How Much Do You Know About The Humble Teapot?

While some of us simply pour hot water onto a tea bag sitting in a cup, there are plenty of folks out there who still use a teapot to brew their tea, and in fact there are many who believe it is the only proper way to enjoy a cup of tea.

But have you ever stopped to think about the origins of the teapot: where they were first invented or what they were made from?

Teapots are considered everyday items in many countries of the world, but they didn’t always look as they do now, and they weren’t always so popular:

When did tea and teapots, first reach the western world?

When Portugal began developing sea routes to China in the 17th century, and the Dutch were honing their trading skills, tea finally began making its way to the western world. There is some argument over whether the vessels that were exported from China along with the tea – that were known as wine pots or wine ewers – were ever intended to be used for brewing tea.

However, they were certainly used as such when they reached western shores, and a formal distinction between the wine pots or ewers and teapots, was only made after 1964. This was helped along by the British East India company, who insisted that all teapots being produced for them in China, should have some kind of filter in front of the spout, to prevent the tea leaves from being poured into the cup along with the brewed liquid.

The British seemed to have discovered the delights of tea somewhat later than the rest of the western world, and it wasn’t until 1658 that it was first seen recorded as a sales commodity.

Which famous people were among the first to try tea brewed in a pot?

In 1660, there are records of the celebrated British diarist Samuel Pepys trying tea for the first time. A couple of years later – and still in Great Britain – Charles II married a Portuguese woman by the name of Catherine Braganza, and as tea had been popular in Portugal for many years, her passion for the hot beverage soon spread to the rest of the British population, and tea drinking soon became a social pastime for many.

What were these early teapots like?

Charles II’s wife, Catherine, would doubtless have been having her tea poured for her, from a porcelain or stoneware pot from China, or in later years, possibly from an English made silver teapot.

Ceramic teapots didn’t make an appearance until the late 1600’s, but they would remain in fierce competition with pots imported from China, for many, many years to come.

When did British teapots become so celebrated?

In the 1760’s, Josiah Wedgwood created earthenware teapots that were cream in colour, and these soon became fashionable among Britain’s middle class society. Not only because the pots were more attractive than previous designs, but because they also tended not to crack upon contact with hot water, as other models did.

In 1791 the East India Company stopped importing Chinese porcelain, allowing designers of British tea ware to have a place in the market, and as tea taxes fell, the drink soon became even more popular among Britons.

At some point in the early 1800’s, bone china was invented, and despite its delicate features, it turned out to be durable and strong, while also being easy to manufacture. So throughout the 19th century, bone china teapots became increasingly popular.

What about the size of teapots over the years?

Looking back over the past 300 years, the teapot has become larger as tea became less expensive and less of a luxury item. Other than that, the teapot has remained largely the same in design, with perhaps the only thing missing of note, being the filter or strainer, requested to be added by the East India Trading Company.