Like any great quest, the seeking of perfection is all pervasive and can even invade our dreams and the quiet repose of our tea time. The perfect teapot — is it Cordoba’s mythical Fountain of Youth?
Plato, a philosopher from long, long ago (as in before even I was born), had the idea that everything around us is an imperfect version of a “perfect” version that exists in the ether somewhere. There is a perfect tree out there from which are spawned all the imperfect trees around us. The same goes for everything from aardvarks to zithers. If Plato is right, then there’s a perfect teapot somewhere out there in the ether. Now, where’s this ether? Drat, there’s always a catch.
As a tea devotee, I regard the very concept of a perfect teapot just as I do the concept of a perfect cuppa tea: it is an individual quest and achievement. Only you can decide which is your perfect teapot, just as only you can know when you have achieved that perfect steep.
Even so, there are teapots and then there are teapots. Some seem to suit the steeping of one tea versus another for various reasons. Here’s a bit of a rundown based on the material(s) from which the teapot is made:
- Bone China/Porcelain — Tends to cool a bit quicker, so you may want to use with teas that need steep times between 2 and 4 minutes. However, you can extend the time the teapot stays warm with a nice tea cozy or a tea warmer stand. Very stylish and used as much for their appearance as their tea steeping ability.
- Ceramic/Stoneware — Made of a thicker, coarser clay, and holds heat fairly well, but still needs a cozy or warmer to keep the tea warm for the length of your tea time. Black teas with strong flavors are great contenders here. The Brown Betty is a classic stoneware teapot. The U.S. company Louisville Stonewaremakes some fine ones, too.
- Yixing clay — Unglazed and therefore porous, meaning that they absorb the flavor and aroma of the teas steeped in them. Each teapot needs to be confined to one particular type of tea; for example, one for green teas, one for oolongs, etc. They are small, lending themselves to teas needing short steep times and that can be infused multiple times. My collection is small but an important part of my tea arsenal.
- Silver — Holds heat well so works best with teas that can withstand higher temperatures and longer steeping times. Generally, that means black teas, especially Darjeelings according to some tea experts.
- Glass — Good for a wide variety of teas, but the clear glass kind are especially appropriate for “show teas” (ones that are a delight to watch while steeping). A good example is blooming/flowering tea, but you can also get quite a good show from teas like Tie Guan Yin (Ti Kuan Yin, Iron Goddess) where the leaves unfurl from their cocoon-like shape.
- Cast iron— Unique in that you can place them on an open flame or on your woodburning stove to heat the water and then steep tea directly in them. The finest ones are said to come from Japan. They are great for green teas, but could be used for other teas as well, such as dark teas from Darjeeling, India. The metal really holds the heat, so watch your steeping time, or your tea leaves will get cooked.
- Stainless steel — Holds heat fairly well. Great for most teas. Popular in restaurants since they can take a bit of banging about and even dropping without too much damage.
Again, I emphasize that perfection is whatever suits your tea needs, no matter what that Plato fellow said all those centuries ago. He didn’t even drink tea but was more of a mead man. So, this quest for perfection is up to you. Happy hunting!
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