The history of teapots

Written by maureen katemopoulos
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The history of teapots
(Maureen Katemopoulos)

Tea drinking is thought to have originated around the fourth century when the tea plant "camellia sinensis" was first cultivated. The tea tradition evolved simultaneously in India, China and Japan and in its earliest days, the use of tea was for medicinal purposes. Tea leaf infusion is known to date from China's Ming Dynasty (1368 to 1644), and the evolution of the teapot can be traced back to that period.

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Clay

Clay teapots from the YiXing region of China are considered among the earliest and the best containers for tea, because of the quality, texture and attractive purple colour of the clay, as well as its ability to absorb the flavour of the tea. Originally, the teapots were made for individual use, to hold a single serving of tea, and for the tea to be sipped directly from the spout. YiXing teapots would eventually find their way to other countries and inspire new designs.

Porcelain

Some accounts say that when Chinese wine vessels were shipped to Europe packed in consignments of tea, they may have been mistaken for teapots, paving the way for the design and manufacture of similar containers. In Europe, the discovery around 1708 of a hard-paste formula for porcelain opened the door to design innovation using paint and gilt. Porcelain-producing factories were established in Vienna, Venice and Berlin, among other places. Teapots remained an expensive and therefore exclusive item, limited to use by the affluent.

The history of teapots
Royal Albert Porcelain Teapot

Silver & Pewter

In the 1700s, silver teapots came into service in elite English and Scandinavian households. The first silver service teapots designed specifically for tea date back to around 1730, and footed teapots to the 1780s. Pewter teapots were also manufactured in the 1700s, a sort of 'poor cousin' to the silver teapot, being more affordable if not as prestigious. The stature of the silver teapot in America might be gleaned from the 1765 portrait of Paul Revere painted by John Singleton Copley. In the portrait, Revere, who was a silversmith, holds a silver teapot. England's Queen Victoria (reigned 1837 to 1901) was said to prefer her tea served in a silver teapot.

The history of teapots
Silver Teapot

Spode

In England, Spode is a name synonymous with the finest English pottery. Josiah Spode II is credited with having developed and perfected the formula for fine bone china during the 18th century. Spode teapots are highly collectable and prized for their elegant designs and craftsmanship.

Glass

Heat-resistant, clear glass teapots are a 20th century creation. Glass teapots showcase the process of making tea. They enable the tea to be brewed to just the right strength based on the colour as the tea leaves or teabags diffuse their goodness through the boiling water. Many glass teapots come with detachable infusers in which to place the tea. Some also have warmers so that the tea stays hot. Glass teapots are as attractive on the tea table as they are practical. They are easy to clean, and many are also dishwasher safe.

The history of teapots
Glass Teapot On Warmer

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