Updated: Dec 28, 2020
What good is tea without a teapot? The teapot is essential to the enjoyment of tea. Tea and teapot are the heart and soul of a home. The teapot turns the act of brewing tea into an art. Tea is the most popular beverage consumed across the globe every single day after water. Teapots mirror the tea-drinking cultures through the ages. They have a long, exciting, and colourful history as the tea itself.
We don’t know why, but pouring tea from a traditional teapot gives us a certain sense of sophistication and elegance. Don’t you think? The experience is hard to explain but is something that is carried back over generations.
As a tea lover, who is interested in teaware and passionate about the tea culture, you may want to get deep into the history of teapots.
With that said, in this post, we are going to discuss the complete history of teapots from where it was originated to how it evolved in different countries and cultures.
Let’s jump right into it.
What are teapots?
The teapot is a globular vessel used to infuse tea leaves in hot boiling water. It consists of a pouring spout from where the tea is poured, a lid, a handle, and the main vessel. Teapots are usually made of clay, ceramic, glass, or metal. A teapot has only one purpose – to brew tea.
In the modern day and age, where most people are introduced to tea with a teabag, there are people who still love to brew their tea in a teapot. Once you graduate from teabag to teapot, you will understand why tea lovers love the idea of having teapots. One of the significant advantages of teapots is that it gives the tea leaves enough space to fully immerse into the water and release their flavours. On the other hand, teapots come with a detachable lid that traps all its flavours and aromas while brewing. Ultimately, the result is a more powerful and flavourful cup of tea.
Where they came from?
According to the author of Yang-Hsien ming hu hsi, Chou Kao-ch'I, the potters at Ishing (Yixing) started making teapots in the early 16th century. The Ishing potters became so famous that their teapots were served as models for the first European teapots. These teapots were small, individual pots with large mouths. So, the Portuguese gave the name ‘boccarro’ to the teapots, meaning ‘large mouth.’
Many scholars believe that the teapots derived its original shape from the ceramic kettles and wine ewers that came from China when tea was first shipped to Europe in the seventeenth century. However, another theory suggests that the shape of the teapots came from Islamic coffee pots.
Teapots from China
The Chinese have been consuming tea for the last 3000 years. Between 618 AD and 908 AD, during the Tang Dynasty, it became a very popular beverage. It is still unknown, or you can say ‘debatable’ whether the Chinese brewed tea directly in the pan or in some unique pots.
According to experts, prior to the introduction about history of teapots, tea was either prepared in actual cups or brewed in open pans. The first mention of teapots made in China is seen in a book that says the British East India Company directed to send China teapots to Britain in 1694. According to the book, the officials asked the potters to include grate before the spout. They wanted a strainer or a barrier in place to hold the tea leaves when the beverage was poured in mugs.
According to some historical texts recorded around 1500 AD, when the Sung Dynasty emerged, the need to have a proper teapot was first felt. As mentioned, these were Ishing, or Yixing teapots originated from the Jiangsu province in China. These were purple or red-coloured earthen pots that had a beautiful texture. They became even more popular during the Ming Dynasty since these pots seasoned (seasoning adds a certain aroma to the teapot that enhances the tea brewing experience) after repeated use.
According to reports, the Ishing teapots were for individual use where each teapot was reserved for brewing a specific type of tea. Some records state that the people in China drank the tea directly from the spout or nozzle of the teapot. Sounds strange yet practical, isn’t it?
Introduction of teapots in Japan
The travelling Buddhist monks from China introduced tea to Japan. The Buddhist monks were known to drink green tea to stay fresh and awake during their prolonged meditation sessions. Soon, the Japanese started developing a liking for tea, and as a result, they invited the artisans from China to help teach them how to make teapots. This gave birth to the popular Japanese teapot Raku for brewing tea.
Later on, the traditional teapot design was revolutionised by the Japanese when they introduced themes carrying from nature to the teapots. There have been many colours, shapes, and designs of the Japanese teapots since then. These pots were unique in terms of their design since they boasted a handle at the rear or side of the vessel.
Teapots in India
It was the British rulers who introduced tea as a beverage in India. Before that, tea was just another plant used for medicinal purposes and not a recreational drink to Indians. This is the main reason why tea is now popular as a health drink all across the globe. Soon, the Indian potters and artisans started designing their own versions of teacups and pots using clay and ceramic.
Teapots in the United Kingdom
During the 17th century, people in the United Kingdom were introduced to tea from China. The East India Company started importing tea among other spices from China and India. Soon, they realised the necessity to have teapots to enhance the experience of tea drinking. However, they didn’t know how to produce such high-quality earthenware that was being manufactured in India and China. So, they started importing teapots as well. They became so popular in the United Kingdom that in the 18th century, the English artisans mastered the art of making ceramic teapots with beautiful engravings and designs over them.
Over the years, the style and design of teapots have changed immensely. There is a whole new industry sprouted with that. Tea drinkers all across the globe love to have a teaware set in their homes that makes drinking tea a next-level experience.