The history of teapots is as colourful and exciting as tea itself. Tea is perhaps the most famous consumed beverage enjoyed by billions of individuals around the world every single day. While we all have our favourite mug that no one else can use, we are still invariably drawn to that pretty cute teapot with a homemade woollen cosy, or one of the many elaborate Chinese or Japanese designed large pots with a rich history behind how they came about.
We know that tea originated in mainland China, then spread to the Japan, Korea, India (with the British) and later to other parts of the world including Europe and America. The evolution of teapots in different countries and cultures makes a compelling story and one that mirrored the development tea drinking cultures through the ages.
If you're passionate about tea, tea culture and interested in teaware you're in the right place, this should interest you - as we look at exotic and novelty teapots used in different countries around the world. Albeit this is only a brief summary as the study takes up books and whole sections of some museums... we'll leave that for your next holiday!
Tea has been consumed in China for the last 3000 years but was first mentioned in the book titled Ch’a Ching in 780 AD. Tea had become very popular and even prevalent in the Chinese society during Tang Dynasty (618AD to 908AD). It is debatable whether Chinese brewed tea in some distinctive pots or directly in the cup before it was consumed - merely putting the large green leaves in a bowl or cup of hot water.
Even if it is assumed that Chinese teapots existed in those times, it may have been ordinary in shape and design as there is no mention of their beauty or aesthetic appeal in books. The first mention of China teapot is seen in a book which says that the British East India Company officials in 1694 directed to be sent teapots made in China.
They specifically asked these pots to have a grate before the spout. They actually wanted a barrier in place before the beverage was poured in mugs to hold tea leaves behind. This was the first time that teapots with infusers were made.
It was during the Sung dynasty that the necessity of a formal teapot was first felt to match with the refinement of the whole tea brewing process - recorded in some historical texts at around 1500 AD.
These were Yixing teapots that originated from a province called Jiangsu in China. These were red or purple colour earthen pots that became popular even more during the Ming dynasty in the 17th century. Yixing teapots had a beautiful texture, and they seasoned after repeated use.
These teapots were for individual use, with each pot reserved for making a particular type of tea. Some records suggest that Chinese carried their teapots and drank the prepared loose leaf tea directly from the nozzle of their teapots, although this does seem rather strange but very practical.
Tea was introduced to Japan from China by travelling Buddhist monks. These monks used to sip green tea to stay awake during their long hours of meditation, you could say they were the first endurance athletes of sorts which may explain why professional athletes today still use caffeine derived from green tea in sports drinks.
Japanese people soon developed a liking for this beverage, and they even invited Chinese artisans to teach them how to make earthen teapots like those made in Yixing. This is how Raku, the famous Japanese pot for making tea emerged. This unique teapot was handmade in the province of Bizen.
Late on, there was an evolution in teapot designing in Japan with eventual pots carrying themes from nature coming into existence. Japanese teapot is traditionally known as Kusu while the teapot that was obtained from Yixing was referred to as cha-hu. There have been many shapes and designs of Kyusu in vogue in Japan. It can have a side handle or a handle at the rear.
Tea was first introduced as a beverage to India by the British rulers as a former colony under the reign of Queen Victoria. Before that, the tea plant (Camellia Sinensis) was used by local Indians only for medicinal purposes; which ironically has been the main reason for the resurgence of tea as a health drink the last few years.
In all earnest, tea became popular among the masses as a recreational drink only in the first half of the 20th century. Today India remains the leading producer and consumer of tea in the world. Tea is mostly made in aluminium or stainless steel utensils in India while it is served in cups or mugs made of porcelain or ceramic.
In rural India, tea is still consumed in earthen pots or cups made of red clay. During formal occasions such as festivals and functions, teapots made of bone china or porcelain are used in different parts of the country. White teapots are standard across the country. A glass teapot set is used at special ceremonies to make a good impression on guests, served in glass cups and the best table clothes. The trend among the younger generation, however, is a funky teapot to impress their friends or, like in Europe, a more practical tea set for one.
