November 12, 2012

Tea cups steeped in rich history



The history of tea goes back more than 5,000 years to an ancient Chinese legend. The emperor Shen-Nong was boiling water near a tea tree when some of the leaves fell into the pot, making a mildly flavored brew. The emperor found it so pleasant that he ordered tea leaves placed in his drinking water thereafter. The practice soon spread, and by 805 A.D., the Japanese were also drinking tea. It was the East India Company that introduced the exotic drink to Europe, and by the 1660s, tea drinking was fashionable in France and Great Britain.

Tea first came to America with the early colonists and was greatly enjoyed, but in 1773, when high tea taxes imposed by parliament became oppressive, a band of rebels boarded the British East India Company ships anchored in Boston Harbor and dumped the tea cargo overboard. Patriots turned to drinking coffee until after the American Revolution when tea once again made its appearance.


The evolution of the tea cup began in China during the eighth century, when the brew was served in small porcelain or stoneware bowls. Since the Chinese drank tea lukewarm, there was no problem handling the bowl.

During the 17th century, tea bowls were being exported into Europe, and by the 18th century, the English were producing tea bowls with oriental motifs. However, since the English liked their tea piping hot, handling the bowl was a problem. The solution came in the form of a matching shallow dish into which the tea was poured and then sipped from. It wasn’t until about 1810 that a handle was applied to the tea bowl and the form evolved into the cup and saucer as we know it today.


Tea-cup collectors steeped in the hobby are familiar with the different shapes and styles available. Made from delicate semi-translucent porcelain or durable bone china and decorated in a myriad of themes, there is a wide variety from which to choose. Basically there are two base designs, pedestal and flat bottom.

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