The Origins and Styles of the China Tea Set

Have you ever wondered why the plates, cups and saucers we use on a daily basis are often referred to as ‘china’? It is because originally china tea sets came from the country of China. Since the introduction of the china tea set into the Western culture and countries, such dishes have been commonly referred to as china. These days china refers to any dishes or ornaments made from porcelain, ceramics or any earthenware such as clay and include fine bone china tea cups and bone china tea sets as well as more modern clay cups–in fact any cup & saucer fits the bill.

It is said that the origins of the china tea set, which are common now in most homes with tea-drinkers, are in China during the Han Dynasty which was around 200 B.C. Fine white or blue porcelain cups dating back to this time period have been discovered. Of course these tea sets were very different from the ones commonly found in most households today, although they are not too different from regular, modern day Chinese tea sets that are used to serve wulong tea.

A tea set usually consists of several different pieces, depending on whether it is a Chinese tea set, a Western style fine china tea set or sterling silver tea set. The two are very different, with perhaps the only similarity being that tea is brewed and served in both.  The china tea set cups and saucers are very different in both size and appearance, with the actual Chinese tea set not including saucers at all, nor do the cups have handles! You simply cradle the cup in your hands while you sip your wulong tea.

Western China Tea Set

Usually a western style tea set will be very finely made, such as a bone china tea set. Typically a fine bone china tea set usually has enough cups saucers to serve anywhere from two to six people. The porcelain tea set will include a china teapot, matching china tea cups and saucers, a small sugar bowl with a lid and a small pitcher which is used to serve either milk or cream.  Sometimes the set will also include teaspoons and tongs for extracting the sugar from the sugar bowl. Usually the china set is arranged on a tray which is often also made from china.  You can also find silver tea sets as well, with a silver teapot, though often these days they are merely silver plated and  not made from Sterling silver. While the tea set may not be as popular as the old-fashioned Brown Betty, tea sets china is still very popular and nice to have.

Chinese Tea Set

The Chinese tea set is also made from porcelain, with the teapot itself often made from clay. The YiXing teapot is made from very porous clay, and it is usually a deep red-brown, or brown color. The reason this is favored for brewing Chinese teas, such as Oolong or Green tea is that the teapot gradually absorbs the quality and flavor of the tea due to it being very porous. Thus oftentimes one YiXing teapot is used to brew one specific type of tea. It is not uncommon to find the Chinese tea set having several different teapots in use, with each one used for a different type of tea.  These sets also include either fine porcelain cups or clay cups. The cups are not the same as Western style teacups, but rather they are much smaller and bowl like in appearance.  The yixing tea set also includes a tray, often a wooden or bamboo tray, that allows water to drain out through a tube into a small bucket that is usually placed underneath the table. Different wooden utensils are used in preparing the tea, thus a tea set will include a digger which digs the loose leaves out of the tea canister, tongs, a needle and other instruments. They are needed to keep the small teapot free flowing and free from the loose leaves which tend to build up in the spout.  Often a small brush is also included to brush the spilled tea over the wooden tray, thus giving the tray an even stain. As loose leaves are used, a strainer is also very helpful in straining out any small leaves that may slip into the teacups.

Purchasing a Tea Set

The first thing to decide, when planning on purchasing a tea set, is to decide whether you will go for an Asian tea set or or an English tea set, or perhaps just a Brown Betty teapot.  There are several different types of asian tea sets, including the Japanese tea set and the Chinese Yixing tea set and if you are planning on drinking green or wu long tea you should think about purchasing this type of set. When it comes to Western style sets you will probably either choose a traditional English set, or you may prefer a clay or ceramic tea set. There are many different china tea set manufacturers and it is fairly easy to find different styles of china tea sets for sale simply by perusing different online sites, for example.  China tea set prices vary according to the material they are made from, whether silver or china, how many pieces are included in the set and whether it is a designer set or it includes antique teapots or antique tea cups.  Some even include a tea chest where you can store your tea. No matter what you have in mind, however, it should be fairly simple to find something that is both within your price range and something you consider tasteful that would add to your home’s overall ambiance.

Specialty Tea Sets

Of course, tea sets are not only for adults!  Girls especially love to pretend to host a tea party of their own, thus a child’s china tea set can be a wonderful gift, especially for the older girl who is less likely to drop the small cups and break them. It can be a bit risky buying a china tea set for kids under about the age of six or seven, as they do tend to get dropped fairly often.  Rather than purchasing a toy china tea set, for younger girls you could probably purchase a plastic set or even a metal set. That way they can still play at ‘tea party’ yet not have to be overly worried if one of the cups slips from their hands.

If you enjoy collecting antiques, be on the lookout for a genuine antique china tea set or an antique chest.  They are not that easy to find, but they do sometimes turn up at garage sales or school fairs. If you go to help clean out grandmother’s house, for example, you may well find some tucked away and forgotten in an old cupboard somewhere.  A miniature china tea set also is a great colle
ctor’s item, and they often become a real talking point when used for decorative purposes.

As you can see, the topic of the china tea set is really fairly inexhaustible. Whether you buy a traditional Chinese tea set or a western style tea set, buying one made from fine china will really add to the elegance of your home and your tea gatherings. However, don’t keep it in a chest tea sets should be set on a shelf for all to admire.

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