Well designed objects fulfil our desire for art and beauty and are a genuine source of pleasure every time we use them. The ubiquitous Teapot is one such object that is not only practical in providing a way to serve tea but can also be a source of memories, a promise of an interlude, a symbol of friendship, a chance to rest for a chat or heart to heart for solace and confidence sharing. The Teapot, like a childhood toy is intimately familiar and certainly brings a sense of joy, comfort and optimism.
Once upon a time around the 7th century tea was made in bricks and a piece would be broken off and thrown into a large pot or cauldron to boil to make tea. One would drink the tea from wide bowls. As time went on the tea was then made into a powder and mixed with hot water into a paste in a deep wide bowl. The width of the bowl helped with the whisking process and then the tea was left to settle and drunk out of the bowl.
Later in the 1300’s leaf tea began to be used and teapots were made to allow the tea to steep. Teapot shaped vessels with a spout and a handle had been in China for thousands of years but were used for water and wine. These teapots were based on the earlier drinking bowls used to brew tea and also to drink from . Dating back to the Yixing teapot in China a porous ceramic teapot that is unglazed and traditionally made of purple clay called zisha and used to make refined Pu’erh or Oolong tea. Over time these ceramic teapots have become popular and are still in use today in an array of shapes. With frequent use a layer of tea forms on the inside of the teapot and experts suggest to use this type of teapot for only one type of tea only. Yes tea was drunk directly from the spout. Imagine that today?
The teapot designs of today where the bowl of the teapot is rounded came about from the Europeans. In the early 1700’s when fine clay was found in the Uk and Europe a fine porcelain was created to rival the china from Asia.
The humble Teapot is charming and has universal appeal as a breakfast table necessity, a treasure for a collector, an essential element of a Chinese tea ceremony, an afternoon tea symbol of elegance and style, or a cherished family heirloom used for special occasions. Whatever you may think about teapots, there is no doubt that across the world, they are loved for their practicality and the infinite design potential they create, and of course the always welcome taste of a good, well-made cup of tea.
I use a small glass teapot for green and jasmine tea, silver teapot and fine bone china teapots for black tea, and my yellow teapot will always remain the best one for English breakfast tea as it is bright and cheerful for first thing in the morning, The go-to teapot for days out in the garden is a small enamel teapot.
Teapots come in a profusion of styles and designs – ornate, vintage and antique, expensive, simple, practical, or part of a collection of fine china, the only essential criteria for a good teapot is that it holds boiling water. To choose a good Teapot, consider; does the teapot draws tea well? Is the teapot’s material safe, non-toxic, and does not alter the flavour of tea? Does it dribble when the tea is poured or tip over because it is unbalanced? Or is it perfect?
Cast Iron Teapots will keep tea hotter for longer and are one of the oldest types of teapots. They are made using a mould so can be made in many different styles and shapes. Cast iron teapots generally are lined inside with enamel so are hardwearing and will retain a good tea for a long time. They also are designed so the heat is distributed evenly through the pot and hence the flavour of tea is drawn out well. Cast iron teapots are often made based on ancient Chinese Teapots called Testubins which were used to boil water in ancient times. Never use dishwashing liquid or place them in a dishwasher.
Glass Teapots are great if you are making green tea, or herbal infusions or and attractive floral and light oolong teas as you can see inside the teapot which is fun to watch the leaves unfurl. They can be can be washed in a dishwasher and come with or without infusers and filters .
Ceramic Teapots are made in several types; Stoneware, Earthenware, Porcelain and Bone China The main difference in them is whether they are porous or non porous.
Fine bone china or bone china are both the same thing. Fine bone china teapots make terrific tasting tea and is in my view the best material for Teapots because it is white, lightweight and yet, at the same time has strength and durability. It can be hand painted with glazes and gold and silver so is highly attractive. Bone china is easy to look after unless embellished with gold and silver, plus has the added advantage of being completely non-toxic and safe. The composition is basically a very fine clay with added bone ash. The bone ash provides the strength, makes the china hard, giving an almost translucent finish that is white, elegant, and refined but durable and resistant to chips.
Earthenware is a heavier sturdy more casual looking China. Great for outdoors and barbeques. The colours are often darker in shades of browns and reds and the material is very porous so may stain or absorb liquids. Best not used in the oven or microwave but is perfect for hand-painted designs. More care is needed as it is more prone to chips and cracks.
Stoneware is less porous than earthenware and more durable and comes in lighter colours.Although durable is not as refined and delicate as porcelain.
Porcelain is another ceramic that is non-porous and mostly white, very durable because of the high temperature of firing. Porcelain is able to be used in the dishwasher, oven, microwave and freezer so is practical and also extremely durable.
Metal Teapots such as enamel, silver or stainless steel have good heat retention, so your tea will stay hot longer; they are durable, attractive, especially silver and will not crack from boiling water. There is an aspect of romance around silver teapots. From a simple Robur perfect teapot to a more elaborate Georgian or Victorian tea service set out on a tray, the timeless aesthetic of a silver teapot will always make afternoon tea look and feel special.
Although Teapots are based on shape and the composition of material they are made from; ceramic, cast -iron, metal or glass. Another aspect to consider in choosing a teapot is size. Making tea for one, the smallest teapot will do, with friends 4 cup or 6 cup teapot and a medium size teapot for hot water is needed. It is nice to have a very large Teapot for special occasions when you have more people to tea. After that there are many choices to make on colour, pattern and style.
The handmade Brown Betty teapot, that dates back to the 17th century and is still today a national favourite in the UK, is made from English red clay, fired and glazed to create a unique finish . The brown Betty is popular for the renowned heat retention.
High tea or afternoon tea is not the same without a few vintage cups and saucers a touch of Royal Doulton, Wedgwood, Spode, Vera Wang or Rosenthal fine bone china. On the other hand, if you are not a lover of vintage Alessi, Georg Jensen, Ittalia, Baccarat and Le Creuset all make more contemporary glass and stainless steel teapots or perhaps you like a novelty teapot.
The whimsical Teapot or novelty teapots have been around as a collectors item for centuries. From cauliflowers and pineapples to ships, planes, cars, animals, birds, castles to just about anything you could think of, a teapot has been designed to replicate it. The novelty teapot collection below I photographed in Spain when travelling pre Covid and are examples of teapot designers fanciful, quirky, inspiration. For more on novelty teapots read here and here
All content Di Baker 2021
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