Archive for the ‘Tea Accessories’ Category

Portable Tea Infusers

Wednesday, July 13th, 2011

Anyone who loves their  cup of tea and who would also like to be able to brew fresh, loose leafed tea on the go may be interested in a portable tea infuser.  We recently bought a few different types in order to see how well they work and whether or not they would be a viable option to sell and in essence we are fairly impressed with how well they perform.

These portable infusers are available in both glass or stainless steel. In some respects the stainless steel are our preference as they are more durable and, at least the ones we have, really look great. In fact, they’d be a perfect gift for someone who enjoy a freshly brewed tea. The glass infusers are made with a double layer of glass so even when you are holding one that is full of hot tea the outer glass only feels marginally warm.

Each portable tea infuser comes in three sections. The larger bottom section holds the hot water.  The smaller top section has a lid that pops off.  There is a built in fine metal infuser in the bottom of the top section which is where the tea leaves are placed. If you are brewing a cup of oolong tea or any other tea that expands a lot once it is in water you may want to be careful how much dried leaves you place in the top section. For a cup of oolong I placed about one teaspoon of dried tea in the infuser section.

A Simple How-To

  • Unscrew the lid from the infuser section and place the desired amount of dried tea leaves inside.  Screw the lid back on.
  • Unscrew the top section from the bottom section.  Fill the bottom section with hot water and then screw the top section back on again.
  • Carefully turn the whole infuser upside-down, allowing the water to drain into the infuser section. In other words, you reverse the infuser so that the infuser section sits on the table. This allows the water to mix with the dried leaves and your tea infusion begins.
  • Depending on the type of tea you are making and your preferences as far as steeping time go, leave the infuser in this position until the tea leaves are properly infused. Once it is down, turn the infuser so that the section with the tea now sits on the table and the infuser section is once again on top of the infuser.
  • Screw off the top section.  You will now have a great cup of tea that you can either pour into a new cup, or that you can sip directly from the infuser unit itself.

As most organic loose leaf tea leaves can be steeped more than once, you can simply leave the unfurled leaves in the top infuser section ready to use again when you want to. Of course,  you should not leave them there for long periods of time, but it will not hurt to leave in them in the top section for a time so you can re-use them.

Cleaning The Portable Infuser

Unlike many teapot infusers, this is really very easy to clean.  It is very simple to unscrew the top of the infuser unit and tap the used tea leaves out. They do not tend to get stuck in the infuser section and usually come out very easily. If they are a little stubborn about coming out of the infuser the opening at the top is wide enough to easily pull the leaves out with your fingers or to use another utensil to get them out.

The unit can then be washed in warm water both inside and out. They are also dishwasher safe.

A Few Things To Be Aware Of

While they are extremely easy to use, there are a couple of things you may want to watch out for when using these portable infusers–lessons we have learned through trial and error!

First of all, remember that while the glass infuser unit is only barely warm to the touch the freshly brewed tea on the inside of the unit is very hot–especially when first made. This can take people by surprise!  Remember to sip slowly, as you would from a regular cup, if drinking from the infuser unit otherwise you may end up with a sore tongue!

After pouring hot water into the bottom of the infuser, make sure that the top section is screwed on tightly.  Otherwise you may end up with quite a mess on the table–it has happened (the voice of experience!) that if not properly screwed on the water will pour onto the table when you invert the portable infuser to let it steep.

Finally, especially with the glass model, you may find that it is a little difficult to undo after steeping as the heat causes the material to swell a tiny bit. It’s not a problem, simply don’t expect it to come off quite as easily after brewing tea in it.

In Summary

All in all, I would highly recommend these portable tea infusers to anyone who would like a  very portable method of making loose leaf Chinese tea or even herbal tea.  They are easy to use, they brew a great cup of tea and they are versatile.  The infuser itself is small enough to fit into a vehicle cup-holder without any problems. Tea brewed in these flasks tastes every bit as good as those brewed in a regular tea pot or even in a cup or teapot with infuser.  While not extremely cheap, you will find the money you pay is worth it in terms of quality and ease of use.

Cups, Saucers and Basic Table Décor

Sunday, October 17th, 2010

Not everyone not everyone grabs a matching cup and saucer when they want to have a cup of tea. In fact many people seem to enjoy drinking tea from a mug instead. I can understand that, as you can certainly get a lot more tea into a mug than into a regular sized teacup. However, it is nice upon occasion to set out matching cups and saucers, especially if you are entertaining guests or even if you feel like treating yourself to a special afternoon tea.

While it may be surprising to some people, you do need to get some thought and attention to the types of cups, saucers and other tea accessories you use. Clearly, you should never use saucers that do not match the cup that is sitting on them–for example a gold tea cup on a blue saucer–unless it is really a set! While that may seem a little ludicrous to some people I have actually seen it happen. However there is more to basic table décor than merely using matching cups and saucers or in the placement of the cup saucer and other tea ware.

For example, you may need to pay particular attention to what is on your crockery sets. If, for example, you have beautiful, floral cups and saucers you may want to avoid laying down any floral tablecloth as the whole table can look simply far too busy. If you do have a floral or a patterned tablecloth it is far better to use plain colored cups and saucers, preferably trying to match the color of the cup and saucer with one of the colors present on the tablecloth. Choosing a cups and saucers carefully and matching them with your other dining ware and your table setting can really be quite a lot of fun, sometimes challenging but always very effective. There are times when you could use patterned cups and saucers and a patterned tablecloth, you would just need to be sure that the patterns enhance each other and did not clash.

