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Winter, 2004 Newsletter - "The Practical Teapot"
 
Various English and American Infuser Teapot Designs.

Taken from Wm. H. Ukers, All About Tea Vol II








    From Ming Dynasty Yixing Teapots to the Latest
Chatsford Series


   During the Song dynasty (960-1279) tea was prepared by whipping powdered green tea with hot water, to form a thick, frothy liquor. A shallow bowl was used for the preparation and drinking of the tea. In later years the preferred method for preparing tea was to steep the leaves in a pot of hot water, just as is done today. This new method of tea preparation had a major impact on the potter's craft throughout China and later in Europe.

   The teapot, which replaced the shallow bowl of whipped tea, became one of the most important products of artisans of the Ming dynasty (1368-1643).

   The introduction of tea to Europe toward the end of the Ming dynasty soon created heavy demand for China teapots. European potters began to copy the popular China wares, and eventually they were able to produce quality products. The teapots that were copied most frequently were the popular blue and white glazed China pots that were made explicitly for export.

   The most treasured pots among the Chinese artists and intellectuals were the unglazed purple clay pots of Yixing province, rather than the common blue and white export pottery. Yixing pots are still being produced today by some of the most accomplished Chinese artists.

   Clay used in the production of Yixing pots is extremely fine, with an iron content of over nine percent. As a result of the fineness of the clay and the high iron content, the fired product has an unusually smooth finish and phenomenal strength.

   Yixing teapots are made in a wide range of sizes and shapes. Classic Yixing teapots intended for daily use tend to be fairly simple in design with graceful proportions. Others are more of an expression of artistic creativity, intended to be displayed as sculpture, with no expectation of practical use. One of the more interesting renditions by a contemporary artist is billed as the world's largest teapot. The artist was photographed standing inside the base during the construction process.

   Antique Yixing teapots are highly prized and can fetch extraordinary prices. Contemporary Yixing teapots by certain artists can also be quite valuable. A few words of caution, however: most so-called Yixing teapots sold today are reproductions or fakes, produced by the thousands using clay of unknown origin. These are considered novelties and have no value to serious collectors.

   The basic teapot remains essentially unchanged from that of Ming dynasty China. The casual observer will notice a common theme among practical 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 than one with any other shape. 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. The teapots shown on the front cover are but a handful of the hundreds of attempts to create a clever infuser teapot. The most successful designs have always been fairly simple, while some of the more complex concepts recall the curious illustrations of Rube Goldberg. The "Anti-Tannic" Air-valve Tea Infuser (left) is one such example. For more in-depth look at that particular teapot, please refer to our Fall 2001 article, "Curious Teapot Designs".

   One of the simplest and most successful infuser teapot designs is the ChatsfordŽ 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 introduced later. Over the fifteen years since introduction, production facilities have been established in five countries. Ceramic materials employed at these facilities include earthenware, 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, present a number of challenges for the ceramics manufacturer.

   We have sold over 50,000 Chatsford teapots since we introduced the original earthenware version to the U.S. market fifteen 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 Thailand. 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 German porcelain version.

   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 ask for our recommendation on a new everyday teapot, we'll probably suggest trying the new earthenware Chatsford with ceramics made in Thailand. Those with an eye for detail and a more accommodating budget might still prefer the bone china version, but we are quite pleased to have, once again, a good stock of the old Chatsford standby -- the basic earthenware infuser teapot.

   For more information on the Chatsford line of teapots, see page 5 of our print catalog, or click here.

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