The Humble and Excellent Brown Betty

brown_betty_completeDespite its humble appearance and role as default teapot in so many English cupboards, the Brown Betty is a much more interesting piece of tea ware than one might assume.

The ancestral forms of the Brown Betty came into production and use in England near the close of the seventeenth century, when craftsmen began using the unique red clay found in the Bradell Woods area of Stoke-on-Trent to fashion into teapots. The application of the special Rockinham glaze, which gives the Brown Betty its characteristic namesake brown, and further refinements in the rounded shape of the main bowl area resulted in the teapot we know today. The device’s current, essentially unchanged form was solidified during the reign of Queen Victoria, as tea seeped out from the aristocracy to the common man and tea consumption in England grew exponentially.

Several decades earlier in England tea had been largely unavailable to the underclasses because of its high cost and the high cost of the tea wares required for preparing and drinking it. This changed during the course of the 19th century with further expansion of the British Empire, which resulted in lower costs of goods sent back from the territories exploited by British merchants and strong-armed by the British military. Importantly, the establishment of tea plantations in the Indian Sub-continent brought down the cost of tea considerably. In addition, more cost-effective industrial manufacturing processes brought the cost of teapots and tea cups down as well.

There are, of course, a number of famous ceramics manufacturers in England. Cauldon Ceramics, who hold exclusive rights for manufacturing the Brown Betty, is just one of them. In contrast, some of the other companies, like Wedgwood and Spode for example, concentrated their production on fine porcelain and bone china, marketing more delicate and expensive types of teaware and dinnerware, while the makers of the Brown Betty kept it much more utilitarian and functional in appearance.

brown_betty_lid_offAside from all of that history and background, the characteristic of the Brown Betty that should be most important to tea drinkers is that it brews and serves tea exceptionally well. Anyone with even a marginally serious interest in drinking English style teas should own one. They’re not fancy, or necessarily elegant in appearance, but they’re damned good teapots. The rounded shape of the teapot is particularly good for steeping loose leaf tea. It is said that the steeping leaves swirl around inside of the bowl of the pot, which might be true, although it’s a hard thing to prove (or see). But one thing that is much more evident is the way that the pot retains heat. The high heat retention brews better tea, and the pot keeps it hot longer after it’s finished steeping. A full pot of tea in a Brown Betty sitting out on a table will stay quite drinkably warm for longer than you’d expect, varying with the ambient temperature of the room. Using a tea cozy would probably help retain the heat even longer, if you were the type to use one.

These are teapots made out of good materials. The Rockingham glaze is strong and durable, and it is also particularly shiny and attractive. One of the accompanying photographs shows the red of the unglazed clay, on the edge of the lid off the pot, one of the distinguishing characteristics of the Brown Betty. The whole feels solid and well constructed.

Brown Betty teapots are surprisingly inexpensive, although it can be hard to locate authentic examples. This is to be expected when, in spite of the teapot’s fame and ubiquity, all production output comes from a single factory. Since the real thing can be scarce frauds are quite common. Do not be fooled by a plain brown ceramic teapot with deceptive labeling! While ordinary generic ceramic teapots are fine, they do not have the exceptional qualities of a genuine Brown Betty. If the teapot doesn’t have a British flag sticker on it and doesn’t have “Cauldon” and “Made in England” on the bottom it’s not the genuine article and will fall short of expectations.

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

47 thoughts on “The Humble and Excellent Brown Betty

  1. Marie Langdon

    This is my second Adderley Brown Betty Teapot in Red Terracotta and Rockingham Brown Glaze.
    I have used these all my life and the last two have cracked. …Why???

  2. Susan Natale

    Hi, I purchased a Brown Betty tea pot from you & love it. The problem is in washing I accidentally dropped & broke the lid. Do you know where I could replace the lid? It is a 4 cup pot. Thank you.

    1. Graham Ashby

      Yes, this looks like the one I had with a groove at the front of the opening that the lid went into, instead of a tab to stop it falling off.

  3. Sarah MacMillan

    Thank you for your excellent history of the Brown Betty! I love to research tea and teapots, and to share my findings with my elderly father, who taught me how to brew and appreciate tea. Now I have a new bit of information to accompany the Brown Betty I plan to give him over the holidays.

  4. Margaret Konevitch

    My Brown Betty purchased from you arrived today. It has China stamped on the bottom and now I feel cheated. Will you explain this to me? Is it permissible to heat the water in the microeave

    1. Online Stores

      Margaret, yes, I can explain why you did not receive a Brown Betty; unfortunately you did not order a Brown Betty. I am sorry. I am showing your order from 12/13/14 as being an English Tea Store Brand 2-cup teapot (brown gloss finish) for $4.95, as shown here. It is not a Genuine Brown Betty, which we also have here.

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  7. Tiffaney

    I have looked on Amazon and there are many complaints regarding the new brown betty pots being about a pound lighter than the old ones and handles falling off and glaze cracking. I’m interested in buying a solid pot that will last me for 20 or so years like the pots of old. I’m not sure which pot maker they are referring to when they talk about the inferior pots. Can you suggest which ones are the tried and true pots that do not crack and are heavy? I think they should be about 2 lbs or so and thick, no?

      1. A.C. Cargill

        The glaze on the exterior might have been changed to reflect style trends. Not sure. I tend to prefer the less shiny appearance.

  8. Wallace W Cleveland

    I have a Brown Betty, but for some reason i can’t
    get the tea to taste as it did when I was stationed in England. Is there a secret for breaking in a Brown Betty, or a certain kind of tea I should use.
    Thanks..