You should also try to match your napkins and napkin rings with your tea cups as well. If you have the type of teacups that have either a silver or a gold rim around the top of the teacup you really should try to make sure your napkin rings are the same metallic color, usually either gold or silver. Little touches like this will really make a difference in your overall table setting.

Another way to really accentuate the design of the tea sets is to make use of a centerpiece in the middle of the table. Make sure the centerpiece is not overly tall as you will want people to be able to see across it and converse without having to try to dodge around the centerpiece in order to be able to see the other person. Small floral displays often make great centerpieces. If you use a floral display, try to have the colors of the flowers match the colors of the cups and saucers. Or at least have them complement the colors used on the cups and saucers.

If you are entertaining quite a few guests you may not have enough of the same patterned cups and saucers, considering that you often only buy cups & saucers in sets of two, four or six. It is perfectly acceptable to have two different sets of cups and saucers on the table at the same time. It is best if they do match or at least complement each other. In other words it is nice if you can find a set of saucer cup and perhaps even bread plate with a floral design and then use another different floral design set as opposed to having one floral design set and one with fish or birds on the side of the cup. You can also mix and intermingle sets that are patterned and that are singularly colored. In fact this is something to keep in mind if you ever buy sets of cups and saucers. Always remember that there may be circumstances when you will be using the tea cup and saucer set with your other sets and try to see if you can at least buy sets that match with your other sets. Of course, sometimes you do not have any control over the sets of cups and saucers that you receive; maybe someone gives them to you as a gift or maybe they are inherited and passed down from your mother or grandmother for example. In these cases you simply have to do the best you can with what you have, but if you ever buy any other sets tried to look for sets that you can use with what you currently have.  Just remember, matching cups on matching saucers.

You can also become very creative with your use of cups and saucers. While they are primarily used of course for drinking tea there may be times when you only have one cup and saucer left in a set. Sometimes, rather than using this for drinking tea you can set it out as a decorative item. If the cup & saucer is decorative enough it can stand alone as its own declaration, or you could try some really unusual and creative ideas. For example you could use it as a small pot plant holder and set it on the window seal of your kitchen. Or you can fill it with potpourri or even use it to hold a decorative wax candle.

While I love the convenience of tea bags and k cups nothing is quite the same as a well set out matching tea set!

Collecting Cups And Saucers

Thursday, September 23rd, 2010

Collecting cups and saucers can be very rewarding. While many people think of antiques when the topic of collecting tea cups and saucers is broached there are actually many other ways or methods, or even types of teacups and saucers to collect. For example, some people like to collect sets of children’s cups and saucers. Other people will have a fine collection of Chinese teacups, while others may prefer to collect tea cups saucers with a specific design such as floral cups and saucers, espresso cups and saucers, coffee cups and saucers, or cups and saucers with pastoral scenes. Still others diligently search for hand-painted tea cup and saucers.

It is said that tea always tastes best when sipped from a porcelain or bone china cup, though some people such as those who are fans of the Brown Betty tea pot insist it is the type of teapot used that makes all the difference. Of course, lovers of Chinese tea believe that it tastes best when sipped from thick clay cups which tend to absorb the odor and the taste of the tea served in them. Whether the tea actually tastes better or not, it is a great experience to serve tea in fine china cups.

The humble teacup has certainly developed throughout the ages. Originally, tea came from China. The Chinese drank their tea in thick small cups without handles. When tea was first exported to Europe, these types of cups were also used for drinking tea. However, the gentile  English and French nobility who were the only ones who could afford to drink tea those days found teacups too hot to handle. Soon saucers accompanied these teacups, in an effort to make the teacup easier to hold. Unfortunately, people thought that these saucers were to be used to help cool down the tea. They would pour a little tea into the saucer and then sip from the saucer. Eventually, handles were added to the teacups and everyone was happy that they could now hold the teacup without getting their fingers burned. Tea cups and saucers have remained this way ever since; at least those commonly used in Western countries for drinking black tea such as bone china tea cups.

Many people like to collect either antique or vintage cups and saucers. While these collectible cups and saucers can be bought online from various auction sites such as eBay, or even from antique dealers online you can also often find them by searching yourself in secondhand stores or at local fairs. While you may not unearth anything that is terribly valuable you can certainly have a lot of fun collecting and then learning how to identify the cups and saucers. Sometimes you may have the good luck of finding a saucer and cup that match, in different locations. Of course it is possible that every now and then you may truly find something that is genuinely worth quite a lot of money.

An interesting tidbit: Prior to making cups out of porcelain some are also made out of silver. However, it is much more difficult to find antique silver cups. The reason for this is that silver can be melted down and new items made from it. This frequently happened, making antique silver cups quite a bit more rare than antique porcelain cups.

Collecting Antique Cups and Saucers

If you are genuinely interested in collecting antique and vintage crockery you will probably need to invest in a good book that lists all the porcelain and ceramic marks that can be found on crockery. There are several of these types of books that can be bought online for fairly reasonable prices below are links to a couple that are currently sold on Amazon.

