned upon. This may explain why he did not use many of these bowls more than once, and then passed them on to other people)
Since the stewardship over chanoyu fell into Sōtan’s hands, of course, machi-shū practices came to predominate¹¹ (and then eclipse the teachings and doings of Rikyū altogether), and this — coupled with a generally greater availability of tea suitable for koicha (HIdeyoshi’s great legacy) — meant that both the size of the individual portion increased¹², and one large bowl of koicha was passed from hand to hand, to serve all of the guests. (One reason was the shifting emphasis of the gathering: at first, since Jōō created the chakai, a gathering for tea was focused on drinking tea¹³. Now, it was about enjoying rich food and appreciating rare and expensive utensils, and so the service of koicha was thus done as quickly and in as perfunctory a manner as possible — to get it over and done with so everyone could move on to something more interesting.)
So, Mark, to answer your question, you first have to decide what your priorities are. If you are serving a single guest or single portion of koicha, then you should use a bowl that allows you to do so in such a way that the tea, when the guest gets it, is hot and without foam or lumps. If you are not experienced at making koicha, then a smaller bowl might be best (an ordinary raku bowl would be ideal, since that is what they were made for). Later on, as you gain confidence, and can make good koicha consistently, then you can try using a larger bowl, if you have one (and it is appropriate¹⁴). While doing chanoyu in a heated Western house in winter is less problematic, in winter you can still try using the deeper tsutsu bowls (they keep the koicha really hot, but you have to be careful because the restriction on using the chasen freely means it is easier for lumps of tea to lurk in the corners).
As for the style of bowl, garishly painted bowls are best avoided, period; and in the old days the acid test was whether the bowl was suitable for serving koicha (if not, it should not be used, even for usucha¹⁵). But anything that you like, whether Japanese or Asian, or made locally, and that is of a color that does not make the koicha look bad (blue bowls or the bluish celadons make the koicha look yellowish — which is the color tea turns when it is going bad, so you have to be careful) is fine. Originally temmoku bowls were used, which are mostly dark brown or black (but the preference had more to do with not looking dirty after being used many times to serve tea, than that black or brown are especially good colors to use when drinking matcha). But Jōō, on the other hand, preferred white bowls, and others were using yellow Seto bowls (which ranged in color from ocher-yellow to a deep honey color); Korean bowls are dull pink to pink tinged with ocher, to green or blue tinted gray; mishima bowls have a gray ground and whirls or stamped patterns in white (and sometimes black). The Ninsei and other bowls made in Kyōto were also made for koicha, too (albeit for court ladies to use — and used only one time, since they tend to stain easily), and while the pictures are often overwhelming, the bowls themselves allow the host to make good koicha quite easily. So, it really is up to you and your taste in tea things.
In conclusion, when you are first learning to make koicha, always use bowls that make this task as easy as possible (and also limit the number of portions to one or two); and after you gain experience, then you are free to use any bowl that will complement the rest of your tori-awase. Just remember that the tori-awase starts as the sum of its parts, and no single utensil should stand out so much that it makes the other things look mediocre or bad. The arrangement should be balanced, and should reflect your sense of creativity. It is like making a painting, and the utensils are the paints and colors.
I hope this helps….
— Daniel M. Burkus
¹It is an acquired taste, so the only way most people come to like it is by drinking it as often as possible.
²A certain Iemoto I knew literally became nauseous if he was cornered into drinking koicha. In such a situation, even if the mechanics are worked out for him — even if the tea is super-sweet and has been sifted three or four times, and he knows that dumping out the contents of this chaire into the big bowl plus this much water… — there is little hope for a good bowl of koicha as the result. (In which case, it was generally better to be farther down the line, so you got to drink from one of the bowls of koicha brought out from the mizuya — where the pressure was off, and much better tea was the result.)
³The ō-meibutsu Kazan-temmoku [花山天目], which was considered the perfect bowl for making koicha, was 3-sun 8-bu in diameter and 2-sun deep (on the inside), and shaped like half of a grapefruit. These bowls were placed on a temmoku-dai that was more like a high-footed saucer.
The old Kenzan [建盞] bowls (which were originally not considered to be temmoku), which were made as Chinese sake-cups*, were around 4-sun across the mouth and much more conical (shaped like a flattened “V”), made to fit into those dai shaped like modern temmoku-dai (with a large and deep hōzuki).
Both can be used to make good koicha, since both allow the host free use of the chasen. Since Kenzan bowls were by far the more common, Seto-temmoku chawan (which were made in both small and large sizes) usually imitated their shape.
*Chan (Chinese) or san [盞] means a “wine-saucer” (since the wine — sake — was heated to fortify the alcohol, the shape of this kind of vessel allowed it to cool a little so it would not burn the drinker’s mouth). Later temmoku-shaped bowls were ordered from the kilns in Fuchien during the Edo period, hence the modern confusion between these two kinds of bowls.
⁴Shukō’s act of sui-cha [吸い茶] (which the modern schools, following Kanamori Sōwa, claim was the origin of the practice of passing a single bowl of koicha around with the guests sharing the contents) was not something he did regularly. This was on the occasion of the anniversary of his teacher’s death, and the assembly consisted of the other disciples of that teacher who were now living in Japan. In accordance with custom, Shukō made a single portion of koicha in a bowl (probably either a temmoku on an especially high dai, or an ido chawan with a high foot, since these were the ritual implements used when offering tea to the dead) and offered it to his teacher’s memory — maybe he had a funerary tablet set up in the tokonoma, maybe a scroll of the teacher’s calligraphy (the details are not clear), but some sort of memento of the teacher was in the tokonoma, and the chawan was placed before it, just the way that a chawan is placed before a guest by the host’s assistant. Then after offering the bowl, and probably the assembly changing a prayer for the teacher’s happy rebirth, the bowl was spontaneously taken out of the tokonoma and passed around, and everyone present touched their lips to the tea (a single portion of now-cold tea would not allow even five people one sip — and in all likelihood there were probably more than five people in the room). Then the host (Shukō) put in some more hot water and drank what was left himself.
