What makes these
Kuksa especially interesting is the burl itself. They are relatively scarce, and I spend many of my walks with one eye on the lookout for new ones.
They are also difficult
to collect; I occasionally have to go up the tree by rope to collect the burl. .
Why use a wooden cup when I could use modern materials?
It is a personal choice. The aesthetic merits of using natural materials are somewhat self-evident - they just feel and look nice - and burl wood is something special in itself. There is also an environmental edge to using biodegradable products.
But what about any practical benefits?
One particularly good reason is that they are tough and can be thrown around a bit, especially if made from burl wood: you don't need to worry about breaking your favourite china cup if your favourite cup is actually made from wood. Practically speaking a metal or plastic cup will be just as tough, and better in other ways, the only question is whether or not it is your favourite.
Handling is also an issue, you start out holding a cup that isn't scalding hot, as 5mm of wood is a fairly good insulator, and you can drink the last of your beverage while it's still hot enough. Another way to look at this is that because you can hold it with bare hands, your hands can start to warm up against the cup sooner! A hot drink can warm you from the outside as well as from inside.
For the same reason, when you take a kuksa out from your frozen pack it isn't going to numb your hands with cold. In sub-zero temperatures touching metals should be avoided.
Another boon is that with many woodcarvers, myself included, you have a choice of the shape and size of your kuksa. This is helpful for temperature control, important when brewing some teas, as you often want a smaller cup to drink successive brews from. Drink espresso style coffee? The same applies; a big cup with espresso in is just embarrassing, not to mention that it ruins the desired experience.
As for the shape of the cup, this is a consideration if you expect to be able to place your cup on the forest floor and not worry too much about it tipping over, top-heavy. The kuksa I make all have a relatively low centre of gravity and exhibit a pot-bellied shape so as to settle into the forest floor rather than perch awkwardly atop it. But don't worry, the very bottom I carve absolutely flat so when you sit it in firmer ground again it will behave as expected.
With most of the kuksa I make I attach a loop which you can attach to your belt, making it easy to keep to hand, especially convenient when refreshing yourself at the spring.
What else should I know?
Practical benefits aside, a kuksa becomes a life-friend that you come to depend on. My favourite kuksa is not my best, it is the first one I made for myself.
As the tradition goes, a Kuksa should only be made by yourself or received as a gift. I encourage you try out carving one for yourself as it is a wonderful project which forms a lasting connection with the wood.
Visit my learning to carve section or visit one of the links. For a friend, one of my Kuksa would make a great camping or bushcraft cup and will last a lifetime. Don't forget to give them a bottle of brandy to go with it, as traditionally Kuksa are christened with coffee and cognac!