The Chinese have been sipping tea since Emperor Shen Ming was ruling in 2737 B.C. However, it wasn’t until 350 B.C. that authentic records of Chinese literature mentions the use of tea in the country.
In those times, tea was reduced to a fine dust and prepared in an open kettle. Later, the Chinese began to use a teapot to prepare the refreshing beverage.
The Chinese favored red or brown stoneware teapots to prepare the brew, rather than white porcelain teapots. It was thought that the stoneware pots gave the tea a better flavor.
Teapots were of several shapes – from very plain to elaborate. Some styles resembled plant forms.
The early tea cups were plain bowls without any attachments for holding. Later, tea cups and saucers came into use, matching other similar wares in design and finish.
Stoneware teapots were exported to Holland in the 1600s along with tea shipments. Similar ceramic wares were sent to Europe during that era, and the first European-manufactured teapots copied the Chinese styles.
Tea was a delicacy.
Due to shipping costs, tea was a beverage for the well-to-do and nobles. In an effort to conserve tea, the first teapots were small.
Flavoring and sweetening were soon added to tea mixtures for more flavor. Saffron and peach leaves were the favorite additives, while milk was not yet used.
Although many of the first teapots were copies of the Chinese varieties, the potters of Europe copied favorite styles from the silver services.
From early 1700 to the latter years, European teapots employed baroque and rococo styles mostly in white porcelain, and a few were decorated with gold.
Both soft and hard paste porcelain were used in European and English teapots. The English 1700 wares were mostly soft paste porcelain, as were the continental wares.
Staffordshires main wares of late 1700 were salt glazed stoneware or brown and white earthenware decorated. Many of the Staffordshire teapots were salt-glazed in the forms of houses or animals with dragon shaped spouts.
During this same time period, Staffordshire produced its famous black basalt and jasper teapots, finished with classical motifs in white or off-white shapes made by Wedgewood and Leeds.
In the 1800s, almost every conceivable shape, finish, color, and motif used to spruce up the otherwise plain teapots.
Late in 1800s, the more familiar angular, heavy ironstone teapots were popular. Tea Leaf is such an example or plain white not decorated.
The mottled shades of earth colors are among the most outstanding teapots – i.e. Whieldon-type Brown, tortoise-shell or the Bennington browns.
There are many accessories sold with teapots today, including tea tables, tea trays, tea-caddy, teaboards, tea bottle, tea casket, tea chair, tea dish and tea chests.