⁵Koboshi, or mizu-koboshi [水飜 or 水翻] is the original name. It was also sometimes written mizu-koboshi [水建]; and this compound was later inverted during the Edo period (by people who did not recognize what was being written) into kensui [建水], which appears more grammatically correct.
⁶This story of Shukō’s sui-cha was supposedly related to the machi-shū by Jōō, and so they started saying that Jōō had encouraged the practice, which made him very angry (since it violated his sense of propriety and decorum — with his large kama, taking an hour and half to boil, one thing that Jōō was not was overly concerned about saving time).
⁷It appears that Rikyū only began doing this after Hideyoshi became a frequent guest — and the reason was to keep the Taikō from waiting too long before he was served usucha*. Hideyoshi then began to imitate the practice because it shortened the service of tea when he was acting as host†.
*Nevertheless, it was necessary for the gathering to include one or two other guests, so that Hideyoshi was not unattended (or felt lonely during the periods when he would otherwise have been alone in the tearoom).
†In his Yamazato-maru and the Golden Tearoom. Almost all of the gatherings held in these rooms were political in nature, and abbreviating the service of tea (the accompanying guests were generally retainers of either Hideyoshi or the shōkyaku) allowed the participants to settle down to their discussion once the mood of intimacy had been established. Thus they were very different from ordinary chanoyu gatherings.
Naturally when Hideyoshi served tea to the Emperor, he did things as fully as possible.
⁸ Rikyū said that only a red bowl should be used when serving koicha in the small room. Black bowls were restricted (by him) to rooms 4.5 mats in size and larger, but in this setting Rikyū himself generally preferred to use a dai-temmoku as the omo-chawan, so the black bowl was either used as the kae-chawan during the koicha-temae (to clean the chasen, and possibly to serve the lower guests), or to serve usucha afterward. The exact opposite of what we are taught today!
⁹Later generations put forth various explanations for this behavior, most of which (things like contrast — a small portion in a large bowl, a large portion in a small bowl) were foolish in the extreme.
The reason was that the large bowl was the kae-chawan from the old shoin service, and so by far the better bowl than a newly-made piece (such as a raku-chawan). The better utensil should always be used to serve the shōkyaku. If something inferior will be used, then it must be used for the lower guests.
¹⁰It must be remembered, too, that there was great variation from bowl to bowl in this early period (since the mechanics of Oribe’s hiki-dashi technique when applied to raku-yaki were still being worked out by Chōjirō for most of Rikyū’s remaining years: some bowls like the Tōyōbō [東洋坊] were quite smooth and glossy, and so suited to serving thick tea; others had a very rough surface that made them much less suitable for koicha), hence perhaps his preference for red bowls when serving koicha, since they were much more uniform and regular in their surface texture.
¹¹This included a rather odd fondness for dirty utensils! It was from this period that the preference for black bowls when serving koicha began — the argument being that the infiltration of the glaze by the tea removed the taste of clay from the bowl, and made the taste of the tea more apparent. Contrast this with the original attitude that once the crackles in a bowl started to become stained with tea, it was no longer considered suitable for use in chanoyu. (One reason why temmoku and Kenzan bowls were preferred was because they are black or dark brown, and their glazes tend to have few or no crackles, hence places into which the taste and smell of the tea could infiltrate).
¹²The little measuring cup that comes with a tea sifter originally was the amount of tea needed for one person — one portion of koicha, plus two bowls of usucha; but by the Edo period, the contents of one measuring cup were being used for one portion of koicha, with usucha served from a different container of tea (that was filled fully, regardless of the number of guests that would be served) and so removed from the host’s preparatory calculations.
¹³Even the kaiseki was included to give the guests something to do while waiting for the kama to boil (Jōō preferred to start his chakai with a cold kama, arrange the fire, and then host and guests would wait patiently while the water came to a boil).
*Like his koboshi, Jōō’s kama tended to be very large (the idea being to assure the guests that the host would not run out of hot water no matter how much tea they drank, a sign of his hospitality) — his ro-gama held in excess of 15 mizuya-bishaku of water (compared with around 9 mizuya-bishaku for modern, Rikyū-style ro-gama, 5 or 6 mizuya-bishaku of water for the average furo-gama, and 3 for Rikyū’s small unryū-gama).
Jōō’s ro-gama took an hour and a half to come to a boil, thus he often included both the appreciation of incense and the service of food during the sho-za of his gatherings.
¹⁴In chanoyu, you should always do something because it is somehow “right” for the occasion. Even back in the days when most people only had a single set of tea utensils, they assembled their set carefully, so that the utensils would be appropriate when used together. In the modern day it is usually considered better to use different utensils throughout the year, and so in addition to considering how the utensils combine with each other, the host must also be sensitive to how appropriate the utensils he uses are to the season of the year and the temperature on the day of the gathering.
¹⁵This also differs from modern practice. Originally koicha was the important thing, and so the utensils used for usucha were of the same type. Now, the merchants, in cahoots with the tea schools, have made a big business out of bowls appropriate for usucha, as opposed to koicha, so now they are considered to be completely different things. Nevertheless, a koicha-chawan should be suitable to use when serving either kind of tea.