This books, “Cups and Saucers” by Jim and Susan Harran is highly recommended by collectors. It not only contains specifics on many antique cups and saucers, but it also has very clear, detailed pictures which will help identify different antique cups and saucers. It also details European and American tea ware, thus is very useful.

This particular book also includes a lot of good information for any collector. Unfortunately, it is a little difficult to find as it is out of print at the moment. However, second hand books are sometimes available online, or you may be able to pick it up fairly cheaply at a second hand book store.

This is a full color antique guide, written by a master in antiques, Martin Miller. This gives a very realistic appraisal of antiques and their actual worth, based on retail outlets not on auctions where prices can be highly inflated. Available in paperback, it is the perfect companion for your antique hunting ventures as you can take it with you as an instant reference guide.

The potter’s marks are usually found on the bottom of the cup and the bottom of the saucer. You simply turn the item over and you should see the manufacturer’s markings. This will include most likely the name of the manufacturer, the location where the crockery was made and the date made. Sometimes these marks are underneath the glaze sometimes they are scratched into the bottom of the cup and sometimes they have been painted on. Of course it is very possible to copy these marks and there are many fake antiques available so while these marks can be used to help determine the age of the piece of crockery, there also are the indications of the pieces and each that must be taken into consideration. If you really think you have found a genuine antique, one that may be worth some money, it would be best to have it evaluated by a professional antique dealer.

A Teacup Timeline

Here is a brief summary of some interesting tidbits I have unearthed about tea and tea cups.

In the early 1600s tea was exported from what is now known as Indonesia to Holland. This tea was sold by Chinese merchants and it quickly became a very popular drink in Holland as well as soon in other parts of Europe. Only a couple of decades later some of the first coffee and tea houses in London began selling tea. Tea was at first drunk by the nobility as it was very expensive and the average working-class family couldn’t
afford it.

Ever wondered where the custom of adding milk to tea began? Apparently a fine French lady Mme. de la Sabliere decided that tea was too hot to pour directly into her fine porcelain cups, it caused the glaze to crack and sometimes caused the very fine china to break. Adding a little milk to the tea however cooled it down considerably, made it easier to drink and most of all protected her fine porcelain ware. It should be noted that the Chinese do not add milk to their tea.

December 16, 1773 is a well-known date. Tea was exported from England to the American colonists. Rising up to show their disapproval with the heavy taxes levied on them, American colonists in Boston dumped tea chests filled with tea into the harbor. I would imagine some people were quite upset at the loss of all that fine tea, however the statement was made — one which has gone down into history, and has become a famous part of the history of tea also.

In England, nobility and the upper class usually dined quite late in the evening. Some women found the very long wait between lunch and dinner left them feeling quite faint and hungry. Consequently, the institution of afternoon tea was born. Tea was served along with fine cakes and pastries, proving a satisfying and filling snack that would hold them over until dinner.

A couple of other notable dates in tea history: Tea was first planted in Darjeeling in North India in 1856. Since that time, tea has been a major commodity exported from India and is famed worldwide for its quality.

Iced tea was apparently invented in 1904 at the St. Louis world’s fair in an effort to counteract the sweltering heat at the time. It has become a staple drink worldwide and is now commonly available in many convenience stores, as well as served regularly during the hot months of summer.

The tea bag was an accidental discovery. A certain merchant transported tea in small qualities inside fine cloth bags. Apparently those on the receiving end thought this was intentional, and with great delight dipped the small bags into boiled water. The resultant tea was delightful and best of all there were no tea leaves floating around in the tea. As the small bags were so much easier to use, they became very popular and hence the tea bag was born.

It is to be noted that teacups differ in shape and size from coffee cups. Teacups flare out and have a wider rim than coffee cups. Coffee cups are generally more cylindrical in shape; they do not flare out at the rim as teacups to. Both coffee cups and teacups should sit on saucers. These saucers are used to prevent tea or coffee from staining fine table cloths, and you’re also supposed to set your teaspoon neatly on the saucer.

If you simply love the idea of drinking from cups and saucers but do not feel it necessary to buy expensive items, you can also find many cheap cups and saucers online. While they may not be as costly, I am sure the tea will taste just as good as if you were drinking from an expensive antique cup.

The Cast Iron Teapot

Wednesday, September 15th, 2010

Probably most people are familiar with the Japanese cast iron teapot. Known as a ‘tetsubin’, it has been in common use in Japan for centuries now. Cast iron ware is well known for its ability to retain heat. It is well-known that it is a very strong material, which makes it perfect to use in the kitchen. Many cast iron teapots have an enamel coating on the inside; this is useful as it prevents rusting. However cast iron teapots that are used for actually boiling water usually do not have this enamel coating inside as the heat would cause it to crack.

The History Of The Cast Iron Teapot

There is some debate as to where the first cast iron teapot was made. Many believe it may have been first made in China, although it is unknown exactly when it was made. The first cast iron teapots were actually used to boil water on the fire however once tea drinking became common in Japan it was then used to actually brew tea. There are different types of Japanese teapots including the ones used in the famous Japanese tea ceremony, however Japanese cast iron teapots are used for brewing loose leaf tea rather than the powdered tea commonly used in Japanese tea ceremonies.