There is a wide selection of teapots made with strainers available today. These come in a variety of sizes and materials, from beautifully designed borosilicate glass teapots, English bone China, stoneware, the very popular Bodum cafetieres or stainless steel varieties. Some are modern and contemporary while others are more classic in design.
Generally, though all modern teapots come with a removable infuser inside or a strainer to filter out the tea leaves before serving. Ideally, you should always use one type of tea in a teapot and only rinse out with tea, not with soap.
But practically these days we usually have one or two teapots at home which we use for all tea. Make sure you wash it out correctly or even leave soaking with hot water inside overnight before you try a different drink in the same teapot.
Glass teapots are the best option if you want to use one teapot for various types as the flavours don't stick to the teapot surface and easily wash clean between each use - which is why some top restaurants serving afternoon tea now like to use these as well.
When deciding on how much tea leaves to use in a teapot you generally as a rule of thumb can add one heaped teaspoon per serving or 200ml capacity. So, for example, a 1L teapot would take 5 teaspoons of tea; and if you prefer a stronger drink, we suggest you just add more tea leaves rather than over-infuse the loose leaf tea.
As a rule of thumb here in the UK, all tea is infused for: 2-3 minutes so don't overdo it and can see detail suggested brewing guidelines elsewhere on our website.
It was in the 17th century that British public was introduced to tea from China. Initially, the East India company imported Chinese green tea along with spices and other exotic foods from Asia. However, concerns were that it would not remain fresh during the long sea voyages, so they soon transferred to selling black teas instead - this was the beginnings of the traditional English breakfast tea the United Kingdom has become synonymous with today.
The British imported not only tea but also teapots as they did not know how to produce such high-quality bone pottery teapots as were being manufactured in China. These earthen teapots became so popular that people started to collect them and they were referred to as pots from the East Indies.
It was only by the middle of the 18th century that English craftsmen mastered how to make porcelain teapots with beautiful designs over them. A whole new industry sprouted, and Stoke-on-Trent became the de facto capital of English fine bone China. Till this day the local football club, Stoke City F.C., is still nicknamed "The Potters"- a reference to the teapot making heritage of the city.
It was only when tea became famous all over England and the concept of afternoon tea became widespread that England started to create beautiful teapots and collectors still scammer auction houses for the best vintage tea sets. Brown Betty teapot which is used even today, became very popular for the first time in the 19th century. It was a creation of Swinton Pottery.
Hard to believe that today there are still over 1,500 registered potters, with some of these family businesses have been in existence for over 200 years. Back then teapots were mostly pear-shaped whereas now nearly any shape and the colour is possible. Who would have thought we would see black, red or even multicoloured teapots! Or a teapot that sits on top of a matching mug to serve tea for one.
The East India Company introduced not only tea to England but also Chinese teapots to Europe. It was in Germany that first attempt to make earthen teapots similar to those from Asia was made. They tried to make soft paste porcelain, but they were fragile and often broke when hot tea was poured into them. Eventually, the breakthrough in making teapots was achieved in France where they also decorated these first teapots with Rococo and elaborate baroque designs - the rest is la grande Histoire des théières.
Turkey is one of the biggest consumers of tea today and also have a rich history of drinking tea and different ways to make tea. Turkish tea drinkers use a double teapot called a 'caydanlik', to prepare strong black tea. Water is boiled in the lower pot while dry leaves are placed in the top-pot.
Generally, although it varies depending on country and region, in the Middle East teapots are much taller than any used in other parts of the world. It has a long mouth near the top and a very curvy shape. Qatar even has a teapot monument in its capital Doha. The Large teapot has become a symbol of Middle Eastern teapots.
For any genuinely passionate tea lover, a good teapot (or two) is essential equipment to have at home. While it's important to get the right teapot to ensure the tea is brewed optimally from a speciality tea expert point of view; but why not also get yourself a fun teapot, like a bright one from Emma Bridgewater or even build a collection of different teapot sets from all over the world!
Hopefully, this article helped spark your interest in teapots. At the very least it gives you some more things to talk about over afternoon tea on Sunday or some ideas of what to add to your Christmas or birthday list this year - as the perfect tea lovers gift idea with a tin of organic loose tea. Enjoy, and please let us know what your favourite teapot is and why?
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