The history of tea drinking goes back way before the invention of teapots. One story about the origin of tea as a drink credits a Chinese Emperor, Shen Nung, from the 3rd century BCE, as the inventor. It’s said that he was boiling drinking water while sitting under a tea tree when some of the leaves fell into the water, and he enjoyed the taste so much that he continued to drink tea for pleasure. Another says that a Buddhist monk, in the process of a long meditation, became tired and cut off his drooping eyelids, throwing them on to the ground, where a tea plant suddenly sprouted. When the monk made a drink from the leaves, he found it helped alleviate his tiredness.
Whatever the true origins of tea drinking, we believe that the plant was first cultivated in China around the 4th century CE, when wild plants were brought to the country from India. Originally, the leaves of the tea plant were hand-rolled, dried and ground into powder, which was mixed with salt and made into balls to be dissolved in hot water to make the drink. Later, the dried powder was used on its own, and mixed with hot water in a bowl. It wasn’t until some time in the Ming Dynasty (14th to 17th century) that using the whole leaves became popular, and this was when the first Chinese teapots seem to have come into existence. These early Chinese teapots were made of clay, and probably used not only for brewing the tea, but also for drinking it. Of course, China was famed for its use of clayware, such as porcelain, and soon Chinese teapots were in demand in Japan, where the tradition of tea drinking quickly took off, and subsequently around the world.
Today, Chinese teapots and other china products are still highly valued. But recently, glass teapots have become really popular, too. These have the great advantage that the tea leaves can be seen brewing, swirling around in the transparent bowl of the pot, and it’s easy to see when the tea has reached the preferred strength. Glass teapots are also just as good at retaining heat as china ones, and are very easy to clean (especially as it’s easy to see when the residue has been removed). With the recent popularity of whole flowers, such as jasmine, peach, peony, and orange, being used to make tea, glass teapots make the whole process one to be really cherished and enjoyed; just steep the flower in boiling water for three to five minutes, and watch it open while the flavors are diffused throughout the drink.
There’s a whole range of glass teapots to choose from, including traditional Chinese teapot shapes, and more modern ones designed especially for flowering teas, such as the Shan glass teapot, which is tall and slender, allowing the flowering tea to be displayed at its best. Try using a glass teapot the next time you have friends around, and you’ll see just how much of an impression it (and you!) make!