By the mid-19th century, cast iron teapots changed from being a standard kitchen utensil to actually being used as somewhat of a status symbol for serving tea. Many of these antique tetsubin cast iron teapots have, in many cases, become family heirlooms which have been passed down from generation to generation. Incidentally, teapots were not only used originally for brewing tea but they were also used to boil water for other reasons such as for washing and bathing, and to also boil water that was used when cooking. The teapot has always been a really useful kitchen utensil, in part because it is extremely durable and also because it could be used for so many different purposes.

The Benefits Of Using A Cast Iron Teapot

The main benefit of using a cast iron teapot is that it tends to make extremely good tasting tea. Cast iron as a material will distribute heat evenly over its entire surface. This is very useful when brewing tea, as it helps to bring out the flavor of the tea. With use, a properly seasoned teapot will actually absorb some of the taste and the odors of the tea brewed in it, consequently each pot of tea that’s brewed ends up tasting better than the pot before.

Another real benefit of using a cast iron teapot is that it is extremely heat retentive. Tea brewed in a cast iron teapot will stay hot in some cases literally for more than an hour.

It was expected that the original cast iron teapots would rust on the inside. This was not considered to be bad, but rather it was seen as a way to be able to get extra iron. Of course today we do not expect to absorb iron from rust and cooking utensils but rather from taking iron supplements. This has meant that many cast iron teapots are now enameled on the inside rather than being left in a state where they could potentially rust.

What To Look For When Buying A Cast Iron Teapot

It is fairly undisputed that the best cast iron teapots are made in Japan, where they have been made for centuries. The craftsmen who make these teapots in Japan are very skilled. It’s very time-consuming process and believe it or not often anywhere up to 15 different craftsmen work on one pot over the course of time it is being made.

If you’re looking to buy one, an important thing to note is that most of them cannot be used to heat water in. In other words they should not be placed over an open flame or a gas burner or on an electric hot plate.  It is still possible to buy some type that can be used either over in a fireplace or on a low flame of the gas burner. However, before you actually buy your teapot, or cast iron teapot set, make sure you carefully read the instructions regarding how it should be used, and be sure to choose one that is right for you.

Design is also an important element with a cast iron teapot. In fact some people consider these teapots to be a real work of art, which is understandable when you realize how much time and effort goes into making just one teapot. Some more minimalistic in design, while others are detailed with different symbols such as animals or dragons or other decorative items engraved on them. You will also find some with carved spouts and ornate handles.

Of course a cast iron teapot is not going to be cheap to buy. The more intricately designed ones are usually considerably more expensive than the cheaper variety. It is well worth paying a little extra for a cast iron teapot as if it is cared for properly it literally can be passed down from generation to generation. It is an investment that in most cases is well worth making, especially if you enjoy drinking loose leaf tea.

How To Use The Cast Iron Teapot

Most teapots that you buy will have detailed instructions on how to prepare them for use and how to care for them. The first thing you should do prior to using your teapot is to rinse it out thoroughly with hot water. When still warm, you should take a dry cloth and wipe it out inside. Don’t worry if you don’t get it totally dry as any moisture left on it should dry naturally.

Quite often tea is brewed in the teapot by placing it inside an infuser that then sits inside the teapot. In fact many modern cast iron teapots come complete with an infuser set inside ready for use.

As stated before the teapot is used for brewing loose leaf tea. Place the loose leaf tea inside the teapot, then pour boiling water over the tea leaves. Set the lid on the teapot and let it steep for the recommended amount of time. Each tea has usually a different brewing or steeping time so you should check the instructions given on the tea you are brewing and make it accordingly.

How To Care For A Cast Iron Teapot

Here are some tips and pointers on how to properly care for your cast iron teapot so that it will last a long time.

  • You should never use the cast iron teapot in a microwave oven.
  • Be careful not to use any abrasive cleaning pads or even abrasive detergents on the teapot. All you need to do to clean it is just rinse it out with water and then wipe it dry after each use. If it is not totally dried simply turn it upside down and let it dry naturally before replacing the lid.
  • It is not a good idea to leave either tea or water in the teapot for any length of time as that can cause rust to form.
  • You should not use either salt or oil on the tea pot either.
  • It should not be washed inside the dishwasher.
  • Do not quickly cool down the teapot. Wait for it to cool down naturally by itself.
  • If you notice rust developing in the teapot you actually don’t need to worry about it. The rust is not at all toxic and will not harm you even if you brew tea inside the rusted teapot. You may notice a slight difference in taste if the inside of the teapot is rusting. If you do not appreciate this taste, you can simply clean the rusted area using a soft brush. Remember not to scratch it too hard or you’ll damage the teapot. After you’ve done this then fill the pot with used tea leaves and boiling water. Let it sit and soak for about 20 minutes and then tip the mixture out. This is said to help form a natural seal inside the teapot which will inhibit rust developing.
  • If you would like to polish your teapot, the best way to do this is to dip a soft cloth in tea. Squeeze the excess moisture out of the cloth and then rub it over the outside of the teapot. This will help the teapot pot
    to look nice and glossy. You should not use any other type of polishing agents on the outside of the teapot as it will damage it.

