From Ming Dynasty Yixing Teapots to the Latest Chatsford Series
The basic teapot remains essentially unchanged from that of Ming dynasty China. The casual observer will notice a common theme among teapots: they are almost always short and stout. In fact, the perfect shape for a teapot is a sphere, with the essential additions of a spout, handle, flat bottom, and lid. In this regard, the classic British Brown Betty is an exemplary teapot. A sphere has the important property of having the least surface area in proportion to the enclosed volume. Simply put, this means that a spherical teapot suffers less heat loss. Heat retention of a teapot decreases as the shape of the pot varies from the sphere.
Attempts to improve on the classic teapot have often focused on the process of halting the infusion at the proper time. Such efforts have seldom been widely successful, but a few failed efforts have been interesting for their creativity. The "Anti-Tannic" Air-valve Tea Infuser, which was discussed in a previous issue of this newsletter, is one example. (Read the article.)
One of the most successful infuser teapot designs is the Chatsford teapot, which was introduced in London in 1989. The original British earthenware teapot was only available in two-cup and six-cup sizes. Four-, eight- and ten-cup sizes were later introduced. Ultimately production would be extended to four countries and the variety of ceramic materials employed would include porcelain, bone china, and vitrified ceramics for ultimate durability.
The simplicity of the Chatsford system is its greatest appeal, resulting in wide acceptance for commercial service as well as for everyday home use. Additionally, Chatsford infuser baskets are interchangeable across the line (except for a minor change to the infuser handle placement for the catering version). The infuser baskets shipped with the original English teapot in 1989 are the same as those being shipped with teapots being produced today.
Chatsford teapot bases have unusually wide openings to fit the copious infuser basket. Otherwise, they are very close in shape to the classic British Brown Betty. The wide opening of the base, and the tolerances required for proper fitting of the infuser basket in the base, further combined with the necessity of producing a lid which fits the teapot with and without the infuser in place, all present a number of challenges for the ceramics manufacturer.
We have sold over 38,000 Chatsford teapots since we introduced the original earthenware version to the U.S. market eleven years ago. This includes the earthenware, porcelain, bone china and vitrified hotelware lines. Our favorite series was the German porcelain version which was produced only once. The single-production run was made just before the East German porcelain factory closed under the economic strains of German unification.
A bone china series was introduced in 1997 in an attempt to match the quality of the German porcelain series. While the quality of the bone china series is very close to that of the German porcelain teapot, the production costs of this line are high. For many, however, the durability and quality of the product justify the higher price.
The most popular Chatsford line, by far, is the basic earthenware teapot. Production of the ceramics for this line has recently been moved to a factory in Malaysia. Minor modifications were made to the mold design, resulting in a product which looks like a cross between the original Arthur Wood ceramics and the Joseph Sadler ceramics introduced in 1998.
According to Chris Winnington-Ingram, owner of the London Teapot Company and creator of the Chatsford teapot, the average life of a teapot in England is two years. This is probably close to the life of a teapot for most active tea drinkers. For this reason, many of our customers will be purchasing a new teapot in the next few months. If you happen to ask for our opinion on a new everyday teapot, we'll probably recommend trying a new earthenware Chatsford. Those with an eye for detail and a more accommodating budget might still prefer the bone china version!
"Upton Tea Imports was founded in 1989 with the objective of providing the North American tea drinker with
the finest teas available. We purchase teas from reputable brokers and estates worldwide, dealing only with
sources who are capable of providing top quality teas. We sell directly to the consumer, thus ensuring the
freshest product and fairest pricing."