A teapot is a vessel used for steeping tea leaves or a herbal mix in boiling or near-boiling water, and for serving the resulting infusion which is called tea. It is one of the core components of teaware. Dry tea is available either in tea bags or as loose tea, in which case a tea infuser or tea strainer may be of some assistance, either to hold the leaves as they steep or to catch the leaves inside the teapot when the tea is poured. Teapots usually have an opening with a lid at their top, where the dry tea and hot water are added, a handle for holding by hand and a spout through which the tea is served. Some teapots have a strainer built-in on the inner edge of the spout. A small air hole in the lid is often created to stop the spout from dripping and splashing when tea is poured. In modern times, a thermally insulating cover called a tea cosy may be used to enhance the steeping process or to prevent the contents of the teapot from cooling too rapidly.
The teapot was invented in China during the Yuan Dynasty. It was probably derived from ceramic kettles and wine pots, which were made of bronze and other metals and were a feature of Chinese life for thousands of years. Tea preparation during previous dynasties did not use a teapot. In the Tang Dynasty, a cauldron was used to boil ground tea, which was served in bowls. Song Dynasty tea was made by boiling water in a kettle then pouring the water into a bowl with finely ground tea leaves. A brush was then used to stir the tea. Written evidence of a teapot appears in the Yuan Dynasty text Jiyuan Conghua, which describes a teapot that the author, Cai Shizhan, bought from the scholar Sun Daoming. By the Ming Dynasty, teapots were widespread in China. The earliest example of a teapot that has survived to this day seems to be the one in the Flagstaff House Museum of Teaware; it has been dated to 1513 and is attributed to Gongchun.
Early teapots, like those still used in modern Gongfu tea ceremony, are small by western standards. They use a higher ratio of leaves to water, which enables the brewer to control the variables of brewing to create several small infusions. After brewing, tea would then be decanted into a separate vessel, and distributed into the small cups of several drinkers, and brewed again. This allows the tea to be skillfully brewed, and for the flavor changes to be experienced through the various infusions.
Teapots made from pottery materials such as clay have been hand-fired for tens of thousands of years, originally in China. Clay is a popular material for teapots, as they tend to retain heat very well.
Many traditional Chinese teaware is yixing ware. Yixing and other regional clays are left unglazed. This allows the clay to absorb the flavor of the teas brewed over time, and enhance the flavor of the tea going forward. Some Gongfu practitioners designate their unglazed pots for specific types, sometimes even specific varietals of tea.
From the end of the 17th century tea was shipped from China to Europe as part of the export of exotic spices and luxury goods. The ships that brought the tea also carried porcelain teapots. The majority of these teapots were painted in blue and white underglaze. Porcelain, being completely vitrified, will withstand sea water without damage, so the teapots were packed below deck whilst the tea was stowed above deck to ensure that it remained dry.
Tea drinking in Europe was initially the preserve of the upper classes, due to the expense. Porcelain teapots were particularly desirable because porcelain could not be made in Europe at that time. It wasn't until 1708 that Ehrenfried Walther von Tschirnhaus devised a way of making porcelain in Dresden, Germany, and started the Meissen factory in 1710. When European potteries began to make their own tea wares they were inspired by the Chinese designs.
In colonial America, Boston became the epicenter for silver production and artistry. Among the many artists in Boston there were four major families in the city's silver market: Edwards, Revere, Burt and Hurd. Their works of art included silver teapots.
To keep teapots hot after tea is first brewed, early English households employed the tea cosy, a padded fabric covering, much like a hat, that slips over the tea pot. Often decorated with lace or log cabin motifs in the early 1900s, the modern tea cosy has come back into fashion with the resurgence of loose leaf tea.
One phenomenon that occurs with some teapots is that of dribbling where the flow runs down the outside of the spout particularly as the flow starts or stops. Different explanations for this phenomenon have been proposed at various times. Making the external surface of the spout more hydrophobic, and reducing the radius of curvature of the inside of the tip so that the flow detaches cleanly can avoid dribbling.
In Morocco, stainless steel teapots are an essential to make Moroccan mint tea. Moroccan teapots are heat resistant and can be put directly on the stove. With colorful tea glasses, they are part of the Moroccan tea ritual. The tea is considered to be drinkable only when it has foam on top. Teapots have a long curved spout in order to pour tea from a height of 12 inches above the glasses, which produces foam on the surface of the tea. Their designs can go from minimalistic to heavily decorated.
A chocolate teapot is a teapot that would be made from chocolate. It is commonly supposed that such a teapot would melt, and be impossible to use, therefore the term is often used as an analogy for any useless item.
Experimental researchers in 2001 did indeed fail to successfully use a chocolate teapot they had made. Later research, however, by The Naked Scientists in 2008, showed that such a teapot could be used to make tea, provided that the walls of the teapot were more than one centimetre thick. Re-usable (for a limited number of times) pots are now easily available online.
A teapot has a rather distinctive shape, and its fame may sometimes have little to do with its primary function.