Friday, March 19, 2010

Time for His-tea-ry

Kaitlin Koppenal

The ancient tale of how a Camellia sinensis (tea plant) leaf fell into a Monk’s pot of boiling water is by far the most common tale about how tea was discovered. However, nobody ever mentions about what they used to keep their tea in. Not used immediately after the discovery of tea, the earliest form of teapot was constructed out of purple clay made from the YiXing region of China and was found in the Sung Dynasty (about 960-1279).

Prior to teapots, tea leaves were rolled from hand, dried, then ground up to a fine powder. At first, the tea was mixed with salt and formed into rounds and this would be dropped into the hot water, making it a thicker consistency of tea. Eventually, the powder was left loose and whipped up into froth. For over 500 years, this was a very common way of drinking tea. At the beginning of the Ming Dynasty, in China, they started drinking their tea via infusion. The infusion method is still the most common way of preparing tea today.

The YiXing region of China is known for their experience and craftsmanship of their pottery. The pottery is valued for attention to detail, fine texture, thin walls, and beautiful coloration varying from light beige to deep maroon. These teapots were used to brew the tea, and also acted as a drinking vessel container. The single serving teapots allowed you to drink directly from the spout. The unglazed clay allowed the flavor of the tea to be absorbed, making it a more intense flavor.

With the growth of people consuming tea, teapots were in higher demand. Tea was no longer for medical purposes, but was also commonly consumed for ceremonial reasons and eventually for leisure. The teapot allowed multiple people to share the same tea used for these rituals. Eventually, the teapot was not just for function, it was considered as art. Like any other thing, teapots are considered very collectable. With themes, scenes, and other fun characteristics, teapots come many different styles, shapes and sizes.