Tazza is simply the Italian word for “cup,” although many people also use it to describe a specific type of cup or bowl. In this sense, a tazza is a ornamental vessel which is classically mounted on a foot or pedestal. Typically, a tazza is shallow, and many historical examples of these vessels are highly decorated. Many archaeological sites have featured a plethora of tazzas, especially in Europe and the Middle East; 16th century Italy was an especially fruitful period for the tazza, and numerous specimens from this period can be found in collections all over the world.
The word is derived from the Arabic tast, which means “basin,” and a tazza indeed resembles a shallow basin more than it does a cup. At some historical sites, tazzas have been tested, revealing traces of oil which suggest that they may have been used as lamps with floating wicks. Art and writings at these sites suggest that the vessels might have been used in cultural or religious rituals, and they may have be filled with a variety of things, including liquids.
Since tazzas are designed for mounting, it is clear that they were meant to be ornamental historically, and modern examples are also used more for interior design than for function. The shallow bowl could also be used to display various objects like flowers, rocks, and so forth, and in religious rituals, tazzas might have held offerings or gifts. These formal vessels might also have been used on important or momentous occasions, to offer drinks to honored guests or celebrants, for example.
In most cases, a tazza is mounted on a stem along with a foot, causing to to resemble an oversized and flattened wine glass. In other instances, the foot of a tazza is directly connected with the base; some coffee cups utilize the same design scheme, ensuring that drips end up on the base, rather than on the drinker or the table. Unlike most coffee cups, a tazza may or may not have handles, depending on its origin; if it does have handles, there are usually two.
The materials used to make a tazza can vary widely. Porcelain and ceramics are common, as are various metals and sometimes stone or wood. The surface of the tazza may be lavishly decorated both inside and out with carvings, inlay, precious stones, and other features. Some very fine examples of tazzas can be seen on display in museums around the world, including versions executed in gold, silver, and other precious materials.