Please enjoy the original writing, Christian travel journal, and photography by a hapa haole named Gail Rhea.

Original Writing & Photography

by Gail Rhea

 

 

 

TEAPOT PROS & CONS

 

There are many teapots available throughout the world. This list of observations, intended to get you thinking about which might be the perfect teapot for you, covers the Bee House, Brown Betty, Chatsford, glass, IngenuiTea, metal, and Yixing teapots, as well as what to look for to avoid buying a drippy teapot.

 

Bee House

Pros:

1. Infusion stops when the first cup is poured - good for those who'd rather deal with the removal of tea leaves later in the kitchen.

2. Is dripless depending on how one pours. If quick wrist-action isn't employed, a drop of tea hangs from the lip, but doesn't fall.

3. If the metal lid is removed, the teapot may be put into a microwave to reheat any remaining beverage.

Cons:

1. The brew basket is short, not allowing much room for the tea leaves to expand or for the water to circulate through them. This also prevents one from brewing a single cup of tea since the water level won't be high enough to use the included brew basket. Solution: use a Teeli/Finum brewing basket, size medium, instead.

2. The brew basket has a coarse mesh through which small leaf particles pass, continuing the infusion which results in bitterness. Also not recommended for those who like a clean beverage. Solution: use a Teeli/Finum brewing basket, size medium, instead.

 

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Brown Betty - The origin of the Brown Betty dates back to 1700 and was considered a luxury at the price of about 12 shillings. The original small, unglazed teapot was made out of red clay discovered in 1695 by Elder Brothers in the Bradell Woods area of Stoke-on-Trent in Staffordshire, England. Today, an authentic Brown Betty is still made in Stoke-on-Trent with the same red clay from the original area. The Brown Betty has the reputation of making the best pot of tea in the western world because the clay, similar in composition to the highly-regarded clay of Yixing in China, retains heat better than other clays and because the round shape of the pot causes tea to be gently swirled around as boiling water is added. 

This inexpensive teapot is hand-made now only by Caledonia Pottery at Old Caledonia Mills, the last English pottery to use the original red clay that gives the teapot its extra heat quality, and minor imperfections not affecting performance may result. The pots are cast in red terracotta clay and glazed with the traditional high-gloss, dark brown Rockingham glaze although, now, other colors are also available. The Brown Betty is available in 2-cup, 4-cup, 6-cup, and 8-cup sizes and was made as a Tea-for-One set a few years ago.

Buyer beware - because many use the "Brown Betty" nomenclature for teapots that are similar to the traditional shape even though the teapots aren't made from the esteemed red clay of Stoke-on-Trent, it's wise to check that the clay is reddish terracotta by looking at the bottom where the glaze doesn't completely cover, and if a new pot, look for the hang-tag from Caledonia Pottery.

Pros:

1. An authentic Brown Betty keeps tea warmer, longer than any other teapot with the exception of an authentic Yixing.

2. Unsightly tea stains are not an issue with the traditional Rockingham glaze.

3. The excellent spout design makes it dripless or very nearly so, depending on how one pours.

4. Although brewing tea loose in the pot is best, the 4-cup size accommodates the large Finum/Teeli brewing basket so perfectly that it's as though they were made for each other like the Finum Teapot Systems or Chatsford teapots and baskets are.

Con:

1. Occasionally, a Brown Betty has minor flaws in appearance. This is normal, to be expected, doesn't affect performance, and is not grounds for returning the teapot although one might want to use a more attractive teapot when entertaining guests. 

 

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Chatsford - If you can afford to buy only one teapot and don't want an authentic Brown Betty or glass teapot, seriously consider buying a Chatsford, patented by The London Teapot Company. With availability from several different manufacturers in earthenware, porcelain, bone china, and vitrified ceramics (the tough stuff used in restaurants), in various colors and patterns, sized from mugs and 2-cup to 8-cup teapots, the Chatsford suits virtually everyone's needs and decor.

Pros:

1. The brew basket allows almost as much room for tea leaves to expand as their being loose in the pot.

2. The extremely fine mesh of the brew basket contains the smallest leaves, including rooibos, providing a clean beverage.

3. The Chatsford provides convenient and easy removal of leaves from the pot, no straining necessary, and no leaves will get stuck up the spout.

4. Dripless or nearly so - depending on the manufacturer and how one pours. While my four-cup Chatsford is dripless, my two-cup Chatsford needed a dripless teapot gadget to make it dripless.

Con:

1. Because of the patented design, Chatsfords are somewhat more expensive than other teapots made of clay. Don't expect to buy a new one for only US$5 or $10, but the ease and convenience is well-worth the higher cost.

 

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Glass teapots - If you can afford to buy only one teapot, seriously consider making it a glass teapot.

Pros:

1. With a glass teapot one can enjoy watching the unfurling and expansion of the tea leaves called, "the agony of the leaves," that isn't possible with the Brown Betty or Chatsford teapots. While all teas have visual appeal, gunpowder provides the most by the unfurling and expansion of the pellets into full-sized leaves.

2. Easy to clean - tea stains aren't an issue and odors aren't retained.

3. Many are dripless - Bodum, Jenaer (Schott discontinued production at the end of March, 2005), and others have great reputations for their dripless teapots.