The Japanese tea pots cast iron or clay are well made and very popular, though the cast iron tea pots are perhaps more famous when it comes to Japanese tea pots.

The Brown Betty Teapot Controversy

Thursday, September 9th, 2010

Is Original or Replica the Best Buy?

The Brown Betty teapot receives somewhat mixed reviews today, at least the more recently made teapots.  Originally, when first made, the Brown Betty was considered the queen of teapots. Made from red clay found at Stoke-on-Trent in Britain in the early 1700’s, the first Brown Betty teapots were tall and regal.  Later, during the Victorian era of the nineteenth century the shape of the teapot changed to what it is today–rounded.  After this reincarnation the teapot was considered the ultimate for brewing tea in. Sources say that the popularity stemmed from the fact that tea, brewed in them, tasted better than that brewed in other teapots. While arguments are ongoing till today as to why that is, my theory is that it could be because of the clay they were made from. Other enthusiasts believe it is because of the round shape of the teapot, the tea leaves mixed more with the water while brewing thus releasing more flavor, an idea which also has merit.

In studying more about clay teapots in recent years I have come to learn that Chinese tea pots are also considered superior depending on the type of clay they are made from. Clay is a very porous substance and as such it readily absorbs flavors. Thus it does stand to reason that tea brewed over and again in a Brown Betty teapot could well be enhanced because of this same reason–the porous clay making each pot of tea taste better than the one before.

The teapot, as it is known today, was round and glazed with a deep chocolate colored glaze made from manganese and iron, known as the Rockingham Brown glaze. It apparently was a favorite at court during the time of Queen Victoria and as such soon became the most fashionable teapot. Soon the teapot became known as the Brown Betty and thus it has been known as ever since.

It is unclear to me exactly who produced these teapots originally, as accounts of Brown Betty teapot history are a bit sketchy at best . Apparently now, however, they are made exclusively in England by Cauldon Ceramics, though similar style teapots are made by other manufacturers and there are also plenty of replicas made in Japan and China. The ‘made in China’ teapots seem to have quite a bad reputation, although funnily enough the Chinese made the first teapots and their craftsmanship when it comes to making the smaller Chinese teapots such as the Yixing teapot, is superb. YiXing teapots, as well as many other fine teapots made in China or Taiwan, are some of the most well crafted teapots you can find. (It is used mainly for brewing full leaf green and wulong tea.)  They are clay teapots of exceptional quality.

From reading recent Brown Betty teapot reviews it also appears that the Brown Betty teapots for sale that are made by Cauldon Ceramics are also somewhat questionable in quality, with quite a few people reporting cracked glazing.  The modern variations of these formerly fine English teapots are also nowhere near as heavy as the original or even earlier English tea pots, apparently because the clay itself is quite a bit thinner.  Some people have had problems with the Brown Betty teapot lid being flawed, although if you ask you can apparently usually get a Brown Betty teapot replacement lid. Other report problems with a dripping spout. If you want to buy an original Brown Betty tea pot made in England it is recommended that you look for the ‘Cauldon’ markings on the bottom of the clay pot. They also have a Union Jack sticker to prove that it is indeed an original Brown Betty teapot made in England.

These days the teapots are sold in various sizes including the 8 cup Brown Betty teapot, the 6 cup Brown Betty teapot and the Brown Betty teapot 2 cup version. Incidentally, traditionally a tea cup is 6 ounces, thus a four cup Brown Betty would make around 24 ounces of tea. That is important to remember, as many people drink tea in larger cups or mugs these days and if that is the case you would need to buy a larger teapot.

Of course if you are able to find a supplier of antique Brown Betty teapots it would be probably worth getting, if you could afford it. When it comes to Brown Betty teapots authentic and original do not necessarily mean the best unfortunately, as far as those made in more recent times.  However, the antiques are sturdy and providing you can find one that is still in good condition, should last a long time. Of course, it is quite difficult to use anything that is antique thus even if you find one you may decide that it should stay on display in your kitchen or dining room cabinet.

This may be heresy to all of those anti ‘made in China’ teapot lovers, however you can find replicas of these teapots made in China, Japan and even Malaysia which apparently are well made, sturdy, thick and thus easily able to keep the tea warm for quite some time. They are also considerably cheaper than the original ‘Made in the UK’ teapots. I am not recommending that you buy these, but merely suggesting that in light of current Brown Betty reviews buying the original from England may not provide you with a teapot that is of any better quality!

Children’s China Tea Sets–Childrens Tea Sets Don’t Have To Be Made From Plastic

Friday, September 3rd, 2010

There is nothing that captivates a young child’s mind and imagination as much as a tea party. It does not matter whether they have human guests or not, the dog, the cat or their favorite teddy and doll will be just as welcome! Of course in order to have a great tea party, a tea set is essential. There are all types of children’s tea sets available, ranging from those made from plastic or tin to china tea sets for children. China tea sets do break and chip fairly easily however, so if you buy one be prepared for some tears and have replacement pieces of the china set on hand.

What you choose for your child will probably depend on the age and the dexterity of your child. If your child is very young or apt to drop items, you may want to opt for something other than a china tea set and it’s fragile cups & saucers of course. However if you will be playing along with your child, a toy china tea set is always a hit mainly because it so closely resembles the real thing and kids love to play with ‘real life’ items, even if they are a slightly smaller size.

