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How to drink sake with the right sake cup

| Dominic Alonge

About the guest writer

For this special edition, we are joined by one of the Tippsy Ambassadors, Domenic Alonge. The Tippsy Ambassador program is a volunteer group of passionate customers of Tippsy who work as a part of our family to share the excitement of sake. Read Domenic’s contribution towards the sake world at the end of the article.

Different shapes and sizes of sake cups could bring you a different experience from the same bottle of sake.

So, you’ve poured over the incredible selection of sake at Tippsy. You’ve filled up your shopping cart, checked out and waited patiently for your sake to arrive. After what feels like forever (but is only a few days), anticipation has grown into sheer excitement. You get the best kind of notification from your phone: Your sake has arrived!

That evening you grab the bottle and, admiring the beautiful label, reach with delight to grab a glass from the cabinet, when—

Wait a minute.

A cup? A glass.

What glass? Shot glass?

No—wine glass?

Is there such a thing as a sake cup?

You need those tiny little cups, right?

If this moment of hesitation feels even faintly familiar, then today’s blog post is for you. Along with some background on traditional and not-so-traditional sake vessels, you’ll get some advice for matching a cup to your sake. Finally, I’ll recommend three sake from the Tippsy collection matched with specific cups.

Ochoko

There are various kinds of ochoko (small sake cups) out there and collecting them would be one of the exciting aspects of enjoying sake.

For many of us, the ochoko is the first, and perhaps the only cup we think of as a “sake cup.” These tiny cups are ubiquitous at sushi restaurants around the world. Aside from being cute and fun to collect, ochoko allows you to demonstrate your sense of hospitality by frequently refilling your guests’ cup, as is customary in Japan.

Also, the porcelain wall of the cup helps keep in the heat of the sake while protecting your fingertips. Perhaps most importantly, the ochoko is a fun way to drink warm or hot sake, especially with a group of friends.

Reach for the ochoko if:

You have a drier, lighter junmai-style sake that you want to drink warmed or hot, especially if you’re hosting a group. Just remember not to let your guests’ cups run dry!

Sakazuki

You may have seen a sakazuki being used at Japanese traditional ceremonies such as a wedding ceremony.

A sakazuki is another small sake glass, but shallower, with a wider rim. The shape of the sakazuki releases more of the aroma of the sake, and helps spread the sake to the corners of your lips. This wider flow allows you to taste more of the complexity of the sake. The wide and shallow shape also encourages you to lean your head forward and slowly sip the sake, encouraging you to enjoy the richer flavors present in the sake.

Reach for a sakazuki if:

You have a rich, full bodied, umami-driven sake with higher acidity that presents earthy aromas when warmed—think yamahai junmai and kimoto junmai varieties. Room temperature and warm sake are great from a sakazuki.

Guinomi

Some guinomi are as big as yunomi (a Japanese tea cup).

A guinomi is the same shape as the ochoko, but larger. Like the sakazuki, the larger rim of the guinomi helps aromas reach your nose and spreads the flow of sake to your palate to bring out more complexity from the brew.

The larger volume also makes it more practical in that it doesn't need constant refilling. The guinomi is also a popular form for many ceramic artists; a handmade guinomi adds a tactile and visual dimension to the pleasure of drinking sake.

Reach for a guinomi if:

You are trying a sake for the first time, and don’t know where it is going to take you. If you’re not sure if you want to heat or chill your sake, a guinomi is suitable for all temperatures. It is a true workhorse!

Wine glass

Stemmed wine glasses are perfect for enjoying aromatic ginjo or daiginjo.

While not as traditional, drinking sake from a wine glass is an increasingly popular way to enjoy premium sake. Since most of us have a wine glass handy, it is a great place to start if you don’t have any of the traditional sake cups in your cabinet.

The high sides and bowl-shape capture the aroma of the sake better than traditional vessels and allow you to really get your nose involved in the tasting. The stem and base give the ability to swirl the sake around to coax more aroma from the brew.

A wine glass is the perfect way to enjoy delicate, aromatic sake. Just remember, the thin wall of a wine glass will not be comfortable to drink hot or warm sake from, nor will it retain the heat well.

Reach for a wine glass if:

You are drinking an aromatic ginjo or daiginjo sake that’s chilled, or at room temperature.

So with a bit of background knowledge on sake cups and some guiding principles on when to choose them, here are some cup recommendations for sake from Tippsy.

Heiwa “Kid” Junmai Daiginjo with wine glass

Served slightly chilled, the fresh, floral, and fruity notes of this super-premium sake will be captured by the glass. You’ll be refreshed and intrigued when your nose dips into the glass. The thin lip and wide mouth helps spread the sake across the palate, starting the journey from sweetness, to richness, to crisp and clean finish. Wait a moment, swirl, and repeat!

Yuho “Eternal Embers” with sakazuki

Warm up some of this powerful junmai sake from Ishikawa and grab your sakazuki. The thick walls of this sakazuki help retain the heat of the sake and its wide mouth spreads this complex, rich, umami-laden sake to all corners of your palate. Savory and earthy aromas waft from the cup! Refill, and notice the changes in flavor as this complex sake comes down to room temperature.

Urakasumi “Junmai” with guinomi

This versatile and light-bodied sake is delicious warm or chilled and for that, only a trusty guinomi will ably guide you to wherever your heart leads. Try it chilled for the mellow aroma of steamed rice and a faint note of melon. Warm it up to unlock a gentle sweetness and spice, with lingering umami that will have you smacking your lips and looking for a snack.

Although the shape and material of specific glasses do enhance certain aspects of a sake, don’t despair if you don’t have “the perfect glass” to match your sake. If you bought sake from Tippsy, you’ve already got the good stuff. Just use what you have on hand and enjoy it! Try different cups and see what you think.

Every person, every sake, and every cup is different. What tastes right to you is ultimately what is most important!

Thanks for reading and kampai!

For a more in-depth look at sake cups, head over to my YouTube Channel!

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