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Brewing Vessels

In the earliest Chinese history of tea drinking, leaves were boiled in water in open pans. But the Ming Dynasty fashion for steeping processed leaves in hot water created the need for a covered vessel in which to infuse the leaves and to keep the liquor hot. Ewers, that resembled a modern tea set, had been used for wine for centuries in China and these were adapted to tea brewing.

Gradually the idea of the teapot evolved and by the time the Dutch started carrying cargos of tea back to Europe from China in the late sixteenth century, the teapots they included in their purchases were small, broad-based, and squat with wide spouts that did not easily clog with leaves. The Chinese stoneware was new to Europe, and it took Dutch potters until the late 1670s to duplicate the heat-resistant pots. Two of the successful potters from The Netherlands, the Elers brothers, took their craft to England, settled in Staffordshire, and established the English pottery industry.

Just as Europeans had never seen stoneware like that produced in China, neither had they ever dreamt of the fine translucent pottery known as porcelain that had been invented by the Chinese under the Tang Dynasty. It took the Elers brothers and other European potters almost a hundred years to discover the secret of manufacturing genuine hard-paste porcelain and bone china. British potters started creating stoneware, porcelain, and bone china tea wares in the eighteenth century when names such as Wedgwood, Spode, Worcester, Minton, and Derby became famous. Whereas these early manufacturers found it difficult to produce larger plates and dishes that did not warp or break in the firing process, the smaller items needed for tea were more easily and vary successfully produced.

The size and shape of teapots over the years has changed to suit tastes and fashions. Early pots followed the Chinese tradition for using mythological symbols and creatures. Later pots reflected eighteenth-century rococo or neoclassical shapes and the heavily ornamented styles of nineteenth-century Victoriana. Today, pots are available in every possible shape and size—large or small, simple, practical, ornate, with infusers or Without. They also come in every possible form—from animals, birds, and plants to pieces of furniture, vehicles, characters from literature, and personalities from show business and public life.