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I am mystified over the difference between an English tea cup and a Chinese tea cup. The difference is that a chinese teacup does not have a handle/"ear" while an English teacup does have a handle/"ear."

English teacup

enter image description here

Chinese teacup

enter image description here

What is the reason for this difference? I am looking for answers from a user experience perspective and not from a history perspective

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For one thing, they're infinitely easier to store since they can be stacked. For another, they are just a smaller version of a traditional chinese bowl, not as common in England as in China. But seriously this is a question for historians of kitchenware, not UX. – Vitaly Mijiritsky Jan 16 '14 at 17:30
I wouldn't consider this a UX question, and more of a cultural thing. Both English tea and Chinese tea have their own individual customary. I am more familiar with the Chinese tea, and less about English. Since it's more a custom and culture thing, I wouldn't apply UX considerations to this. – theGreenCabbage Jan 16 '14 at 18:06
I really like this question, but I have a feeling that @theGreenCabbage might have something with the cultural reasons. Can anyone find any research on this? Maybe the better question would be if one has a better UX? – Matt Lavoie Jan 16 '14 at 19:31
I've found it quite handy to be able to have a UX conversation about cup design up my sleave, as often one is trying to sell UX in a meeting room situation when cups are the things one has to hand. – PhillipW Jan 16 '14 at 22:31
It bothers me that you put image description under the images. "English teacup" is closer to the picture below too. Took me a while to understand what's going on. – user1306322 Jan 17 '14 at 4:04


When the Chinese tea cup was originated, it was much easier to fashion a cup without handles. It made it much easier to stack and ship, and they were often shipped as ballast for relatively cheap. Additionally, the size of the traditional tea cup made handles impractical.

Contrary to popular belief, tea in the Orient originally was served at a much lower temperature. High temperature tea was a European custom, as it would dissolve the sugar much faster.

It was a Western custom to start putting handles on cups, and for a long time adding handles to existing cups was a business.

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The temperatures were actually vitally necessary for decent tea. Green tea, oolong tea and white tea (all popular in China) taste best when brewed in water around 70-80 degrees celsius, and can turn unpleasant or bitter any closer to boiling point. The European black tea, however, often brews best around 95 degrees (i.e. just below boiling) and simply wouldn't taste very good at lower temperatures. – doppelgreener Jan 17 '14 at 4:27

I can only think of one reason, but I wonder: are there any other plausible reasons?

The reason why Chinese tea cups do not have handle/"ears" is that it forces the user to hold the cup. Hence:

If it's too hot to hold, it's too hot to drink.

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When I first got Chinese cups I immediately realized the value of this. I don't know if it was intended but I have yet to burn my mouth. – VoronoiPotato Jan 16 '14 at 21:42
But what if I want to transport the cup? Now I have to wait for it to cool down. – totymedli Mar 29 '15 at 0:10

This is absolutely a legitimate UX question! - Albeit more on the side of industrial and human factors design as it lacks a digital user interface (which is how many people define "user experience"). Nonetheless, it's always a great design exercise to study existing artifacts and how their affordance affects the way people will perceive or use them.

East Asian style tea cups don't need to have handles - if you take a closer look, the cups are generally made of thicker material (perhaps also makes etching/carving easier), especially the bottoms of the cups. This design may insulate the hot liquid better without use or need for the teacup's saucer plate. (If you look at the thinner material versions, I think you will often find that the top of the cup will have a "lip" that opens out slightly - probably also for making it easier to hold a hot cup.)

Culturally, I believe it's also considered more polite/traditional in Asia to serve/hold the cup with both hands. Right hand holds the top edge, left hand's fingers support the bottom.

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It could also be considered ergonomics. – Tim Huynh Jan 23 '14 at 5:45

Because in old times, Chinese liked symmetry.

One can have a dish with a lip underneath, and hold it like this:

enter image description here

By the way, 3000 years ago chinese cup (not for tea, for alcoholic beverages only)

enter image description here

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Second link is broken – VoronoiPotato Jan 17 '14 at 16:34

I think the the reason ,Chinese cups (the gaiwan) don't have handles due the

etiquette of drinking tea

the gaiwan


1. In China ,good etiquette dictates that tea drinkers cradle the cup with both hands and enjoy the tea’s aroma before taking a

2.To drink from the gaiwan, use the thumb and index finger of your left hand to hold the lid by its knob, and let the other three fingers follow the curve of the gaiwan, Tilt the lid slightly away from your lips so that it serves as a filter holding back the leaves as you drink the liquid. The cup is never removed from the

Considering the etiquette if both hands are used to drink a tea and lid need to be on top of cup to preserve aroma and considering smaller size of cup, having handle does not make sense.

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Before the age of ceramics, cups/holders was made from stone hand carving. ( I think they choose to not include handle because by using hand carving you cant make precisely same handle.

After inventing ceramic procedure, they follow the old technics apperance, since it is a traditional matter.

I suggest that by refering turkish culture. There is an old song in Turkey citing "they carve cup from stone (fincanı taştan oyarlar)" . Also this is some images, inner cups have no handle but, they make outer metallic (copper) shell with handle enter image description here

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I don't hold with the view that it's not about UX.

Take me, for example. Short stubby fingers that rarely fit comfortably in/around the handle of a delicate china cup. The Chinese way would suit me down to the ground.

Plus, I think it's more refined (like the way Geisha support the tea cup by the base as well as the rim) than the dreadful (British?) custom of pointing one's pinkie finger in the air!

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This answer is a good example of why it's a historical question and not a UX question. You personally feel like Chinese cups are better to use, but to find out how they came to be that way, you need the historical context - i.e. do Chinese have smaller/stubbier fingers? Who created the cups? Why haven't English adopted Chinese-style cups or vice versa? – elle-nore Jun 2 '14 at 18:53

Taking materials into consideration.. Chinese tea cups are made out of thicker material where it doesn't conduct heat so probably design need not required any ear to it.

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