the spread west
tree to teapot
colonization and tea
A History of Teapots
The Spread of Tea and Teapots to the WestLong before tea reached Western Europe, it had spread from China to Japan, and South through Asia. Formosa was known for its Oolong ("Black Dragon") teas, and in Japan Green Tea reigned. The hill tribes of Burma and Siam had begun pickling tea by bruising and steaming the leaves before stuffing them into bamboo stalks or pits -- later the extract would be drunk, and the leaves chewed. The humid climates of Sumatra and Java made them ideal locations for growing tea.
In 1610, Dutch trading companies purchased tea in Japan, and in the 1620s began importing tea from Sumatra and Java into Holland, sending small amounts to Britain and France. Tisanes, herbal infusions used as health remedies, had been popular in Europe for centuries. Tea infusions were used medicinally in Holland when the drink first arrived. In mid-17th century England, the drink was scorned by the Puritans and so labelled medicinal by traders to promote its trade and consumption. The leaves were highly valued, precious cargo that had travelled far from exoticised lands. Europeans called the new drink "cha" after the Cantonese name "ch'a," and today the word "chai" is used by English speakers to identify spicy teas of Indian origin. The Amoy (SE China) term "tay" was adopted in Britain in the late 17th C., which led to our current usage of "tea."
Teapots arrived in Europe with shipments of tea. At first, their role was undermined by the magnitude of monetary investments in the tea itself -- ships docking at English ports in the early 1660s carried teapots stored underneath the heavy crates of tea, serving as a defense against the elements and spoilage. Within a decade, in 1669, the East India Tea Company was formed and went on to monopolize the tea trade until 1833, when tea production began in India. The company was one of the major importers of YiXing teapots, along with Portuguese shippers who named the pottery buccaro (boccaro) ware after examples of red earthenware they had seen in Central and South America. Today the term buccaro refers generally to any unglazed pottery. The shapes and delicate make of these early 17th century Chinese pieces, based on Asian classicism and naturalism movements, influenced the first European versions of teapots.
Coffee had been introduced in Europe in 1582, and hot chocolate was also a new libation made popular by the Iberians. Europeans who did not yet have teapots specifically designed as such probably used the same silver or ceramic ewer or pot for making and serving all three of these new-found treats. A tall, silver ewer held by the Victoria and Albert Museum in London is the earliest known silver tea vessel; it is inscribed "1670 -- tea-Pott." The earliest example of a ceramic European teapot was made between 1670 and 1680 by Arij de Milde in the Dutch town of Delft. His design was based upon YiXing pots, remained small in size to serve one or two cups, retained the short spout and loop handle, and was made of a red earthenware, termed "redd porcelain."