Sunday, September 18, 2011

"Find yourself a cup;

the teapot is behind you. Now tell me about hundreds of things. ~Saki
I bought a stash of teapots at auction the other night. Of course, it got me thinking about tea. A little research pproduced some fascinating information. Tea is among the world’s oldest and most revered beverages. It is today’s most popular beverage in the world, next to water. The word “tea” was derived from ancient Chinese dialects. Such words as “Tchai,” “"Cha,” and “Tay” were used to describe the tea leaf as well as the beverage.

Tea drinking has long been an important aspect of Chinese culture. A Chinese saying identifies the seven basic daily necessities as fuel, rice, oil, salt, soy sauce, vinegar, and tea. According to Chinese legend, tea was invented accidentally by the Chinese Emperor Shen Nong in 2737 B.C. Emperor Shen Nong was a scholar and herbalist, as well as a creative scientist and patron of the arts. (Wouldn't we love to have those kinds of people in today's culture?)

The emperor believed that drinking boiled water contributed to good health. By his decree, his subjects and servants had to boil their water before drinking it as a hygiene precaution. On one summer day while he was visiting a distant region, he and his entourage stopped to rest. The servants began to boil water for the skilled ruler and his subjects to drink.Dried leaves from a nearby camellia bush fell into the boiling water. The emperor was interested in the new liquid because it had a pleasing aroma in this new brew interested the emperor, so he drank the infusion and discovered that it was very refreshing and had a delightful flavor. He declared that tea gives vigor to the body, thus. That was when tea was invented, but it was considered as a medicinal beverage. It was around 300 A.D. when, tea became a daily drink.

Teapots usually have an opening with a lid at their top, where the tea and 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 spout. A small hole in the lid is necessary for air access inside to stop the spout from dripping and splashing when tea is poured.
Early teapots are small by western standards because they are generally designed for a single drinker and the Chinese historically drank the tea directly from the spout. The size reflects the importance of serving small portions each time so that the flavours can be better concentrated.At the end 17th century tea was shipped from China to Europe as part of the export of exotic spices and luxury goods. (And you thought Chinese imports were new!) The ships that brought the tea also carried porcelain teapots. The majority of these teapots were painted in blue and white underglaze. The porcelain withstood sea water without damage so the teapots were packed below deck, and the tea stayed on top in the dry quarters.Tea drinking in Europe was initially the preserve of the upper classes since it was very expensive. Porcelain teapots were particularly desirable because porcelain could not be made in Europe at that time. It wasn't until 1708 that Ehrenfried Walther von Tschirnhaus devised a way of making porcelain in Dresden, Germany, and started the Meissen factory in 1710. When European potteries began to make their own tea wares, they were naturally inspired by the Chinese designs.

And so as Willaim Gladstone (19th century Brit Prime Minister) said:

"If you are cold, tea will warm you;
if you are too heated; it will cool you;
if you are depressed, it will cheer you;
if you are exhausted, it will calm you."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi Susan,
What a great stash of teapots you have now, I think the first one is my fave. My husband and I are avid tea drinkers preferably green tea, we have about 30 different flavors in the cupboard right now. Thanks for tea history lesson too!

I recently went to an auction myself and picked up a few treasures, please have a peek and tell me what you think.

Take care,