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How do you serve your tea? Do you simply brew a cup? Or do you serve from a teapot? Whether it is for two people or six, teapots have been around for centuries. Teapots come in many forms, sizes, and are made in several materials like ceramic, metal, silver, or even glass.

DTP_BB8C_-00_8-Cup-Brown-Betty-Teapot

(c) English Tea Store – Brown Betty Teapot

The earliest teapots were invented during the Yuan Dynasty in China but it was during the Tang Dynasty when tea became more popular. The earliest teapots were made from Yixing, a type of clay. By the end of the 17th Century, this teapot arrived in Europe and there was already a high demand for tea. However, tea was normally reserved for the wealthy since it was taxed so high, making it expensive at the time. Teapots produced back then were made of silver. Catherine of Braganza (the wife of Charles II) even enjoyed tea originally from Chinese porcelain, but later on switched to English silver.

In 1784, the taxes on tea were finally cut, thus greatly reducing in price and allowing more people to have access to the beverage. Tea’s popularity and consumption began to increase and tea eventually became the most popular drink in all of Britain. Many makers of British teaware became prominent and also competed against China’s teapots until British teapots became more standard. Today’s most popular teapots come from many British manufacturers, ranging from Wedgwood’s Bone China to the smash hit (I probably shouldn’t be saying that about teapots!) Brown Betty teapot.

Round-vesseled and beautiful, these teapots are tougher than you think! These teapots were made early on in the 1800s, with special red clay found in the Bradell Woods area located in Stoke-on-Trent and glazed with a Rockingham Glaze, helping it turn into its signature brown color. How the Brown Betty got its name is relatively unknown but what they are known for is their excellent quality since the tea leaves will have plenty of room to gently unfurl once hot water is poured in. Brown Betties are well known for retaining heat thanks to the ceramic and can stay warm for a long time (cozies also help)!

You can use whatever tea you fancy in any teapot, whether it’s for yourself or for a full table of guests. There are 2 cup, 4 cup, 6 cup, and even 8 cup teapots. Not into two cups of tea? Not a problem! There are tea for one sets like this one that even include a cup!

Did you know? Yixing teapots are known for “remembering” a type of tea. The clay in it makes it porous, so it helps remember the previous teas that were infused in them, thus earning the nickname “memory teapots”. It’s best to stick with one type of tea when infusing in this teapot.

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“Uplifting Laughing Buddha Tea Pet”, from www.chinese-tea-culture.com

“Uplifting Laughing Buddha Tea Pet”, from http://www.chinese-tea-culture.com

Tea pets are a delightful, if less well-known, element of tea drinking that most often feature in gong fu tea preparation. Made of yixing clay, tea pets (also known as tea mascots) absorb the flavour of tea because of the clay’s porous, unsealed nature. Yixing teapots often feature an animal on the body or lid, and sometimes the pot itself is an animal, but tea pets are different; they are independent entities. They can be animals, figures (most often a Buddha or monk), or even fruits! Each comes with its own symbolism: toads are thought to bring wealth, dragons are auspicious, cows symbolise devotion or hard work, pigs are smart and helpful, laughing Buddha brings wealth and luck…the list goes on.

In gong fu preparation tea is poured over the vessels and, if you have one, your tea pet.  In addition to benefitting the preparation of the tea, the pouring seasons the yixing vessels (although other vessels can also be used) and “raises” your tea pet. The first steeping will often be poured over the pet as this steeping is solely to “wake up” the leaves, and is therefore discarded.  The tea nourishes the tea pet, which is said to increase in value as it ages—this is value in terms of symbolic power, but some people also think that a well-raised tea pet fetches a higher price.

Pi Xui (the ninth offspring of the dragon) tea pet, from www.teahub.com

Pi Xui (the ninth offspring of the dragon) tea pet, from http://www.teahub.com

“Cute Tiger Tea Pet”, from www.chinese-tea-culture.com

“Cute Tiger Tea Pet”, from http://www.chinese-tea-culture.com

Although I own two yixing pots, one of which has a charming little frog on its lid, I do not own a tea pet…yet. Many people own numerous tea pets, but choosing a first tea pet feels like a significant decision that should be given due consideration and deliberation. So, as with other big life decisions, I want to take my time. Frogs are a consistent favourite with me as the frog on my yixing pot indicates. There are certainly plenty of frog tea pets out there, although toads are more directly associated with good fortune, and so tend to be more common (this one that I came across online changes colour when hot water is poured over it!). However, there is such a range of creatures and designs that I am tempted to branch out from my froggy inclinations. No matter what your totem animal, symbolic inclination, or aesthetic preference, be assured that there is a tea pet out there waiting for you!

