You know I’m all about tea. And that includes teaware!

I come by thrift shopping honestly. My dad loved to go to Flea Markets in hopes for a good deal on whatever he was interested in at the time.

I recently revived the tradition by stopping by antique markets and thrift stores that happen to be on my way. Not because I like to buy “stuff”, but mostly because of the history behind the variety of objects that I see on the shelves of those establishments.

I usually visit them just before photo shoots, to try and find photogenic glassware for our sparkling teas. On my last hunt, I saw a brown teapot on one of the shelves. It got my attention as I dearly wanted one on my visit to the UK a couple of years ago but didn’t find the time to go to “The Potteries”.

I went home and tried to find anything I could related to this “authentic piece of  British culture”. I realized that the one I left behind – a Sadler production – could have been made in the 40’s or 50’s.  I couldn’t believe that I left it behind. Luckily it was still there when I returned for it.

A little bit about this British icon

A Brown Betty – not to be confused with the dessert of the same name, is a brown  teapot with a shiny exterior. The one that you can see in kitchen stores with a Union Jack sticker on it.

I initially wanted one as a collector’s item because it is a staple in tea making. It appears that generations of Englishmen truly believe that the Brown Betty makes the best pot of tea on the planet. It said that the same tea will be more flavourful and less bitter in a Brown Betty than in any other teapot. Rest assured that when you serve tea in a genuine Brown Betty teapot, you are holding a bit of British history and tradition in your hand.

A long time ago, tea was first enjoyed by only royalty and members of the high class. It  later became something that was consumed by every class of society in Britain. While the upper class used expensive china sets and fantastical teapots to impress their guests, the lower class had to go for something of a lesser quality. Meaning, a teapot that was mass produced and affordable.

The Brown Betty was initially created in the 1700’s as an inexpensive item that could be used multiple times a day and be replaced easily if it became damaged or broken. It was also used by British Army soldiers fighting abroad. This rounded teapot has now survived through the years as a staple in every household and is even listed by some as family heirlooms. Why? Because this beloved piece of pottery is known to always produce the best pot of tea.

Since 1695, many companies such as Sadler, Alcock, Lindley & Bloore located in Stoke-on-Trent have been manufacturing the Brown Betty. Later on, many companies from countries outside the UK started making their own version and copied its simple design after witnessing its popularity amongst tea drinkers.

What makes the brown Betty so special? Its design style or material?

Brown Betty teapots aren’t necessarily unique in their look, they are actually very simple by design.

  • The original Brown Betty is made with Etruria red clay. This special clay – discovered more than 300 years ago – can only be found in the area of Bradell Woods, near Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire, England.  

  • Etruria Marl has been recognized to retain heat  better than other materials. Keeping your tea warm at all times.

  • The dark manganese glaze, known as a Rockingham glaze, gives the Brown Betty its distinctive color. The key benefit to this is that tea will not stain it. Even over time. 

  • Its specially designed handle will keep your fingers away from the teapot while pouring the tea – avoid burning

  • As boiling water is added to the Brown Betty, its rounded shape makes loose tea leaves swirl gently around, creating a superior infusion. 

  • It is believed that the minerals contained inside the clay are released into the water, infused with the tea, which produces the most amazing taste.

  • It is handmade. Early versions were made by hand on a potter’s wheel and pieced together. More modern versions are handmade using the slip-casting method (mold). A re-engineered version is also available. This latest design comes with an inverted lid that locks into place, making the spout tip downwards similar to a faucet. It’s also available with an infuser.

  • It is conveniently available in a variety of sizes. And are known to hold more cups than the suggested quantities.

Where can I buy a Genuine Black Betty Teapot? 

If you’re interested in buying a Black Betty, some of them, like the one I bought at my local thrift store, can be found on the internet and are usually from the 40’s and 50’s.

If a new one sounds more appealing to you, a couple of companies are still making them in the UK.

  • Cauldon Ceramics – the oldest remaining maker of the Brown Betty, is still producing an average of 150 Brown Bettys each day. Cauldon states that their genuine Brown Betty teapots are always free of lead and other harmful chemicals.

  • Adderley Works Ceramics Factory (formerly known as Lane End Pottery) is a well-established family-run business of over 25 years.

Of course you can always keep your eyes open and you may be lucky enough to find one at a thrift store, yard sale, or antique shop, like I did.

Making tea with a Brown Betty

Do you define yourself as an avid tea maker? Then making tea in a teapot is definitely an easy task for you. Don’t worry if you’re not –  brewing tea with a Brown Betty is very simple.

Follow these steps to experience what could be your best cup of  tea ever:

  • Pre-warm your Brown Betty and your teacups by rinsing it with hot water. This will prevent the absorption of too much heat from your tea while you are brewing it. It will also keep the tea warm in your cups.

  • Use one teaspoon of loose leaf tea per cup you want to make.

  • The steeping time depends on the type of tea you are using or your personal preferences.

  • Draw fresh, cold water in the kettle and heat it just to the boil. Filtered water is best. You should never place the teapot in the microwave or on the stove top.

  • Pour the almost boiling water carefully over the tea leaves in the teapot.

  • Fill only up to where it won’t overflow when the lid is placed on.

  • Pour the tea through a tea strainer into your pre-warmed cups.

  • Sit back, relax and enjoy!

Caring for your Brown Betty Teapot

Remember that your Brown Betty is not dishwasher safe. A prolonged exposure to steaming hot water produced by your dishwasher can cause the clay to absorb the water. In turn, this may cause the glaze to crack.

 It is recommended to simply rinse your teapot with warm water and put it upside-down in a dish drainer to let it air dry. Keep your clean, dry pot stored in a safe place where  it won’t get bumped or broken.

How to Tell if Your Brown Betty Teapot Is Authentic

Identifying a genuine Brown Betty isn’t as hard as identifying some other antique items.

  • Look on the bottom of the teapot for the identification mark. You should see “Made in England,” “Original,” and the name of a known Brown Betty manufacturer like “Caledonia Pottery” engraved in the pottery.

  • The base of the teapot usually has an unglazed ring.

  • Many redware teapots were produced in Japan before the Brown Betty was first made. So just make sure you’re not getting something made in Japan.

If you purchase an authentic one, it can become a family heirloom for years to come. Consider keeping the original packaging as it contains interesting information on its heritage.

I usually do not use a traditional teapot to brew my tea but now that I own a genuine Brown Betty, I will definitely be trying it to see if it does in fact make a better cup of tea.

Sarah + Chris

Do you have a favorite teapot that you like to use or keep as a decoration? Let us know in the comments below.

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