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Fancy Food magazine -
Housewares Report: It's Tea Time

Styles and design of today's tea maker by Alison Otto

hether it’s traditional English or Asian or sleekly designed for the contemporary kitchen, today there’s a tea maker for every tea drinker. And design counts: Teapots are as much collectors’ items as kitchen appliances. “People have always collected teapots — the more unique ones sell,” says Marti Lay, owner of Chef!, a housewares and gourmet shop in Atlanta that sells loose-leaf tea and tea accessories. “[Collectibles] sell over functionality.”

To this end, Lay says her customers buy plenty of the small Yixing (pronounced yee-shing) teapots imported from China, which she displays prominently near the cash register in her store. But because the pots are small, usually holding a few ounces of water, Lay thinks most Yixing purchases end up being just for show. “I think most Americans just collect them,” she says. When it comes to actually drinking tea, Lay says, most Americans slurp it down like coffee, usually turning to infusers and other quick by-the-cup brewing methods. “I know they’re making tea,” she says of her customers. “I just don’t think they’re really using those beautiful teapots.”

The intricate, handmade Yixing teapot is a hot button for collectors. The pots have been around for thousands of years, but artists are still creating new styles — each one signed with a “chop mark,” or artist’s signature. The pots, which have fanciful names like Jade Dragon, Lotus Petals and Lady Acrobat, vary according to the artist, vary according to the artist, the firing levels and the kind of clay. Today’s Yixing potters are experimenting with various glazes. “This is going to be the new thing in Yixing,” says Leon Bordua, a partner with Holy Mountain Trading Co., which sells the teapots on the internet. “They’re very attractive. They have Yixing clay inside with a fine crackle glaze on the outside.”

The teapots, which Holy Mountain sells for $30 to $140, come in hundreds of styles, some intricate and ornate, some simple and stylized. “Some of the older styles are some of the simpler styles,” says Bordua.

Of course, while the teapot is a Chinese invention, today’s designs reflect the tea-drinking styles of many nations. From England, there are formal and ornate tea services, and from American manufacturers, speedy, electric teapots and brewers that fire up hot water for tea in minutes. “Today’s teapots reflect the potter’s creativity and the owner’s individual style,” writes Sharon O’Connor in Afternoon Tea Serenade. “You can find pots made of the finest china or the heftiest stoneware, in classic shapes or in any whimsical form imaginable.”

Reprinted from Fancy Food Magazine
The Business Magazine for Specialty Foods, Confections and Upscale Housewares
November 1997