Ode to a Teapot

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Vintage Brown Betty teapot by Sadler circa 1950. Lustreware teacup and saucer made in Japan, probably between 1921 and 1947. Eggcup of unknown date or origin.

Hands down, there is no better teapot in the world than the humble Brown Betty.

This pot-bellied ceramic vessel, named for its distinctive deep brown manganese glaze, has been produced in Staffordshire, England since the 1700s. The Victorians – who knew a thing or two about tea-taking – considered brew from a Brown Betty excellent, and the pot itself the crème de la crème of teaware. Betty’s secret to longstanding success is its superior heat-retaining Stoke-on-Trent red clay, and the round shape which allows tea leaves to swirl freely in the pot, producing less bitterness and better flavour.

“Betty” may come from the fact that 19th century households that could afford to drink tea almost certainly had servants, and Elizabeth was a very popular name at the time. Therefore, it was quite likely that “Betty” was the maid serving tea at the breakfast table.

Original or vintage Betties sport a glaze of Rockingham brown, sometimes with alternating bands of colour around the top. Beware of imitations! A genuine cobalt blue shade is also now available, but true Brown Betties are still manufactured only in Staffordshire by a handful of companies. All new pots should bear a Union Jack sticker of authenticity, and some may come with a hang card outlining Brown Betty’s history.

The 4-cupper shown in the photo, decorated with bands of creamy yellow and tan, was made by James Sadler & Sons, probably in the 1950s. It has resided at my family’s cottage for as long as I can remember and has stoutly withstood use and abuse by several generations. Being the only tea drinker in the family, I have the pleasure of its guardianship for now. The orange pekoe that I pour from it with anticipation every morning is steaming hot, fragrant and – simply – perfect.

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