The Perfect Teapot – Part II

Vendor at Chinese Amusement Park

Bigger is not always better in teapot selection. Photo by flickr user gill_penney (CC BY 2.0)

In our last post, The Perfect Teapot – Part I, we discussed the importance of matching the tea to the teapot, the materials the teapots are made of and ultimately how that spills over into the cleaning regimen for the pot. Next we need to talk size, budget, and how the aesthetics of the tea pot should influence your purchase.

Teapot Size

Teapot size is all about personal preference. Here in the US, we typically see teapots that serve 4-6 people. More recently as loose leaf tea has increased in popularity you see the marketing of tea pots for personal use, which typically allow for 12-16 ounces of water. However, the Chinese have had a small teapot, the Yixing teapot, for centuries. By Western standards this is small looks even for one person. However, the Chinese use it for the serving of many people at once in small cups before quickly resteeping again. The kyusu and tetsubin, much like the porcelain and sterling silver teapots, are built for 4-6, and even sometimes 8 people to be served at once. Bigger is sometimes better, but in the world of teapots that is not always the case. The quality of the pot itself and its story is often better than the size and dictates more of the price tag than the size.

Budget and Quality

The price range on teapots can be very large. The price is dictated by age, material it is made out of (Sterling Silver or high end porcelain will cost much more than plain glass), who makes it, and the uniqueness of the teapot. Knowing if you are paying a fair price for more modern tea pots is made relatively easy given the internet. However, your antique teapots and Yixing teapots are another story. Antique teapots can run hundreds to thousands of dollars. So before paying for such treasures, make sure you are getting the real thing and that it is worth the price tag. This will require some research and in the case of the Yixing teapots, having someone who is knowledgeable (not the seller) help you confirm that it is the real thing. There are many frauds in the marketplace, which may be fine if you are not spending big dollars. However, if you are willing spend thousands on a teapot, you should get confirmation that you are getting the real thing.

As a side note, if you are looking at antique porcelain teapots, be careful actually drinking from them. Old glazes were made with lead and other heavy metals that have long been banned from paints and glazes in the United States, because of their tendency to poison humans and cause cancer. If you are serious about actually using the antique teapot, at a minimum you should consider testing the inside with a lead testing kit. An antique Yixing teapot will not have this problem as there are no glazes or dyes used in the real teapots, just high quality clay.

What your teapot says about your tea philosophy

Painted Yixing Teapot

Decorated Yixing Teapot – More for Decoration Than Making Tea photo by flickr user Rob Chant (CC BY 2.0)

One cannot end a discussion on teapots without looking back in time at the philosophy on teapots from the Chinese and Japanese. For the Chinese, a teapot was to be simple, reflect nature and the exercise of focusing on the tea. Teapots were never considered formal. Many Yixing teapots have no decoration at all, yet their shape has meaning for the owner. More modern ones have Chinese characters, which often reference nature and harmony. The painted porcelain teapots usually depicted nature and man’s interaction with nature.

For the Japanese, tea was about ceremony and formality. The kyusu handle had the purpose for allowing for a graceful pour and the pictures on the teapot are placed to allow for view by the guest when pouring. While the Japanese are more formal they share in common with the Chinese the use of pictures of nature and symbols referencing nature and harmony. Fast forward to Europe and the teapot was a symbol of wealth and generosity. This translated into the more ornate, the better.

So as you venture into the market place to find your next teapot, don’t forget to balance your philosophy on tea with your budget and your willingness to care for the teapot in the fashion it requires. There are many choices and many reasons to own and use more than one perfect teapot.

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