A Brown Betty teapot

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.



Chinese porcelain hand painted blue and white teapot, 18th century
Glass teapot containing mint leaves, being warmed by a tealight, Kashgar, Xinjiang, China

The switch to specialized vessel for tea brewing was powered by the change from the powdered tea to leaf tea and from whipping to steeping[1] that occurred in China. It is hard to exactly pinpoint the time of the invention of a teapot, since vessels in the shapes similar to the modern teapot were known in China since Neolithic period, but were initially used for water and wine, as boiling or whipping tea did not require a specialized container. When tea preparation switched to infusion (during the late Yuan dynasty[2]), at first an ewer-like vessel were used for this purpose.[1] Tea preparation during previous dynasties did not use a teapot.[2] 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.[2] There are early examples of teapots, like the ones made in Jun ware and the eight-lobed celadon pots of the Song-Yuan times, but an expert on Yixing ware, Kuei-Hsiang Lo, believes that the first teapots made especially for tea appeared around 1500 as copies of much earlier Yixing wine pots.[1] The earliest example of such 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 Gong Chun,[3] the "father of Yixing teapot".[4]

Early teapots, like those still used in modern Gongfu tea ceremony, are small by western standards meant for the individual consumption of tea.[5] 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.[6]

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.[7]

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.[8]


Japanese traditional teapot, kyūsu is a common for making Japanese green tea, sencha. It often has its handle on the side of the pot

The kyūsu (急須), a common and traditional teapot in Japan, differs from the Chinese teapot in that it has a handle facing sideways to the spout[9] although some kyusu, like their Chinese counterparts, have the handle located opposite the spout.[10] Kyusu is frequently made of ceramics.[11]

The kyūsu, has its origins in a Chinese tool used for tea ceremonies,[12] although the Chinese tool may have been used to boil water, and it is unclear if it was used to steep tea at the time.[12] In Japan, kyusu was used since at least the 18th century.[12]

The side arrangement of the handle is considered to be unique to Japan,[9][13] however, the same feature can be found in some of the Chinese tools mentioned above.[12]


Moroccan tea pot
A traditional Moroccan tea pot

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 around 12 inches (30 cm) above the glasses, which produces foam on the surface of the tea.[14] Their designs can range from simple to heavily-decorated.[15]


Novice monk holding a large teapot. Tashilhunpo, Tibet

Teapots for butter tea in Tibet were evolving simultaneously with teapots of China, eventually settling on a pitcher-like shape.[16]


Two Victorian Era teapots
Shapes of 18th century European teapots: A - pear-shaped (pyriform), B - globular, C - vase/urn
English silver teapot with teaware

The Yixing teapots came to Europe with the tea and became known as boccarro ("large mouth" in Portuguese).[5] The Chinese teapot models were used, since the preservation of the Chinese way of drinking was considered to be essential.[16] Porcelain teapots were particularly desirable because porcelain could not be made in Europe at that time, and tea drinking in Europe was initially the preserve of the upper classes. European teapots at the time were made of silver, with the earliest preserved English one, at the Victoria and Albert Museum, dated 1670.[16] At the same time, the production of the copies of the Chinese earthenware teapots started (Fulham Pottery in London was manufacturing these already in 1670).[17] It was not until 1708 that the first successful experiments by von Tschirnhaus enabled Böttger, and the Meissen factory in Dresden started the operation in 1710[18] and produced good copies of Japanese Kakiemon and Imari porcelain.[19]

When European potteries in Holland, Germany, and England began to make their own tea wares they at first imitated the Chinese bocarro designs.[16] Many English potteries, however, decided not to risk money on the new material, and continued the manufacturing of earthenware and stoneware pots; the famed creamware services made in Staffordshire reached popularity in the second half of the 18th century.[20]

At the turn of 18th century, design and decoration of the European teapot started to deviate from the Chinese tradition, with the pear shape, or pyriform being the first major novation. An early English pyriform teapot dates back to 1690, the shape became widespread at the time of Queen Anne and remains in vogue since then. The other popular shapes in the 18th century were "globular" (sphere-like vessel on a raised foot) and a vase (or urn, Louis XV style), with the latter being a rare comeback to the wine-pot origins of a teapot.[21]

In the last half of the 18th century, English factories introduced the matched sets of teaware. The original demand for "China" porcelain tea sets was eventually replaced, at least among the wealthy, with enthusiasm for silver pieces that were extensively produced by the end of the reign of George III. This period also saw a reduction in the price of tea, so teapots became larger.[22] Also, cheaper pewter sets were made for the less-affluent, mostly as simplified copies of the silver pieces.[23]


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.[24] Two new "Colonial" shapes appeared in the late Georgian period: oval and octagonal teapots with flat bases, plain handles in the shape of C, and, frequently, straight tapering spouts.[23]

