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where a spout should be on a tea pot... (long)

updated tue 23 jul 02


The Chapel of Art / Capel Celfyddyd on mon 22 jul 02

"I have an automatic gizmo that steeps the tea the authentic way". Ha! HA!
Cindi... Was that an intentional oxymoron or are you just teasing us? Just
hate to point it out, but surely the "authentic" way to make tea is always
going to be from loose tea leaves in a teapot?

Now just to clarify things here, there are three distinct types of lidded
pots with spouts to serve hot beverages: the teapot, the coffee pot and the
chocolate pot. Although they are still used in European Coffee Houses and
Cafés, the latter has definitely become an historical item in many
countries, now we have instant chocolate and cocoa to make straight in the
cup/mug. Civilised people, the Europeans. The big difference between the two
remaining pots? A teapot is a round, squat, apple shape and a coffee pot is
a tall pear shape. Of course there are historical as well as modern examples
of straight-sided, square and other shapes, but they are the exception to
the rule.

Someone asked about the difference between European and Asian teapots... The
thing is, the appearance of lidded teapots with handles and spouts is odd,
because the whole concept was probably "invented" by the Chinese tea
producers for the new European market... Teapots were unknown in China
before the 16th century and their appearance at least coincides with the
newly established tea trade with Europe. Although a sort of chicken and egg
situation, it makes sense that European high society would not be happy with
the social aspects of tea making and serving in the original Chinese manner.

Small red-brown Yi-Hsing teapots were sent with the tea shipments. This was
at a time when one pound of tea would cost more than a year's wages for a
housekeeper, so portions were very small indeed, even among the rich. Indeed
tea remained the preserve of the coffee houses and the court, but even so an
average teapot would only be about six inches high. The earliest European
teapots were made of silver, before the Yi-Hsing teapots were later copied
by Dutch and English potters. By 1698, Lady Celia Fiennes could note in her
diary: "I went to this Newcastle in Staffordshire to see the making of the
fine teapotts, cups and saucers of the fine red earth in imitation and as
curious as that which comes from China, but was defeated in my design, they
comeing to an end of their clay they made use of for that sort of ware, and
therefore was remov'd to some other place where they were not settled at
their work so could not see it." (from "English Pottery" by Rackham & Read).

Hard stonewares were found to be better than tin-glazed earthenware (Delft),
which were not sufficiently heat-resistant. Despite production of stoneware
and salt-glazed teapots, the Chinese monopoly stayed in place until the
discovery of hard paste European porcelain at Meissen (Germany) around 1710.
But it was only with the introduction of cream coloured earthenware in
England in the mid/late18th century, that good quality tea ware came in
reach of the middle classes. But the glazed teapot made for the European
market was actually developed from the Chinese covered wine ewer (lidded
jug). Early examples actually look very like ginger jars (complete with
collar and shoulder) with huge added handles and spouts, often with an odd
knob as the lid. All rather ungainly. Once teapot production got under way
in Europe, the shapes and designs adapted and adopted more "local" tastes,
although the Chinese influence remained for many years.

But back to the position of the spout... Hummm... Do not forget that tea
made with loose tea leaves is quite different to the teabag variety and
stirring the tea was all part of the ritual or tea ceremony as it developed
in Europe. I think the position of the spout "traditionally" all depends on
the shape of the pot. As most (but not all) teapots were bellied, the spout
was usually in the middle of (or just slightly below) the widest point of
the design. I believe this has far more to do with the "pourability" than
with settling leaves or strength of tea. In theory, it will not "whoosh", if
the spout is placed where the highest volume of tea is contained. The round,
bellied pot channels the tea to the spout in a uninterrupted stream and the
position of the spout is at the best point to utilise this inherent
facility. I am sure the bellied teapot is also aesthetically the most
pleasing, both to make and in appearance. I know when someone says "teapot"
to me, my first thought or image is of the plain, sturdy, high-glazed "brown
Betty" of my nursery days rather than the ornate Victorian monstrosities in
my grandmothers show cabinet.

BTW we are talking of Chinese (any Black or Green Tea) before the
introduction of Indian or South African Rooibosch or Red Bush tea here.
Tisanes and herb teas are another genre altogether. And Richard... I think
you will find that it is MINT tea that Arabs in the Middle East serve in
that manner from those pots with the elongated spout from the bottom. The
way it poured helped to dissolve the sugar or honey sweetener without the
use of teaspoons. They also prize drinking the grounds in coffee (or at
least them being in the cup), whereas Europeans north and west of Greece do
not! :-)

Janet Kaiser

The Chapel of Art . Capel Celfyddyd
Home of The International Potters' Path
8 Marine Crescent, Criccieth LL52 0EA, Wales, UK
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