Updated: Oct 2
It comes as no surprise that Sake is a complicated drink layered with complex aromas and tastes. There is no end to the endless array of permutations that vary to degrees in taste, aroma, and texture. But not many are aware that you can play around a sake’s qualities simply by altering the type of cup that it’s served in.
Typically Sake is served in a small ceramic cup as the flavor of the sake alters once its temperature changes. That is why sake is best served in a small cup so that it can be emptied it before its temperature changes.
So let’s take a look into the power of the sake cup, by examining the three main factors about these vessels that dictate how we perceive sake’s taste: shape, material, and thickness.
The shape of the cup is probably the biggest determining factor affecting taste, because it dictates the sake’s exposure to air and funnels the drink’s aroma.
With so many lovely cups to choose from, how does one decide which one to serve a particular sake in?
The first thing to understand is that the look and shape of a cup has a big impact on flavor. In fact, if you serve the exact same sake in three different cups, 100 people out of 100 will say they can taste the difference.
A broad rule of thumb is that the smaller the vessel, the more intense the flavor. Also, a narrow mouth on the cup generally brings out the sweetness of sake, while a wider mouth allows more acidic notes to flourish. However, a person’s subjective impression of the cup’s appearance is also going to influence how they interpret the flavor.
Material Sake cups come in more materials than you might expect.
Porcelain and other ceramics tend to soften the flavor of sake, but as varied as this material is, so is its potential effect on flavor. The smoothness of a fine china or the toughness of a traditional Japanese earthenware cup all bring something a little different to the table.
Of course, good old glass is always an option and will bring out a sake’s sharpness. On the other hand, woods like Japanese cedar or Japanese cypress have their own innate smells that tame a sake’s edge for a more mellow experience.
Thickness Even the thickness of your cup can affect the taste of what’s inside. Thicker glasses are said to soften the taste whereas thinner glasses give the sake more of a kick.
Fine Tuning is the Key So which one is the “right” cup for this sake?
It all depends. The first thing to consider is which sake will pair well with a particular dish. You can adjust the temperature of the sake or blend it with water or another sake from the same brewery to improve the match. Finally, you can select the cup, using the shape to bring out sweet or dry notes and fine-tune the experience.
Naturally, there are other factors to consider. For example, one wouldn’t want to serve warm sake in a glass ochoko, as it wouldn’t allow the sake to retain the heat for very long.
When pairing dishes with food, one should consider the tableware the food will be served on. There is a completely different set of rules regarding appearance. Using contrasting items to unify a space to the best of your ability is one of the rules of "washoku”
Play Around to Find Your Sweet Spot Choosing the “right” cup can be quite subjective. The diversity of sake vessels is seemingly endless, both in design and materials. And while the shape of the cup will have certain effects on flavor, there is no single correct choice. If you have a sake you like, try drinking it from a variety of different cups, try it at different temperatures. Playing around with it is the best way.
Which is the Best Cup?
The “best cup” might depend on an endless list of variables like the food you’re pairing a sake with, the decor of your dining room, or even the mood you happen to be in at that moment. But above all, it’s a matter of personal preference that only you can discover for yourself.
It does take some practice, but since this kind of training really only involves drinking sake and shopping, you’ll find it’s definitely one of the more fun skills to build out there.
Sake Sets at the Urban Kiln So, which style, shape, material, and thickness of cup is ideal for sake in general? Well, there is no answer to that question. Preparing sake is an art, not a science, and there is no definitively perfect cup.
Try out products from The Urban Kiln’s Sake Collection. Handmade 100% by Mumbai based ceramic artist Shalan Dere, we bring to you modern artisan Sake Carafes and Sake Cups to suit the occasion, table setting as well as your pallet.