Home Institute investigates the history of the teapot and how the Sowden SoftBrew filter is putting the focus back on the quality of our daily brew.
When tea was first imported into Britain as a luxury product in the 17th century, it was brewed in Chinese earthenware pots whose designs were indistinguishable from ceramic wine-ewers. The craze for tea drinking that spread throughout Britain’s upper and middle classes provided the impetus for British designers and manufacturers, including Josiah Wedgwood, to put their minds to the development of a teaware that was relevant to the role tea now played in British society. The Dutch East India Company can take credit for first specifying that a teapot should have a grate between the pot and the spout to keep the tea leaves from escaping.
Early British teapot designs were unglazed, porous red earthenware pots, or silver vessels, through which the tea quickly lost its heat. The aesthetic of the teapot profoundly changed with the advent of bone china, a high-strength and chip-resistant porcelain derived from animal bones that served to replace imported porcelain from China. The adoption of bone china for teapot manufacture coincided with parliament’s lowering of tax on tea, a move which saw the rapid adoption of tea, and tea pots, into homes at all strata of British society.
Although bone china represents a significant moment in Britain’s design history, the processes and methods that make tea a pleasing gustatory experience seem to have been lost in translation well before its development. Given that there is an optimum time period for tea to spend in contact with water, beyond which the leaves will over-steep and turn astringent, little or no thought was given in the design of the British teapot, or in the ritual of British tea-making, to removing the leaves from the water.
Recently developed by industrial designer George Sowden for use in his eponymous range of porcelain tea pots and coffee makers, the Sowden SoftBrew stainless steel filter represents the next mile stone in British teaware design. Using micro-engineering technology that until very recently has been the preserve of intricate machinery, Sowden has developed a removable tea filter that is both robust and unimaginably fine. Each filter is etched with up to 160,000 perforations of no more than 150 microns in diameter making it possible for the water to circulate evenly and easily throughout the pot while preventing any sediment from escaping through the spout. And unlike contemporary infusion filters, the SoftBrew filter is as generous in size as the porcelain pot in which it is housed, allowing tea leaves to completely unfurl and release their flavours.
The evolution of quality has always been driven by technological advancement and the proof of the SoftBrew filters lies in the quality of the liquor it produces. While British customs may have developed differently to the highly ritualised ceremonies still conducted in China and Japan, it cannot be denied that tea still plays a key role in bringing people together.