There are quite a few pros to getting a child’s china tea set, aside from the obvious con that they are very easy to break.  Children inevitably serve all kinds of ‘tea’ and ‘snacks’ using their tea set.  China tea cups may hold tea, or juice, or water colored with bright purple food coloring! A fine china tea set can be easily washed, it does not stain and it is actually very hygienic. Plastic tea sets, on the other hand, are easily scratched and stained. They are also great to drink from, cool drinks remain cool for longer and they feel great to the touch which is always important for children who learn through all of their senses. When it comes to tea sets china is fine for most children.

A china tea set for kids will often have the same pieces that china tea sets for adults have.  Kids tea sets will include cups and saucers, a bread plate, a teapot, a milk pitcher and little sugar bowl. Many also have small sized teaspoons and forks to eat cakes with. Some are decorated just like the more adult version too, while others feature Disney Princess characters or other favorites. You can find a china tea set for girls that has Princess characters on the cups and plates, and some even come complete with a tiara for your little princess to wear while she is entertaining her real or imaginary guests. Others are more like a traditional English tea set with delicate floral patterned tea cups and saucers.  Post Christmas is a great time to find china tea sets for sale, so if you have a birthday coming up or you just want to buy a bone china tea set for your child to play with, you may find them greatly reduced in price at that time. If they are cheap enough, I would suggest buying two childrens’ tea sets and keeping one tucked away so that you will have replacement pieces on hand when the inevitable happens.

Miniature Antique Tea Sets

Some people love to collect antique china tea sets and there is quite a selection available online or at various antique shops. A small miniature china tea set looks great when used as a decorative item, with its delicately crafted pieces. There is no doubt that many of the small bone china tea sets made for children during the early or mid 19th century are as well crafted as those made for high society tea parties and they even have tiny replicas of the Brown Betty teapots as well. They really are a lot of fun to collect, with the most prized being a complete antique tea set, with all pieces. Naturally, this is quite a rare find. Some people are able to gradually build up their sets by buying one piece here and there as they see them.  It does take a while to build up a set in this way but that is part of the fun of collecting antique tea sets, especially miniature tea sets. Of course you probably would not let your young children host a tea party with those tea cups and saucers!

A bone china tea set, made for children’s tea parties, can be a wonderful gift to give any young girl. Many little boys that I know love attending tea parties as well, though parents may not like it if you gave one a tea set.  Still, it is great practice for the young gentlemen to learn how to hold a cup and eat delicately, and it can be a great teaching opportunity to invite some small sized gents along to a tea party so they can learn gentlemanly manners.  China tea sets are breakable but they also seem to spark the imagination of children the world over with their tiny cups saucers. For something really unique, try buying a Chinese tea set instead–their small cups and small teapot is the perfect size for little hands to hold.

The Silver Tray

Tuesday, August 10th, 2010

The silver tray as we know it nowadays has a long and fascinating history.  Silver in its natural state is too soft to work with and too soft to use, though it has been used for millennia. As early as the 1300’s silver was mixed with another alloy metal, usually copper, so that it could be fashioned into useful objects. Copper is the most common alloy used as it does not change the appearance of silver. Thus the standard for Sterling Silver is 92.5 percent silver and 7.5 percent copper came into being, and the sterling silver tray was made.

Later, during the 17th century hallmarks were introduced that confirmed the purity of silver. Four marks were placed on silver pieces; the mark of the maker, the city it was made in, the mark denoting its purity at 92.5 percent and the date it was made.

Early salvers, or trays were usually flat and without handles. Some were supported by either a central foot or three or four smaller feet, while others were flat. They were usually either rectangular or circular in shape and they were used primarily to serve food and drinks at social functions.

By the mid 1600’s the silver serving tray was made with a wide rim and by the 1700’s, when tea became a common beverage amongst the upper class of Europe, they became an integral part of any silver tea set.

Perhaps the most sought after silverware, including the silver tray, is that from the Georgian period which lasted from 1714 till 1830 and saw the reign of three King Georges.  This period is when the silversmith produced perhaps his greatest works. Not only were utensils such as spoons and forks produced but the salver, as the tray was then called, was also made to complement tea and food servings during this time.

Antique Silver Trays

As mentioned above, Georgian silver is much sought after. For collectors of antique silver trays, this period is of special interest. Fortunately, because silver was produced in great quantities during this time there are still plenty around.

After this period, the other two favorites amongst collectors are the Art Nouveau period of the late 1800’s and early 1900’s and the Art Deco period that was at its height during the 1920’s and 1930’s. Again, there are plenty of silver trays to be found from these two periods also.

Modern Silver Trays

Today, the silver tray is often given as a gift for weddings, as a retirement gift and for a 25th wedding anniversary. A popular style is the engraved silver tray, used to serve food and snacks on at social functions or in the home. It is also very much a part of the sterling silver tea set, with the teapot, sugar bowl and sterling silver pitcher used for milk, as well as other silver serving pieces, frequently brought to the table sitting on a silver tray. Sterling silver trays can also be used as a silverware tray.

Silver can be safely kept for years and passed down from generation to generation. It is always a great gift for any woman, one that can be kept in the family for years to come. What may be a modern designed tray today will one day join the ranks of the antiques, and become an antique sterling silver tray.

