Which Pot is Which?
Today many hostesses and hosts may not realize that there’s a difference between a Tea, Coffee and Chocolate pot. Each type of pot is designed to increase the flavor and enjoyment of its beverage within. And it’s all in the shape of the pot and the placement of the spout relative to the pot itself.
Hampshire County Council in the U.K. has a wonderful Brief History of the Teapot. They say the earliest known book on tea can be found in China in 780 AD under the Tang Dynasty (618-907).
We know tea was consumed thousands of years before. But it was during this dynasty that drinking tea became fashionable.
Tea doesn’t make it to the U.K. until 1648, but other European countries welcomed the new beverage a fair bit earlier. At the time the Brits utilized the pots that were typically shipped with the tea. The Chinese teapot was indistinguishable from what is termed a wine-pot or wine-ewer.
A true distinction between wine-ewers and teapots was only established after 1694, when the British East India Company directed that teapots made for them in China must have “a grate… before the spout”. In other words, they wanted a sort of pierced barrier where the tea enters the spout so as to hold back the tea-leaves. ~ Hampshire County Council.
This began the evolution of the teapot into the proper serving vessel. Beginning with its shape, teapots are typically short and round. But if you find a tall pot you like, make sure it’s wide and round at the base. This extra space allows more room for the tea to move in the pot, which will promote the flavor of the tea leaves in the water. The spout of a tea pot is always in the center of the pot and its short in length. Presumably this makes it easier to clean the spout when tea leaves escape the grate and clog up spout. Eventually the grate gave way to cup strainers.
Chocolate beverages are known to have been part of the diet of Mayans as early as 460-480 AD. To make the chocolate drink, which was served cold, the Maya ground cocoa seeds into a paste and mixed it with water, cornmeal, chili peppers, and other ingredients. They then poured the drink back and forth from a cup to a pot until a thick foam developed. Chocolate was available to Maya of all social classes, although the wealthy drank chocolate from elaborately decorated vessels.
Cortés returned to Spain in 1528, bringing cocoa beans and chocolate drink making equipment. The Spaniards version of the “chocolatl” was said to be a beverage consisting of a chocolate base, flavored with vanilla and other spices that was served cold. It’s important to remember that sugar had not yet made its way into Europe and chocolate beverages were said to be an “acquired taste”.
Cocoa was given as a dowry when members of the Spanish Royal Family married other European aristocrats. It was very expensive at the time, because the cocoa beans only grew in South America. Sweet-tasting hot chocolate was then invented, leading hot chocolate to become a luxury item among the European nobility by the 17th century. It was during this time that the Chocolate Pot came into favor.
Chocolate Pots are tall, somewhat slender with a small spout at the top. The cap on the top of the pot is wide enough to allow a wood frothier to emulsify the chocolate and release its full aroma. The frothier also helped to, well create a froth for serving. The spout at the top is wide and allows the froth to pour from the pot un-obstructed.
In the late 17th century, Hans Sloane, president of the Royal College of Physicians, visited Jamaica. There, he tried chocolate and considered it “nauseous”, but found it became more palatable when mixed with milk. When he returned to England, he brought the recipe with him, introducing milk chocolate to Europe. Adding milk to the ingredients also allowed for the creation of more frothing in the beverage and therefore the design of the chocolate pot became more important.
The National Coffee Association USA (NCAUSA) has a wonderful write-up on the History of Coffee. Basically, a goat herder in Ethiopia named Kaldi, noticed that when his goats ate berries from a certain tree, they became so spirited that they did not want to sleep at night. He reported his observation to the abbot at a local monastery who made a drink with the berries and discovered that it kept him alert for long hours during evening prayers.
News of the berries spread east and coffee moved into the Arabian peninsula. The Arabs were the first, not only to cultivate coffee but also to begin its trade. By the fifteenth century, coffee was being grown in the Yemeni district of Arabia and by the sixteenth century it was known in Persia, Egypt, Syria and Turkey. ~ NCAUSA
Europeans who traveled to the Near East found this new beverage and brought it back home to share with family and friends. By the 17th century coffee had made its way across Europe. But it wasn’t accepted by everyone. In 1615, Clergy in Venice condemned the drink as the “biter invention of Satan”. The controversy was so great that Pope Clement VIII was asked to make a decision on the drink. But upon trying the beverage, he liked it so much he gave it Papal approval.
In England ‘penny universities’ sprang up, so-called because for the price of a penny one could purchase a cup of coffee and engage in stimulating conversation. By the mid-17th century, there were over 300 coffee houses in London. Around this time, serving coffee from the coffee maker wasn’t practical as it was bulky and some what unsightly. Pouring the beverage into a Pot related the serving to the elegant appearance and practice of tea time.
To maintain the flavor of the coffee, a different pot had to be designed. Pots are more slender to help the heat stay in the beverage. Spreading it out as in a teapot disperses the heat and the coffee cools off to quickly. Additionally placing the spout at the bottom of the pot also helps the heat to remain in the pot. And finally making the spout long in comparison to a teapot, helps ensure the liquid doesn’t pour out too soon as the pot is turned for serving into a cup. Presumably ensuring that a Lady’s dress is not soiled by the sudden extraction of coffee from the pot.
Each Coffee, Tea and Chocolate Pot has been designed to enhance the flavor and consumption of its beverage. You might like to keep this in mind when you’re out looking for a new serving set.