Teapots: What They Are and Where They Came From

A teapot is the vessel used to infuse tea leaves in hot water and consists of a pouring spout (which can have a built-in strainer), a handle, a lid sometimes with a small hole to alleviate pressure when pouring, and the main vessel, usually globular in shape. They can be made of glass (enabling you to see flowering teas blossom and regular tea brewing) , ceramic, metal or silver.

It is believed that the teapot originally derived its shape from the wine ewers and ceramic kettles that came from China when tea was originally shipped to Europe in the 17th century. An alternative theory is that the original shape may have come from Islamic coffee pots.

What we can be sure of is that tea was a high price at the time and therefore was the domain of the wealthy, so teapots originally produced during the 17th century were made of a comparable material, (eg. silver) and were rare.

The world owes tea to the Chinese, but the design of the teapot to the Europeans. The first ceramic teapots were heavy with short straight replaceable spouts. These teapots broke easily, so at the beginning of the 18th century the East India Company (the main tea importers) commissioned Chinese artists to create teapots to the company's design. China's porcelain was more durable and, as porcelain can withstand sea water damage, the East India Company placed the pots in the cargo areas of the their ships with the tea being stored on top in the dry. This arrangement also gave the ships better ballast in the cargo areas making them more stable during their voyage.

Around the mid-1800's, William Cookworthy discovered a way to produce porcelain similar to the Chinese and founded a works in the town of Plymouth, UK. At first, of course, the designs of the European pots were influenced by the Chinese designs.

The most popular drink in the UK was ale, but once William Pitt's government cut the tax on tea and thanks to poor grain harvests, pots began to increase in size as the general population started to consume more tea than ale.

With the advent of the industrial revolution the pottery industry grew by leaps and bounds and finally in 1791 the East India Company stopped importing porcelain from China.

The invention of tough, durable bone china in the 19th century allowed the industry to easily manufacture enough pots for the consumer boom of the next 200 years.

The basic design of the teapot has hardly changed in 300 years: whether shaped like a marmite jar or like Buckingham Palace, there is still a pot, a spout, a lid, and a handle.

If you've never had a cup of tea made in a teapot try it now! And don't forget to read our How To Make A Perfect Cup Of Tea page. Trust me, tea really does taste better made in a pot!

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