Trays today come in many different shapes, sizes and styles although all possess the raised edge or lip that was first introduced by silversmiths in the 1600’s. Common shapes are oval, rectangular and octagonal. Many trays are elegantly designed with patterns skirting the outer perimeters of the tray and the raised lip. You can buy a silver tray with handles as well as those without. They also should still have silver tray markings on the bottom of the tray. There are many shops selling them, including Macys with Tiffany silverware being very high quality.

Prices are determined both by craftsmanship and by weight. An 8 ½ by 5 ½ inch oval shaped large silver tray weighing 95 grams will usually cost around $150. A smaller 4 x 6 inch tray would only cost around $75. This is more expensive than either a stainless steel tray or a pewter tray, or any other metal tray aside from a gold tray, but most people think it is worth the price. Of course the silver tray value of an antique piece bought today would be quite a bit more than this. Silver plate trays are generally less expensive.

Silver Tray Care

Basically you should care for your silver tray in much the same manner that you would care for any other silverware you own. A silver plated tray needs to be cared for in much the same way.

You should not place a silver tea tray in the dishwasher; instead wash it in the sink with a non lemon scented dishwashing detergent that is phosphate free. You should also dry your tray right away with a soft drying towel otherwise spots may appear on the silver.

Items should never be cut on a silver tray. The tray could possibly dent or end up with small lines in it that will not only decrease its value but may also tarnish more quickly.

Always wash and dry your silver tray after you use it. Keep the tray from bumping up against the sink while you are washing it.

If your silver is beginning to tarnish, where you can just see a yellowish tint appearing on the tray, it can be removed with a mixture of Windex and vinegar. Simply pour some on a piece of cotton and rub the spot gently. Remember to rotate the piece of cotton so that you are not cleaning the tray with a part of the cotton that has tarnish on it; it can scratch it.

If your tray is already tarnished or you are trying to shine up an old silver chest or other piece of silver, use a commercially sold silver cleaner to clean it. Follow the instructions written on the cleaner. Look for polishes that require you to wash them off; these are usually the least abrasive silver cleaners.

You should never use steel wool or scouring pads to clean silver.

Least Abrasive Silver Cleaners

  • 3M’s Tarni-Shield Silver Polish
  • Twinkle Silver Polish
  • Blitz Silver Care Polish
  • Weiman Silver Polish.

For Removing Heavy Tarnish

  • Goddard’s Long Shine Silver Polish
  • Goddard’s Silver Foam
  • Wright’s Anti-Tarnish Silver Polish
  • Wright’s Silver Cream

Stainless Steel Teapot Reviews

Sunday, July 18th, 2010

The stainless steel teapot is a relatively new arrival on the scene, in relation to the rich history that the humble teapot enjoys and it is not near as old as the cast iron teapot for example.  There are differing opinions on who invented the first teapot; some credit this to the Chinese, others to the influence of Muslim coffeepots commonly used in European coffee houses during the mid-1600’s.  Others believe they may have originally been shipped from China as a wine vessel, packaged inside tea in order to protect it while in transit and thus assumed to be an item used for making tea. Wherever it originated, teapots have been with us for centuries and have become an essential part of the tea brewing process, unless you only use teabags of course.

The first European teapots were not a great success, mainly due to the very poor quality of clay that was available and the lack of sufficient skill and knowledge to make decent porcelain teapots. Seeing the need, the East India Company began importing teapots, which were manufactured following European designs, directly from China. It was not until the early 1700’s that high quality clay was found in Germany. This clay was found to produce porcelain as fine as that made in China, thus full scale porcelain production began with Dresden becoming a major center for this fine ware.

Around the same time, during the early to mid 1700’s, the first silver teapots were made. Thus began the battle, which is still waged today, between the porcelain or clay teapot and the metal teapot, including cast iron tea pots and silver tea pots.

Stainless steel is a relatively modern alloy, first produced in the early 1900’s. The first stainless steel teapot was purportedly produced in 1930 by William Wiggin. While stainless steel teapots are not considered to be collectibles, some early teapots are highly sought after and will soon become highly collectible just as some cast iron teapots are these days. Today, stainless steel teapots are made in a variety of shapes and sizes, ranging from the one cup teapot to larger teapots that will brew many cups of tea.

History of the Stainless Steel Teapot

What Size Teapot to Buy

Types Of Stainless Steel Teapots

What a Teapot is Not

How to Clean a Stainless Steel Teapot

* * * * * * * *

When buying a teapot, you will need to choose the size according to how many cups of tea you will be serving. Some people have several different sized teapots to accommodate different amounts. Remember that a regular teacup is 6 ounces, while a mug can be anywhere from 8 to 12 ounces. Taking that into account, if you want a teapot that will brew two mugs of tea you should choose a 24 ounce teapot (which will also, incidentally be enough for four cups of tea, if you use the smaller teacups rather than mugs.)  Different makes of teapots are made in different sizes, so even if you find the perfect teapot you may have to either keep on looking, or buy a slightly larger teapot than you need if it is not the exact size you are after.   A large stainless steel teapot should be able to pour many cups of tea. These are great for when you will be entertaining a lot of guests, or to use for special functions. A small stainless steel teapot is usually perfect for regular, daily home use.