4. Depending on whether or not there are any metal components, a glass teapot is microwavable making it easy to reheat a beverage gone cool.

5. Overall attractiveness - while some designs are more appealing than others, all are suitable for entertaining guests.

6. Along with earthenware, glass teapots are the least likely to impart strange flavors to your tea.

Con:

1. Glass is more fragile than other materials commonly used for teapots. Not recommended for klutzes or households with children who won't keep their hands off the breakables.

 

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IngenuiTea

Pros:

1. Allows visual enjoyment of the agony of the leaves like a glass teapot.

2. The extremely fine mesh strainer produces a clean beverage.

3. Dripless.

4. Microwaveable if you don't have another way to heat water - but, do not zap water with tea in it or you're likely to end up with a mess. Heat water by itself, then add tea and let steep.

5. Easy to use and convenient - great for the office.

6. Made of durable, food-grade plastic.

Cons:

1. Might drip if tea leaves get stuck in the mechanism. Should this occur, flush well with water or simply blow out. A stubborn leaf particle may require a blast of canned air.

2. The contemporary design doesn't go with a traditional tea service.

3. Those with discerning palates may detect a plastic flavoring to their tea.

4. The older, large, IngenuiTea can't be taken apart for cleaning and very fine leaf particles may be impossible to rinse out even with a sink-mounted vegetable sprayer. The newer, small, IngenuiTea, redesigned so that it can be taken apart for cleaning, sometimes has problems with the filter coming loose.

 

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Metal teapots

Pro:

1. Extremely durable - you could drop-kick one and while it might get scratched or dented, it won't break.

Cons:

1. Poor heat retention - metal teapots are possibly the worst for keeping tea warm.

2. Hot handle - more likely to have a handle that gets too hot to hold with a bare hand, more care needs to be taken when using a metal teapot.

3. Those people with discerning taste buds may detect a metallic flavoring to their teas.

 

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Yixing teapots - The history of Yixing ("ee-shing") pottery dates back to 2500 B.C with teapots going back to the Sung Dynasty (960-1279) although they were relatively unknown until the late Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). Unlike the reddish terracotta clay of the English Brown Betty, Yixing clay has three major color types and while the Zhu Ni/Zhuni (vermilion red) was virtually depleted decades ago (if one is offered at an affordable price, count on it being a fake because prices are now into the thousands of dollars for these rare pieces), there are still the Duan Ni/Banshanlu Ni (yellow, ranging from creamy white to yellow-brown) and the Zi Sha/Zisha (ranging from purple/blue/red to green and black) which is reputed to be the best for teapots. 

Mixing Zisha with mineral pigments creates the entire spectrum of other colors including red, gold, yellow, bronze, brown, green, and black - Zishayao is a well-known dark purple-brown - so, you should be able to find a teapot in the color of your choice.

However, when it comes to Yixing teapots, "Buyer beware!" There are many knock-offs representing themselves to be Yixing that have similar forms and designs without being made of any clay from the Yixing region in the Jiangsu province of Central China, about 120 miles northwest of Shanghai. Zhu Ni, Duan Ni, and Zi Sha are all imitated by dyed clay. Ordinary red clay is often passed off as Zhu Ni and teapots made from Hong Ni (red clay) from Teo Chew/Chao Zhou in Southern China is often passed off as real Yixing. Before setting out to purchase one, do yourself a favor and learn all that you can beforehand so that you don't get ripped-off or else reconcile yourself beforehand to being happy anyway should you discover that you got a fake.

Pros:

1. Yixing clay has properties that are still held in the highest esteem such as its unique chemical composition (high iron and silicon content, kaolin, mica, quartz), giving among others:

   a. general sturdiness and ability to withstand high and sudden changes in temperature without cracking

   b. excellent heat retention, the best of all teapots

   c. good flavor-retention and enhancement

   d. low thermal conductivity - less likely to burn your bare hands.

2. After a period of years, a good pot of tea may be made with only water because the clay absorbs the tea flavor.

3. Yixing teapots can be true art forms made by popular artists with prices to match. That is, you may expect to pay much less for a pot made by a trainee than for a teapot made by a master.

Cons:

1. Since these are unglazed, care must be taken to ensure that it's only rinsed with water and never, ever washed with soap or detergent.

2. The unglazed clay retains odors and flavors and are entirely unsuitable for use with more than one type of tea. As a result, Yixing aficionados buy one teapot for black tea, another for oolong, a third for green teas...

 

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Final notes

Teapots tend to be like pots and pans in that it's very easy to acquire several to suit various needs and occasions. A teapot with a 4-cup capacity is the recommended size for a first teapot because it allows one to make only a serving or two if you're making tea for one as well as being large enough for avid drinkers or sharing with a guest or three. 

Whichever teapot appeals to you the most, you won't be happy if it doesn't pour well. Be sure to look for a spout with an oval or elongated opening and a longer underlip because it will pour much better than a spout with an opening that's round with a short or no underlip. These latter are so drippy, dribbly, and aggravatingly troublesome to pour that not even a dripless teapot gadget will be able to salvage your investment in the drippy pot.

 

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Copyright 1993- Gail Rhea.

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