Left-to-right: Serving spoon, tablespoon, dessert spoon, and teaspoon
Left-to-right: Serving spoon, tablespoon, dessert spoon, and teaspoon

A teaspoon (tsp.) is an item of cutlery. It is a small spoon that can be used to stir a cup of tea or coffee, or as a tool for measuring volume.[1][2] The size of teaspoons ranges from about 2.5 to 7.3 mL (0.088 to 0.257 imp fl oz; 0.085 to 0.247 US fl oz). For cooking purposes and dosing of medicine, a teaspoonful is defined as 5 mL (0.18 imp fl oz; 0.17 US fl oz), and standard measuring spoons are used.[3]


A cup of coffee with coffee spoon
A cup of coffee with coffee spoon

A teaspoon is a small spoon suitable for stirring and sipping the contents of a cup of tea or coffee, or adding a portion of loose sugar to it. These spoons have heads more or less oval in shape. Teaspoons are a common part of a place setting.

Teaspoons with longer handles, such as iced tea spoons, are commonly used also for ice cream desserts or floats. Similar spoons include the tablespoon and the dessert spoon, the latter intermediate in size between a teaspoon and a tablespoon, used in eating dessert and sometimes soup or cereals. Much less common is the coffee spoon, which is a smaller version of the teaspoon, intended for use with the small type of coffee cup.[4] Another teaspoon, called an orange spoon (in American English: grapefruit spoon), tapers to a sharp point or teeth, and is used to separate citrus fruits from their membranes. A bar spoon, equivalent to a teaspoon, is used in measuring ingredients for mixed drinks.

A container designed to hold extra teaspoons, called a spooner, usually in a set with a covered sugar container, formed a part of Victorian table service.

The teaspoon is first mentioned in an advertisement in a 1686 edition of the London Gazette.[5][6]

Culinary measure

In some countries, a teaspoon (occasionally "teaspoonful") is a cooking measure of volume, especially widely used in cooking recipes and pharmaceutic medical prescriptions. In English it is abbreviated as tsp. or, less often, as t., ts., or tspn.. The abbreviation is never capitalized because a capital letter is customarily reserved for the larger tablespoon ("Tbsp.", "T.", "Tbls.", or "Tb.").[7]

Measuring spoons, with the second largest one representing the volume of a teaspoon.
Measuring spoons, with the second largest one representing the volume of a teaspoon.

Metric teaspoon

The metric teaspoon as a unit of culinary measure is 5 mL,[8] equal to cm3, 13 UK/Canadian metric tablespoon, or 14 Australian metric tablespoon.[9]

United States customary unit

See United States customary units for relative volumes of these and other measures.

As a unit of culinary measure, one teaspoon in the United States is 13 tablespoon, exactly 4.92892159375 mL, 1 13 US fluid drams, 16 US fl oz, 148 US cup, 1768 US liquid gallon, or 77256 (0.30078125) cubic inches.

For nutritional labeling and medicine in the US, the teaspoon is defined the same as a metric teaspoon—precisely 5 millilitres (mL).[10]

Dry ingredients

For dry ingredients (e.g., salt, flour, spices), if a recipe calls for a level teaspoon, it refers to an approximately leveled filling of the spoon, producing the same volume as for liquids. A rounded teaspoon is a larger but less precise measure, produced by heaping the ingredient as high as possible without leveling the ingredient off. A heaping (North American English) or heaped (UK English) teaspoon is an even larger inexact measure consisting of the amount obtained by scooping the dry ingredient up without leveling it off. For some ingredients, e.g. flour, this quantity can vary considerably.[citation needed]

Apothecaries' measure

See also: Apothecaries' system

As an unofficial but once widely used unit of apothecaries' measure, the teaspoon is equal to 1 fluid dram (or drachm) and thus 14 of a tablespoon or 18 of a fluid ounce.[11][12] The apothecaries' teaspoon was formally known by the Latin cochleare minus (cochl. min.) to distinguish it from the tablespoon or cochleare majus (cochl. maj.).[13][14]

When tea-drinking was first introduced to England circa 1660, tea was rare and expensive, as a consequence of which teacups and teaspoons were smaller than today. This situation persisted until 1784, when the Commutation Act reduced the tax on tea from 119% to 12.5%.[15] As the price of tea declined, the size of teacups and teaspoons increased. By the 1850s, the teaspoon as a unit of culinary measure had increased to 13 of a tablespoon, but the apothecary unit of measure remained the same.[16] Nevertheless, the teaspoon, usually under its Latin name, continued to be used in apothecaries' measures for several more decades, with the original definition of one fluid dram.

See also


  1. ^ Marie O'Toole, ed. (6 June 2013). Mosby's Medical Dictionary, 9th edition. p. 1746. ISBN 978-0323112581.
  2. ^ Charles Sinclair (January 2009). Dictionary of Food: International Food and Cooking Terms from A to Z. ISBN 9781408102183.
  3. ^ "Spoons give wrong medicine doses". NHS UK. 15 July 2010.
  4. ^ T. S. Eliot's poem The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock mentions coffee spoons: "For I have known them all already, known them all: / Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons, / I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;"
  5. ^ "Home : Oxford English Dictionary". oed.com.
  6. ^ "London Gazette Issue 2203 27 December 1686 page 2 'three small gilded Tea Spoons'".
  7. ^ In German and Dutch, teaspoon is abbreviated TL, for Teelöffel and Theelepel respectively.
  8. ^ 21 CFR (Code of Federal Regulations) 101.9(b)(5)(viii)
  9. ^ "How to Convert Cup to Tablespoon?". Airo. 8 June 2016.
  10. ^ 21CFR101.9(b)(5)(viii) 2 1CFR101.9
  11. ^ Robert Borneman Ludy (1907). Answers to questions prescribed by pharmaceutical state boards. J.J. McVey. p. 125.
  12. ^ Dr. Collins (1803). Practical rules for the management and medical treatment of Negro slaves in the sugar colonies. Printed by J. Barfield, for Vernor and Hood. p. 465.
  13. ^ Alexander Whitelaw, ed. (1884). The popular encyclopedia; or, 'Conversations Lexicon'. p. 11.
  14. ^ Henri Milne-Edwards; Pierre Henri L.D. Vavasseur (1831). A manual of materia medica and pharmacy, from the Fr. of H.M. Edwards and P. Vavasseur, corrected by J. Davies. p. 12.
  15. ^ Tea.co.uk. (2020). UK Tea & Infusions Association – Illicit Tea Trades. [online] Available at: https://www.tea.co.uk/tea-smuggling [Accessed 1 February 2020].
  16. ^ Robert Eglesfeld Griffith (1859). A universal formulary: containing the methods of preparing and administering officinal and other medicines. The whole adapted to physicians and pharmaceutists. H.C. Lea. p. 25.