Neither stainless steel, ceramic, or a silver teapot absorbs the flavor of the tea. Thus, one pot made from any of these materials can be used to brew different types of tea. Clay teapots, on the other hand, especially the Chinese teapot, does absorb the flavor of the tea and as such it is usually recommended that you have one pot for each different type of tea you brew.

Metal does not break when dropped, nor does metal chip.  Porcelain and clay both break and chip fairly easily. In other words, you usually need to be quite a bit more careful of your porcelain teapot than you do a stainless steel teapot.

Silver tarnishes and requires regular polishing.  Stainless steel does not tarnish, though the inside of a teapot can sometimes become discolored and it does need to be thoroughly cleaned from time to time to remove those stains. Porcelain and clay do not really tarnish and tea stains inside the teapot is usually fairly easily removed.

As far as care and cleaning, probably the stainless steel teapot is the easiest to maintain. That is why you see them used in restaurants and coffee houses; they are practical, easy to clean and they do not readily break.

Stainless steel teapots retain heat quite well, thus keeping your pot of tea warmer for longer periods of time. They are durable, require little upkeep and they are usually fairly inexpensive to purchase especially when compared with a silver teapot. There are also many different designs of stainless steel tea pots available these days, ranging from the standard restaurant style teapot that has very little flair or style to it, to the teapots.

Aluminum teapots are also sometimes used. They are cheap and apparently fairly safe to use; debates over cooking aluminum pots are now leaning towards the ‘aluminum post are not damaging to your health’ conclusion. I find other pots preferable mainly because they seem to last longer, stay in great shape and are not as tacky looking.  However, if you want to take your teapot on a camping trip, you may find that an aluminum teapot is much lighter to carry with you. As far as any health risks, this article is not going to discuss that. If you are concerned about your health and whether you should use aluminum pots you are welcome to research it and formulate your own opinion. There is plenty of subject matter on line to read through.

Of course, mention should also be made here of Japanese teapots cast iron made, they are unique to Japan and also used for brewing specialty teas.

If you are interested in a modern teapot you will find there are some very interesting styles to choose from. Some are shaped like Aladdin’s lamp, others are tall and narrow. There is a lot of variety when it comes to choosing a stainless steel tea pot, so much so that the teapot does not have to look like the typical restaurant or tea shop teapot. For example a brushed stainless steel teapot is very classy, and there are some great designs out there that use this type of finishing for the stainless steel.   When buying a teapot some things you may want to look for is one that has some sort of insulated handle as stainless steel can become very hot, almost too hot to touch. For example, a stainless steel teapot with wooden handle will be very easy to use, no need to wrap anything around the handle before pouring your tea.

You also want to try to find one where the spout is higher th
an the teapot as that helps the tea to pour better. Also, you want one that does not dribble from the spout while pouring as it can get quite messy if it does and it will also stain your tablecloth. You may also be interested in buying a stainless steel teapot with infuser, which is great for making a no-mess pot of tea. The tealeaves are contained inside the tea infuser while the tea is steeped, thus there is no problem with tealeaves being poured into cups or clogging up the spout, especially when drinking wulong tea for example. If would prefer not to have tealeaves in the cup, you could also look for a stainless steel teapot with strainer, as that will catch the tealeaves before they are poured into your cup.

A stainless steel teapot is not a tea kettle.  Many people use the terms interchangeably, which is probably fine providing they do not try to actually brew a pot of tea in a tea kettle that is filled with boiling water. Well, I do have to admit that Indian Chai tea recipes do require the tea leaves to be boiled, along with other selected ingredients, so I suppose there are occasions when one might use a tea kettle to boil up some Chai.  However, usually a tea kettle boils water which is then poured into a teapot. Simple, really.  So, a stainless steel electric teapot, or a stainless steel whistling teapot should probably be reclassified to the tea kettle family.  Well, none of my teapots whistle.

Stainless steel is usually very easy to clean, there is no real need to buy a stainless steel teapot cleaner; just use what you already have in the kitchen. Simply pop some dishwashing detergent on a sponge or soft cloth and wipe down the outside of the teapot, then rinse it off under warm running water. You do not want to use detergent to clean the inside of the pot though as some traces could remain and spoil the tea brewed in it.

For getting rid of tea stains on the inside of the teapot, simply place two tablespoons of Sodium Bicarbonate inside your pot and fill it up with boiling water. Leave it for half an hour and then rinse it out well. The stains should be gone with no fuss and no scrubbing. Vinegar and water may also help remove stains, as will dissolving an effervescent denture cleaning tablet in water and leaving the teapot overnight.

Do be careful about scrubbing your teapot, either inside or out, as that can leave tiny scratches on the surface of the stainless steel if scrubbed too vigorously and it will also dull the shine.

Ingredients Needed to Clean Stainless Steel Teapot

  • Soft sponge with dishwashing detergent for outside of teapot
  • Sodium bicarbonate inside teapot, pour boiling water on top, leave half an hour
  • Vinegar inside teapot, fill with water, leave several hours
  • Effervescent Denture Cleaning Tablet dissolved inside teapot, leave overnight

Remember, do not scrub your teapot inside or out, it may damage the finish.