Greeting Sake Lovers, welcome to another KURAND Magazine article that introduces you to the world of sake.
Another element of sake pairing that adds an extra dimension to the experience is the vessel that you use. You may already be familiar with the small porcelain cups called ochoko, but there is so much more diversity out there just waiting to be discovered. It would be no exaggeration to suggest that the variety on offer is as diverse sake itself.
Just a small variation in size, design, aperture, and material can transform the flavor and aroma of sake or even its aesthetics, or perhaps, it spirits you away to a deeper level of sake enjoyment. The point is that by always drinking from the same vessel, you could be subconsciously limiting your enjoyment of sake and missing out on the depth it has to offer. In this article, we take a deeper dive and look at 3 easy to remember tips for experience-enhancing vessel selection.
3 Tips to Enhance Your Enjoyment of Sake with the Choice of Vessel
Tip 1: Material
One aspect that many people will overlook is the material that the vessel is made out, but it can have a profound effect on the flavor of sake. Glass will enhance the sharper elements of the sake—perfect for the fuller-bodied types—while porcelain (pottery) will soften the flavors resulting in a milder, gentler mouthfeel—perfect for the more subtle, delicate sake.
Another one which might not get so much attention is tin. Tin is originally highly effective in antibacterial activity and there is evidence it was popular among the ancient Egyptians. In the case of sake, tin helps to remove unwanted off-flavors and complexity and mellow the sake out and as a great heat conductor it provides the perfect vessel for playing with temperature; keeping warm sake warm and cool sake cool for longer. Some tin vessels are also extremely malleable so you can bend them into different shapes.
Although it is a bit of a novelty, bamboo is another very traditional, popular type of material to make sake vessels out of. The best type of bamboo is called aodake.
Sake poured into fresh aodake becomes a little sweeter and milder. Aodake is strongly linked to celebrations, so it is especially recommended for around New Years! Adding bamboo to the dinner table adds a little luxury to everyday sake life.
Tip 2: Capacity – smaller is better?
The easiest thing to gauge is the vessel’s capacity; the amount of sake poured can alter its flavor. When you drink chilled sake, a smaller vessel is recommended so that you can finish the sake up before the temperature changes. Incidentally pouring too much sake may cause the flavors to dissipate. Smaller cups also mean that less of the sake is in contact with air, so there is less oxidation.
One of the less obvious reasons that sake is drunk from smaller vessels is to facilitate communication, a very strong cultural element in the enjoyment of sake. Most of the vessels only hold a very small volume of sake, so to get through a large 1.8L bottle requires people to pour for each other and in Japan, it is taboo to pour for yourself. Nothing facilitates communication like the design of a sake cup. Why not serve-up this little piece of sake culture at your next dinner party and get your guests interacting Japanese style.
Small is not always better though. Sometimes you actually want to bring the sake into contact with oxygen to aerate it and open it up to wake up dormant flavors and aroma. If this is your objective, the wine glass is king. It can also sometimes be beneficial to decant the more fuller bodied sake like with red wine. You can even use a red wine glass or decanter for this purpose.
Tip 3: Shapes
The shape of the vessel is perhaps the most important element to consider. Whether the vessel has a lip, it is rounded or not etc will determine which flavors hit your taste sensors first when it enters the mouth A type where the sides are curved outwards is going to push the fresher aromas and flavors forward, whereas a convex type is going to suppress aromas and bring out bring rich flavors to the forefront instead.
For aromatic styles like ginjo etc, a trumpet-shaped glass where the sides curve outwards is perfect for enhancing the aroma. A glass with a deep bottom is even better.
Flower Bud Shapes
A flower bud shape works in the opposite way to the trumpet shape. Instead of enhancing the aroma, it helps to trap even the more modest of bouquets so that you can enjoy them for longer.
This type of ochoko is made by pulling the side upwards which directs the flavors towards the center of the tongue, perfect for the mature sake with more quirky flavor profiles.
Saucer shape vessels closely match the shape of our mouths so all the flavors tend to hit the taste sensors at the same time creating a balanced and harmonious palate.
BONUS: Sake Cup Design
While it doesn’t exactly enhance the flavor or aroma, why not have a little fun with all the different design sake cups that are out there.
Designs To Celebrate Japan
Everything from the faces of demons to even mount Fuji itself are often immortalized in the design of sake vessels.
Cutesy designs are a little gimmick that has helped to bring more female drinkers into the fold.
When sake is poured into this ochoko, it looks like the rabbit is taking a bath.
One of the cool features of KURAND is that you choose your own vessel and our selection is getting bigger and more diverse all the time. Who knows, maybe you will find some Mount Fuji ochoko or something even stranger. Whatever you choose, there is no better way to start your journey into the world of sake than at KURAND, where you can taste over 100 types of sake without time limits, all for one flat fee.