“Frog on a Watermelon Tea Pet”, from www.chinese-tea-culture.com

“Frog on a Watermelon Tea Pet”, from http://www.chinese-tea-culture.com

See also: My Yixing Teapots

© 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. 

Lainie's Yixing beauty named "Koi"

Lainie's Yixing beauty named "Koi"

I love my Yixing teapots.

Mind you, I only have a few (seven at last count). These teapots don’t come cheap, and I live on a modest budget. Yet for many types of tea, there is simply nothing better than Yixing brewing. The hot, seasoned clay can produces a rich flavor that I’ve not been able to duplicate with other brewing vessels.

These teapots are made from unglazed clay. The lack of glazing allows both the inside and the outside of the teapot to absorb the tea. The outside eventually takes on a lovely patina while the inside becomes seasoned with the tea. This is why Yixing teapots should only be used with one type of tea: The seasoning of the teapot contributes to the flavor of the tea brewed within.

Mind you, not all types of tea are suitable for Yixing brewing. According to the proprietor of my favorite Chinese teashop, green and white teas shouldn’t be brewed in Yixing because these teas require cooler water, and the thick clay of Yixing holds in heat all too well. Most black teas, on the other hand, brew up superbly in Yixing, as does pu’erh. I’ve also been known to brew up a beautiful Ti Kuan Yin (Iron Goddess of Mercy) in Bizzy, my teapot dedicated to that wonderful oolong.

Lainie's teatime mascot

Lainie's teatime mascot

In case you are wondering: No, I don’t name all of my teaware, just my Yixing pots. Because I need to remember which tea goes into which pot, most of my teapot names are mnemonic. For example, Bizzy is short for Bismuth, a heavy metal that is also relatively non-toxic. I picked the name because my friends often commented that “Iron Goddess of Mercy” sounded like a heavy metal band.

(Bismuth=Heavy Metal get it?)

Not all of the teapot names are associated with their corresponding teas, however. My most costly teapot, for example, is shaped like a pig. I naturally named him bacon, though his primary job is to brew Yunnan golds, and I prefer to drink Yunnan teas with chorizo.

(Bacon goes better with Keemun.)

I hope to build my collection of Yixing teapots over time so that I can enjoy even more of my favorite teas in these marvelous little vessels. Do you own any Yixing teaware? I’d love to hear about it!

Don’t miss Lainie’s tea tastings on her blog Lainie Sips!

© 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.

By William I. Lengeman III

Nowadays there are any number of ways to prepare a cup of tea. But one of the most time-honored and popular methods is that old standby – hot water, tea and a teapot. Many teapots are simple devices, but many others are impressive works of art in their own right.

Teapot

If you’d like to look at teapots up close, you might be in luck, depending on how far you’re willing to travel. Here are several museums and collections that are open to the public.

The Twining Teapot Gallery
The Twining Teapot Gallery is part of the Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery, in Norfolk, England. The collection numbers more than 3,000 teapots in all manner of shapes and sizes, with items that date from the 1730s to the present.

Flagstaff House Museum of Tea Ware
The Flagstaff House Museum of Tea Ware is a branch museum of the Hong Kong Museum of Art. It’s located in the former office and residence of the Commander of the British Forces in Hong Kong, in a building converted for museum use in 1984.

Trenton Teapot Collection
Located in that other Trenton (Tennessee), this collection of teapots modestly claims to be The World’s Largest Teapot Collection and includes pieces that date from 1750 to 1860. Teapots have become so important in this region that Trenton has hosted the annual Trenton Teapot Festival since 1981.

Time for Tea! Selections of Teaware from the Winterthur Collection
Located at the Winterthur Museum & Country Estate, in Winterthur, Delaware, this collection features “nearly 200 ceramic, metalwork, and glass teawares from America, Europe, China, and even Turkey that range in date from the 1600s through the 1860s.”

Sparta Teapot Museum of Craft & Design
The Sparta Teapot Museum is located in Sparta, North Carolina and is open every weekend from Thursday to Saturday.

Check out William’s blog, Tea Guy Speaks, for more great info!

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© Online Stores, LLC, and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, LLC., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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