    1. A.C. Cargill

      It might be the water you’re using, not the teapot. Water varies from location to location. Experiment with various bottled waters until you find one that is right for you. 🙂

  9. Peter Hollingsworth

    This article is not correct in that there are 2 factories in England making the Brown Betty Teapots, Adderley Ceramics and the Cauldon Factory. The Cauldon Factory has had several different names over the last few years and does not have “exclusive rights” to manufacturing the Betties, no such “rights” exist. Adderley also manufacture Betty Tea Strainers, Mugs and Tea Tidies all items being available in Brown and Cobalt.

  10. Miss Moo

    I now have three Brown Betty teapots and I love them all the same. My kids think I am crazy when I cradle one with both hands and say, “Oooooh Betty is sexy”. You gotta admit the design is very sexy and when she is hot she is very very hot! The chocolate color is gorgeous and the shine of the glaze is unmatched in other pots. I treat them like they are sacred items. All it takes to get my attention is to say that someone bumbed my Betty and she fell on the floor. Of course she did not break because she is tough! Bless the Brown Betty. May she forever keep it hot!

  11. Richard

    I wanted to purchase the 2 cup Brown Betty, but it is temporarily unavailable. Is is OK to use the 4 cup Brown Betty and brew only 2 cups of tea in it? Or, should I wait and purchase the 2 cup Brown Betty if I plan on brewing only 2 cups of tea most days? Please advise. Thanks.

    1. A.C. Cargill

      That’s certainly a personal choice. Personally, I’d go for the 4-cup to be ready for those days that need a double dose of tea. 🙂

  12. Richard

    Is it safe to fill your Brown Betty with water, put it on the stove, bring the water to a boil, then add your tea? Or, should I boil the water in another pot and then pour it into the Brown Betty and add my tea? I’m new to this so I don’t know if the Brown Betty is safe for use on the stove. Please let me know. Thanks.

    1. A.C. Cargill

      Most teapots, other than those made of cast iron, should NOT be placed on a stove burner. Heat the water separately, put your tea leaves (or whatever form you use) in the Brown Betty, and add the hot water. You can pre-warm the teapot before adding the dry tea if you like. Happy steeping!

      1. Richard

        Thanks for your replies to both of my questions. the information you provided was very helpful and will be put to good use. Thanks again

    2. In answer to one questioner who wished to boil water on the stove inside the Brown Betty-

      Yikes! Never place a Brown Betty – or ANY ceramics – on the stove!!!

      This Brits use a ‘cozy’ to keep teapots warm. Alternative idea to warm up tea – I have found that many ceramics are microwave-safe, in the event that the tea has cooled somewhat.
      Good luck!

  13. Michael

    I have an authentic one gallon (or equivalent) Brown Betty from the 50’s 60’s in perfect condition. Perfect for a tea shoppe or home. I’m interested in the value of it- and for the right price, would sell it. Anyone know the history of this exceptional teapot?

    1. A.C. Cargill

      We can’t give out valuations on items, but perhaps one of our readers will know. Otherwise, I would suggest that you search online. Thanks and enjoy lots of tasty tea in that gallon-sized teapot!

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  17. Elle

    Hi all,

    So glad I found this blog as I have a question about my Betty. My Brown Betty is old (I bought it in a second-hand shop about 20 years ago), but there is no glaze on the inside of the pot. Is that the way it should be?
    Thanks for any replies.

    Elle

  18. danae

    hello

    i’m desperatly looking for an authentic and real brown betty but in racing green (6-8 cups). but i simply cant trust any of the online sellers.
    i was wondering, since you know so such about them, if you would also know where i could find my specific teapot?!

    thank you in advance for your help
    danae

    1. d

      danae – sorry but I have no idea where to find any older brown betty teapot – not the one I described and not the one that you described. sorry.

    2. It looks like nobody in the US is currently able to import any of them, but you can order one directly from the factory: http://www.cauldonceramics.co.uk.

      But it’s important to note that you are not going to find an authentic Brown Betty teapot in green. Part of the authenticity comes from the Rockinham glaze that the factory uses, which is always a dark chestnut brown.

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    1. Deborah A

      I had an older Brown Betty with a hole in the center of the lid, a ‘no-fall’ cut in the top that grabed the lid on the side of the spout, and – most imprssively – a wondrous NO DRIP spout whose main attribute was that the pouring portion faced the table rather than the ceiling.

      As an amateur potter I know that this had to be a less-produced item as cutting the spout must have taken more effort [as would the hole in the lid and that excellent method of holding the lid on]

      But as for the spout, this teapot literally sucked the drip back up into the spout.

      The lid was cracked and the pot eventually broke; then I found a painted version of the same teapot through Ebay a few years ago. [Both were/are of English origin by the way]

      However the remainder of the Brown Betty pots I’ve seen for sale do not have any of these attributes.

      Since your article is so wonderful and you seem to be an expert I wondered if you’d had any acquaintace with the type I’ve described…

      thanks!
      -Deborah Alexander
      dsalexan@optonline.net

      1. Graham

        I used to have one of these. It was wonderful — the lid never fell off. Mine had a raised band around the middle that was a lighter colour. Still that was over 20 years ago…

      2. A.C. Cargill

        Brown Bettys are pretty tough, so it should be alright as long as you don’t leave the teapot on the tealite when the pot is low or empty. 🙂

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