When Was -
The Teapot Invented?

By Mike McLeod

Actually, the first question to answer is: when was tea discovered? The legend goes that in the Year 2737 BC, tea leaves from the Camellia Sinensis tree floated into a bowl of water boiling for Shen Nung, Emperor of China. Finding the taste pleasing, the Emperor continued to drink "tay," and the practice spread to India, Thailand and eventually to Japan in the 9th century. It was thought of a medicinal drink at first.

Hot pots: the $1.26 million
Famille Rose Coral-Ground teapots,
the most expensive ever sold.
(Photo, courtesy Christie's.)

Tea did not reach Europe until 1610 when Dutch traders brought it back to Holland. Today, it is the drink of choice of the British and many throughout Europe.

The invention of the teapot lagged behind the discovery of tea. From about the 8th century, the leaves shredded and then powdered were boiled in bowls and sometimes whipped to make tea. Various sources report the first teapots appearing during the Sung Dynasty (960-1279) or the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), but virtually all agree they first came from the YiXing (pronounced "ee-shing") region of China, about 120 miles northwest of Shanghai. There, a purple clay known as "zisha" was formed into the first small pots.

These teapots were made to brew only one or two servings of tea, which was drunk directly from the spout. At the time, people carried their own personal pots for brewing and drinking tea.

Larger pots came into use some time later. Europeans eventually used their Arabic coffeepots for brewing tea. While silver tea services were used by the upper crust starting in the 1700s, stoneware pots were most commonly used. The Asians dominated world trade in the thin-walled and beautifully decorated kaolin porcelain pots. It wasn't until Johann Bottger of Meissen, working for the King Augustus of Poland as an alchemist, discovered how to make hard-paste porcelain that smooth, white teapots were made on the Continent.

Teapots and teacups are favorite collectibles for their beauty, elegance and variety. In addition, most are quite affordable except for a pair sold by Christie's in 2000. The coral-ground teapots from the Qianlong Period (1736-1795) sold for $1,264,629.

As an aside, iced tea was invented in 1904 at the St. Louis World's Fair. The stifling heat prevented anyone from drinking hot tea, so the beverage was cooled down, and gallons were drunk.

Teabags were invented a few years later, which removed the need for teapots. However, teabags did not destroy the desire to own these lovely pots. 

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