Collecting and Using Brown Betty Teapots
Having an authentic Brown Betty teapot in your collection may mean that you make the best tea in town. This teapot is considered by tea connoisseurs all over the world to be the most superior design ever created.
No one is exactly sure what makes the tea that is brewed in this unique teapot better tasting than the same tea brewed in any other pot. Many tea aficionados believe it has to do with the rounded shape of the teapot while others claim that the red clay that it is made from, unique to Stoke-on-Trent in England, is the secret to the flavorful, steaming brew that is poured from the spout.
Either way, the humble Brown Betty is a favorite among collectors.
There is something about the ritual of making a cup of tea and sipping it slowly as you contemplate your day that is both centering and restorative. In some ways taking a few moments to have a cup of tea is like meditating. It's a soothing process that many people enjoy. When the tea is made in one of these pots it carries on several centuries of tradition.
History of the Brown Betty Teapot
No one is sure how the Brown Betty got its name. There are various stories but no one knows for sure. Certainly the "Brown" in Brown Betty refers to the color created by the Special Rockingham glaze. The most often told story about how "Betty" was added to the name is simply that most families had a servant named Elizabeth, shortened to Betty. Since it was likely that she served the tea the pot was named after the servant and the color of the glaze.
What do you think? It seems like a long shot.
In 1695 a special red clay was discovered in the area of Stoke-on-Trent. This clay retained heat better than other clays and so began to be used to create teapots. These early pots were created in the style of the day – tall and thin. They looked more like Victorian chocolate pots or coffee pots than the rounded teapots associated with tea today.
Swinton Pottery, located on the estate of the Marques of Rockingham, developed a glaze made from iron and manganese. The artisans brushed it on the outside of the pot and allowed the excess to run down the sides. When fired the glaze turned into a beautiful, streaky finish. The warm brown glaze is still known as "Rockingham glaze". These Rockingham pots were the precursors to the Brown Betty that would come later.
Early in the nineteenth century some of the pots were given the now familiar, rounded shape, which was named the "Betty design". Queen Victoria, who made tea a household custom in both the United States and Europe, favored the tea made in the Brown Betty teapot and thus made it the most popular teapot of the Victorian age.
The Design of the Brown Betty
Tea drinkers feel that the roomy, rounded design of the pot allows the tea leaves to move freely through the hot water during the brewing process and while it is being poured. The clay's ability to retain heat for a longer period of time keeps the tea at the optimum temperature during steeping and then keeps it hot while you sip your tea.
Whether it is the clay, the pot design, or a combination of the two, the tea poured from the Brown Betty teapot is said to be more flavorful and less bitter than the same tea brewed in other pots – the perfect cup of tea. You'll have to come to your own conclusions on that!
Care and Storage
These teapots are still being made, although most collectors agree that the newer pots are far less desirable than the old, antique, and vintage pots. Like many things the quality has not been maintained in modern manufacture.
Whether you have a vintage pot that has been handed down for decades or a new Brown Betty you'll want to take care of it properly. If you follow these tips your teapot will last for a very long time.
- Never use your teapot on the top of the stove or in the microwave.
- Like the Yixing teapot, the Brown Betty does best if you always brew the same type of tea in it. It absorbs some of the flavor and releases it back into the new pot of steeping tea.
- Don't wash the pot, just rinse it well (by hand) and allow it to air dry.
- Store in a safe place, where it won't be subjected to being knocked over or bumped.
How to Make a Real Cup of Tea
How to Brew Tea in a Brown Betty Teapot
- Rinse the pot in warm water before making tea.
- Add one teaspoon of loose leaf tea per cup of tea.
- Always use cold, filtered water in your tea kettle and bring it just to the boil. Optimum temperatures for brewing tea vary by type.
- Once the water reaches the proper temperature pour it carefully over the leaves in the teapot, allowing the leaves to move though the water. The more surface area of the tea leaves that aree exposed to the water the better your tea with be.
- Steep your tea for the recommended time.
- Pour through a strainer and into cups that have been warmed by rinsing with hot water.
Optimum Temperatures for Brewing Tea in a Brown Betty
- Black tea – 203F to 212F
- Fruit teas (tisanes) – also 203F to 212F
- Herbal teas – 203F to 212F
- Oolong – 185F to 194F
- White – 167F to 185F
- Jasmine – 160F to 185F
- Green – 155F to 195F
Optimum Times for Brewing Different Types of Tea
- Black tea – 3 to 5 minutes
- Fruit teas (tisanes) – 5 to 7 minutes
- Herbal teas – 5 to 7 minutes
- Oolong – 3 to 5 minutes
- White – 1 to 3 minutes
- Jasmine – 4 minutes
- Green – 2 to 3 minutes
Of course, while these are recommended brewing times your taste preferences may vary from them. The best advice of all is to brew it the way that you like it!
What Makes Tea so Special?
Buying Guide to Brown Betty Teapots
The teapots are available all over the Internet, including eBay and other auction sites. Keep in mind that the pots must come from Stoke-on-Trent in order to be authentic. The manufacturer has changed names over the years and you may find your Brown Betty carries any of these names –
- Caledonia Pottery
- Cauldone Vale
The pots are still handmade from the same red clay that was discovered so long ago. They are glazed and kiln fired using the same process that was developed in the seventeenth century. Since they are made by hand there are likely to be small irregularities in the glaze. This is normal, won't affect the pot, and is part of what makes each one a unique work of art.
Do not be fooled by lookalikes. A Brown Betty with a "Made in Japan" or "Made in China" stamp on it may be a great teapot but it won't be a Brown Betty! If you are buying from a website read the information carefully so that you can be relatively sure you are getting what you want.
You can find Brown Betty teapots in a variety of sizes from two to eight cup sizes.
By buying an authentic Brown Betty teapot, imported from England, and made by Cauldon, and taking good care of it you can experience the same level of tea drinking pleasure as Queen Victoria did over 100 years ago.