A teacup is a cup for drinking tea. It may be with a handle, generally a small one that may be grasped with the thumb and one or two fingers. It is typically made of a ceramic material. It is usually part of a set, composed of a cup and a matching saucer or a trio that includes a small cake or sandwich plate. These in turn may be part of a tea set in combination with a teapot, cream jug, covered sugar bowl and slop bowl en suite. Teacups are often wider and shorter than coffee cups. Cups for morning tea are conventionally larger than cups for afternoon tea.
Better teacups typically are of fine white translucent porcelain and decorated with patterns that may be en suite with extensive dinner services. Some collectors acquire numerous one-of-a-kind cups with matching saucers. Such decorative cabinet cups may be souvenirs of a location, person, or event. Such collectors may also accumulate silver teaspoons with a decorated enamel insert in the handle, with similar themes.
In Europe, fine porcelain tea cups made of porcelain (Limoges porcelain from a kaolin base heated in ovens or China porcelain) were a delicacy for enjoying tea time. The cups are made with a handle and are paired with a saucer in a set, they feature hand painted decoration and gold or silver patterns especially lining the rim and the handle.
In the culture of China teacups are very small, normally holding no more than 30ml of liquid. They are designed to be used with Yixing teapots or Gaiwan. Countries in the Horn of Africa like Eritrea also use the handleless cups to drink boon which is traditional coffee there. In Russian-speaking cultures and West Asian cultures influenced by the Ottoman Empire tea is often served in a glass held in a separate metal container with a handle, called a zarf. or in Russian a podstakannik.
The first small cups specifically made for drinking the beverage tea when it was newly seen in Europe in the 17th century were exported from the Japanese port of Imari or from the Chinese port of Canton. Tea bowls in the Far East did not have handles, and the first European imitations, made at Meissen, were without handles, too. At the turn of the 19th century canns of cylindrical form with handles became a fashionable alternative to bowl-shaped cups.
The handle on a teacup was an explicitly German invention in 1707, by Johann Friedrich Bottger, to solve the freshness issue.