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Teapots, Style and Substance
And probably fluid dynamics, but I know nothing about those
I once bought my parents a teapot with the words “make more tea” on the underside of the base. It was a big teapot, decorated in that monstrous cottagecore way that passes for pretty in the age of commercialised pasts. You could make a lot of tea in that thing.
What you couldn’t easily do was pour tea from it into a cup. You needed two hands, and there was nowhere to put the second one. Or you could just treat it as some kind of martial arts training sequence and do it one-handed, slowly increasing your grip strength and the muscles in your forearm. But it wasn’t an ideal present for two eighty-year-olds because whoever designed it was so concerned that it look like a proper teapot that they weren’t bothered about whether it actually was a proper teapot.
And that turns out to be a theme. Since then then I’ve owned a bunch of teapots - a house move and two small kids can be rough on tableware - and to be honest they’ve all been pretty dismal. Common failings include handles too small to hold or - worse - which get too hot to touch; proportions and design which create bad leverage; and terrible, terrible pouring. All of them have produced acceptable tea and most of them have been okay to look at, although not as zingingly amazing as their makers apparently believed.
This morning I saw this Instagram post - pretty much the last social media site I can still cope with, though that’s largely because I treat it as a market square: a space with a few people I know and a lot of people who will sell me things - testing the smoothness of the flow of various old teapots, and now I want a teapot that actually is brilliant.
And so to the Googles (actually I always start with Ecosia) and the search for a teapot that pours well, and so far I’m nowhere. Multiple review sites proudly announcing they’ve considered cost, aesthetics and size, but amazingly none focusing on the practical aspects of actually making tea. So much so that I’m tempted to do a video comparing as many contemporary teapots as possible, except that I wouldn’t know where to begin and I have exactly no desire to buy a bunch of lousy teapots.
Thinking about it: one wants a teapot with a spout that delivers water as a single coherent stream, whose centre of gravity remains close to the handle, whose handle is easy to grip and doesn’t get hot, and which lends itself to the act of pouring. The lid should not come off during the pour. It should also (obviously) brew well, though I don’t know what sort of shape/qualities that requires and I have yet to encounter a teapot which actually brews badly.
But what intrigues me is that those things do not seem to be part of the discussion at all, as if making tea is not actually the point of a teapot. Instead, its job is sitting on a table looking appropriately tea-ish during the social act of having tea. (Which I’m fine with, but surely it’s both?)
I can’t shake the feeling that this is part of a bigger issue: that modern mass manufacturing likes to make objects that occupy the social space of their nominal function, but aren’t really suited to that function, because those objects are cheaper, and can be superseded next year and replaced. Quite a lot of fashion is like this, supplying fragile and impractical things that won’t last into spaces which propose durability, so that durability itself becomes a mood, not a quality of matter. Almost all technology, of course, is intended to be superseded, though I’m finding the generations are running away from me faster than they used to without noticeable effect, and I do wonder if we’ve finally reached a plateau where faster chips, faster data and higher resolution no longer have any practical effect on what you can do with your phone.
I’m increasingly a fan of mending, patching, upgrading and repairing not just because it’s environmentally friendly or because physical creation makes me happy, but because items which lend themselves to repair are often better before the break and better after they’re repaired. The intention that they endure leads to better design choices and materials. (By the same token I’m less and less impressed by old things that suck, like uninsulated red brick buildings.)
I suppose I like objects that are what they should be. And, come to that: people, too. Post-pandemic, post-50, post-Brexit… whatever watershed of the last few years you care to invoke, I’m tired of nonsense. I want a damn teapot that pours.
Tea thoughts on a Sunday morning.