Heat retention

Ability of a teapot to keep heat depends on the material, for example, stoneware is supposed to keep the heat better than porcelain.[25]

Main article: Tea cosy

To keep teapots hot after tea is first brewed, English households since 18th century employed the tea cosy, a padded fabric covering, much like a hat, that slips over the tea pot. The tea cosy got very popular in the 20th century as a practical and decorative object in the kitchen.[26]


Teapots evolved from the designs where the lid was resting in a recess of the body of the vessel to the lid sitting on top of the body, and then to the modern design with the deep flanges of the lid preventing it from falling out.[23]

When the tea is being poured out, outside air needs to enter the body of the teapot; therefore design involves either a loosely fitting lid or a vent hole at the top of the pot, usually in the lid.[23]

The built-in strainer at the base of the spout got borrowed from coffeepots that in turn get this feature from the vessels designed for other liquids (the earliest known built-in strainer dates back to 1300 BC).[23]

The coffee drip brew and coffee percolator were invented in the beginning of the 19th century, similar designs for tea were developed soon after that.[23]

Modern infusers originated in 1817, when an English patent was granted for a "tea or coffee biggin", a metal basket that sat at the bottom of the teapot. Many more tea leaf holder designs had followed,[27] with tea ball and tea-making spoon arriving in the first half of the 19th century.[28]

The first automated electric teapot was invented in 1909.[29]


The typical materials used for teapots have been stoneware (Yixing), porcelain, silver and gold. [25]

Making teapots from silver has a major disadvantage: the thermal conductivity of silver is the highest of any metal. Therefore the handles of antique silver teapots were often made of wood (often apple-wood or pear-wood) or ivory.[30][31] If the handles were made from silver, they would be attached to the body of the pot with thermally-insulating plugs, usually made from ivory. Without such features, the teapot would be uncomfortable or painful to pick-up when filled with hot tea.[32]

Teapots made of tin arrived around 1700, allowing for a very low-cost designs. At the same time the use of britanniaware had started. Nickel plating was introduced in the second half of the 19th century.[33] Teapots from earthenware were produced in Staffordshire from 1720 to 1780, with curious shapes (animals, houses, etc.) made possible by using molds (and not the throwing wheel). Enamelware was in wide use at the end of the 19th century.[34]

In the 20th century, use of aluminum became popular.[34] Arrival of the heatproof glass made a glass teapot possible, with the first "Teaket" design manufactured in 1932.[35]


Main article: Teapot effect

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.[36]

Chocolate teapot

A chocolate teapot is an analogy for any useless item; a teapot made from chocolate would melt, and be impossible to use.

Experimental researchers in 2001 did indeed fail to successfully use a chocolate teapot they had made.[37] 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.[38]

In non-teamaking contexts

A teapot has a rather distinctive shape, and its fame may sometimes have little to do with its primary function.

In architecture

See also

A small metal teapot for a single person from Ireland, this type may also be found in diners, greasy spoons and some restaurants
Korean antique teapot


  1. ^ a b c Chow & Kramer 1990, p. 66.
  2. ^ a b c Lo 1986, p. 18.
  3. ^ Collecting teapots Leah Rousmaniere ISBN 0-375-72045-6
  4. ^ Chow & Kramer 1990, pp. 66–67.
  5. ^ a b Ukers 1935, p. 436.
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  14. ^ "Morocco's Tea Drinking Tradition".
  15. ^ "The Moroccan teapot". Moroccanzest. 2018-11-14. Retrieved 2018-11-14.
  16. ^ a b c d Ukers 1935, p. 437.
  17. ^ Pettigrew 2001, p. 36.
  18. ^ Colomban & Milande 2006, p. 3.
  19. ^ Pettigrew 2001, p. 82.
  20. ^ Pettigrew 2001, p. 83.
  21. ^ Ukers 1935, pp. 437–438.
  22. ^ Pickford 1997, p. 75.
  23. ^ a b c d e f Ukers 1935, p. 438.
  24. ^ Birmingham Museum of Art (2010). Birmingham Museum of Art : guide to the collection. [Birmingham, Ala]: Birmingham Museum of Art. p. 107. ISBN 978-1-904832-77-5.
  25. ^ a b Chow & Kramer 1990, p. 67.
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  27. ^ Ukers 1935, pp. 439–441.
  28. ^ Ukers 1935, p. 445.
  29. ^ Ukers 1935, p. 443.
  30. ^ Pickford 1997, p. 74.
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  34. ^ a b Ukers 1935, p. 439.
  35. ^ Ukers 1935, p. 444.
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  41. ^ "Zillah Teapot". Cityofzillah.us. 2004-01-01. Retrieved 2014-03-12.


Further reading