This is the only post I’ve written about tea that has required a saintly level of restraint in order to avoid excessive swearing. I have been planning on writing an article about poorly designed teaware for some time, and I have just discovered how bad design is not only annoying, but can be downright dangerous. To be fair, I do have to take personal credit for the stinging and bright red puffy burn on my left hand, but had I not had to adjust the method of using this particular teapot there would have been no danger of getting tea anywhere other than where I intended it to go.
In order to define what makes a bad teapot, it’s useful to establish the basic principles of a good teapot. Here are the basic assumptions I am using for the purpose of this discussion:
- The teapot must provide adequate room for expansion of the leaf. If the teapot includes a built-in infuser or strainer it must not interfere with or restrict the leaf. (This principle applies to any infusers.)
- The teapot must pour well. It must be comfortable in the hand and not drip while pouring.
- If the teapot has a built-in or component infuser (or if a supplementary infuser is used) it must allow for free flow of liquid through the infuser and through the leaf.
- The teapot must be made of a material suitable for the particular tea it is being used for.
There are a lot more rules I use personally, mostly having to do with cultural specificity and tea varieties, but they’re not relevant to this topic. I’ve had plenty of encounters with poorly designed teaware, but the pot I’m going to use as an example is probably the worst. This teapot tricked me into buying it with its attractiveness and low cost. It looks basically similar to a Japanese yokode kyusu, but made out of glass, which seemed like a good idea to me when I saw it in the store. I don’t think I paid more than $8 for it at Cost Plus World Market, so it wasn’t much of a risk.
The primary design flaw in this teapot is that the small infuser insert, with its tiny slits in the sides, does not allow enough room for expansion of the leaves or enough free flow of water. It also does not extend far enough down into the teapot to use it unless the teapot is going to be fully filled. I see this style of insert frequently in many styles of glass pots. I like the way that they look and the fact that they’re made of glass, but it seems that technically they can’t possibly work very well.
Additionally, this particular teapot has a very aggravating pour that arcs out a bit, and then a lot further as more tea is poured. As the tea is pouring further away from the teapot than one expects, the spout is simultaneously dribbling lots of tea underneath the teapot. The weird upward spout makes anticipating the pour especially unpredictable and hard to control. Unlike real Japanese kyusu it’s too large and the wrong shape to hold a thumb on the top of the lid while pouring, so with only a little tilt the lid can fall off.
Since I decided to give this teapot another chance I brought it to work and brewed some Purple Indo Oolong in it. There is no way that this oolong, which expands tremendously in steeping, would have worked in the small infuser, so I brewed it loose in the pot. In retrospect holding the infuser with my left hand in order to pour through it into the cups with my right hand was a little reckless. It was also really painful as I wasn’t able to control the flow from the teapot well enough with one hand and managed to severely burn my left thumb and hand with scalding hot tea. This tea-related injury is one I’ve not experienced before, and probably not one I’ll be careless enough to repeat. The considerable amount of cursing did little to alleviate the pain and it was still hot and achy hours later. When I brewed the second and third pots I used a binder clip to hold the infuser to the edge of the cup, which worked remarkably well and looked really silly. I wish I’d thought of it for the first pot.
My advice, and as a reminder to myself, is to be wary of falling for pretty teapots that are not well suited for actual tea brewing. I am still debating whether to take a ball peen hammer to this one, but I’m afraid that it might manage to wreak further revenge on me with glass cuts on top of the burns!