A Stirring Tea Experience (or How a Teaspoon Got to Be a Teaspoon)

Teatime can be a stirring experience, with your teaspoon going round and round in the cup, making sure that your honey, lemon, sweetener, milk, etc., are well-blended with your tea. That simple act of stirring your tea has been a part of teatime for as long as there has been a teatime (European-style, that is).

Spoons have been around much longer than forks. From the bronze and silver implements of the Greeks and Romans to the ivory, flint, slate and wood ones used by Egyptians, to all the variations through the ages up to the modern versions. The name supposedly comes from an Anglo Saxon word (“spon”) that referred to a thin, concave wood piece used for eating things like porridge or oatmeal that were too thick to drink from the bowl. They’ve evolved a lot since then.

Today, spoons are available in a wide variety of sizes and are made from a number of materials, including wood, silver, pewter, electro-plated nickel silver, melchior (a nickel and copper alloy) and stainless steel (most common and inexpensive). The material a spoon was made from used to be a sign of one’s status, socially and financially, with silver spoons being used in the higher strata and the wooden and pewter ones in the lower strata of society. The most common shapes: teaspoons and tablespoons usually with oval bowls, and soup spoons and serving spoons often with round bowls.

The size of teaspoon bowls was meant to assure that they fit inside those delicate bone china teacups used by the upper classes for their tea. The bowl of the spoon had to be small enough to allow for a bit of movement within the cup area. Not much sense in using a spoon otherwise! The handles, which started as thin and sometimes pointed at the end, became flatter for easier holding and so that various decorative designs could be added.

Today, there are two kinds of teaspoons: the stirring kind and the measuring kind.

The bowls of stirring teaspoons are inconsistent in size, depending on the maker, while the measuring kind are of a standardized size. Thus, contrary to their name, those stirring teaspoons are not suitable for accurately measuring out things like, well, tea! Tea vendors’ instructions may say to use, for example, a teaspoon of tea for each 8 ounces of water. That means you need a measuring teaspoon, not a stirring teaspoon, for determining the correct amount of tea to use.

Stirring teaspoons need to be confined to their role at table. This is especially true of teatime where that gentle “clink” against the side of the teacup and then against the saucer as you set it down is an essential ingredient as much as those finger sandwiches, scones with clotted cream and jam, and, of course, tea. I recognize that teaspoons are useful for other tasks, too, such as eating things out of a bowl, especially ice cream, and stirring other beverages like cocoa and coffee.

A side note: Spoon collecting began around 1890 in Massachusetts with an enterprising jeweler. He created a sterling silver spoon to commemorate the Salem witch trials. Rather an odd event to make such note of. A more expected event is the American Revolutionary War. A Washington Bicentennial teaspoon was created in 1932. Apostle Spoons, which had handles terminating in heads or busts of the apostles, were popular as christening presents in Tudor times. In modern times, just about every tourist gift shop has collectible teaspoons you can purchase to commemorate your visit.

Don’t forget to check out A.C.’s blog, Tea Time with A.C. Cargill!

One thought on “A Stirring Tea Experience (or How a Teaspoon Got to Be a Teaspoon)

  1. Pingback: Tea Themes on Our Blog | Tea Blog

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