Teapots. They’re probably one of those rarest of items that is both utilitarian and charming at the same time. You can’t say that about a shovel or ball-point pen, a microwave or a tire gauge. Even a cuckoo clock is up for debate—is it charming, or just annoying?
All one has to do is look to Mrs. Potts in Disney’s Beauty & The Beast to know teapots are special. They’re comforting, they’re dependable and they mean something wonderful is about to happen. And, if you listen carefully, they may speak with a British accent.
Teapots share something else with Beauty & The Beast: they are a tale (nearly) as old as time. Created during the Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368), teapots have been a staple of Chinese life for hundreds of years. Before the teapot, ground tea was boiled in cauldrons and served in bowls. By the time the Ming Dynasty rolled around (1368-1644), teapots were all the rage in China. A teapot dated to 1513 is on display at the Flagstaff House Museum of Teaware in Hong Kong.
With the growing export of tea from China to Europe came the inevitable introduction of the teapot. These teapots were predominantly made of vitrified porcelain, which makes them impermeable to water and thus not only good for holding tea but for being transported by sea. At the time, porcelain teapots were unique since porcelain was not made in Europe. As tea was initially a drink of the upper class due to the cost of the exported tea, these porcelain pots were highly desirable and a sign of status.
Later, of course, porcelain started being widely manufactured and more accessible. Colonial America, as we know, was a hub of silver production. These early American masters of silver foundries created silver teapots that were often pieces of art.
A true survivor, teapots vary in materials, shapes and sizes around the world. A few examples:
Brown Betty. Back in the day, Brown Betty was the bomb. This British teapot was made from a red clay and glazed with a brown manganese called Rockingham glaze creating a ceramic pot that was believed to retain heat better. While their original physique was taller, by the 19th century these pots morphed to the more modern round shape. That shape allows the tea leaves to go swimming about in Betty’s belly, releasing more flavor with less bitterness and making this teapot quite popular. You go, Brown Betty.
Chocolate teapot. A common idiom to mean something totally useless (“As helpful as a chocolate teapot”) such a thing does actually exist. Made of thick walls of chocolate, this teapot can withstand holding hot water without immediately melting. For obvious reasons, it is best used for making hot chocolate, but since we’re fans of chocolate-flavored tea, we’re good with this as a tool for a unique tea-making experience.
Cube teapot. A square teapot, you say? We do say. Born from one part necessity and one part ingenuity, the cube teapot was created for use on a ship. The cube shape created a stable surface so the teapot would not roll over as the ship rocked from side to side. We know, right?
Kyüsu teapot. This traditional Japanese teapot is primarily used to brew green tea. It’s a common mistake to believe that a Kyüsu teapot always has its handle on the side. While that is most common, it can also have a handle on the back or top. Kyüsu is the Japanese word for “teapot.”
Moroccan teapot. If you want to make mint tea in Morocco, a stainless steel teapot is a must. These heat-resistant teapots can be put directly on the stove. Along with colorful tea glasses, they are part of the Moroccan tea ritual.
Samovar. A true showpiece, the samovar is a heated metal container traditionally used to boil water for tea, primarily in Russia but in other surrounding countries as well. Samovar means “self-brewer,” and while the container’s main gig is to heat water, many samovars have an attachment around the chimney to hold and heat a teapot filled with tea. Antique samovars are often prized for their beauty and craftsmanship.
Yixing teapot. The star of the traditional Chinese tea ceremonyand dating back to the 15th century, this teapot is made from clay produced near Yixing in the eastern Chinese province of Jiangsu. The clay is unglazed, allowing it to absorb the hue and flavor of the tea it holds.
Couple other teapot-related items to mention:
Kettle v. Teapot. These two are both important to brewing tea, but they are not the same. The origin of the word “kettle” means “cauldron,” so it’s the mechanism used to heat the water, while the teapot is the device used to brew and deliver the tea. Just remember: Mrs. Potts had to put the kettle on before she could brew tea for her guest.
Tea cozies. Whether you buy one on Etsy or still use the one your grandma crocheted, tea cozies are domes made to fit around a teapot. Knitted or sewn of quilted fabric, their job is to help your teapot keep everything warm and yes, cozy. Same reason your mom told you to put on another layer if you were cold.
While teapots go way, way back and clearly come in all shapes, sizes and materials, today there is still an awesome variety of teapots to choose from. We’re here to help you get a handle on which teapot is best for you.
Glass. Glass teapots are a wonderful way to watch your tea steep in real time and experience the color changing. Harney offers a glass teapot in large, medium and small—choose the one that best suits your needs.
Cast Iron. Nothing beats cast iron for temperature retention. Check out unique options like this cast iron teapot. Contrary to what you might think, not all cast iron teapots are stovetop safe. Check for enamel on the inside before putting yours on the flame.
Ceramic. Perfect for your daily routine, ceramic teapots are easy to care for and deliver a delicious cup of tea every time. Choose from several Harney options, like our Curve Teapot with Infuser, Stump Teapot with Infuser, Harney & Sons Teapot with Infuser or the same classy item without infuser for use with your favorite sachets and teabags. Looking for something really different and hashtagable? Check out our Canary Teapots.
Porcelain. Looking for a true classic? Look no further than our Historic Royal Palaces Teapot. It will transform your tea-drinking experience to another place and time. For the full experience, treat yourself to our Historic Royal Palaces Teacup and Saucer. They’re Mrs. Potts’ approved.
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by Emeric Harney October 21, 2021 9 min read
by Mike Harney October 14, 2021 5 min read
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