We’ve all seen them, the Brown Betty teapots: round shape, perfect spout for pouring, made of red clay, glazed in an almost blackish brown glaze and the perfect pot for making the best pot of tea. Recently, I came across a half dozen Brown Betty teapots that I plan to take to Texas for the fall Round Top Antiques Market.
As a former tearoom owner, I’ve used many, many types of teapots and my favorite I always return to is my trusty Brown Betty, a popular teapot from Victorian England when this pot became a household staple. How did it become so well known and so popular? Well, I did a little research and this is what I found:
- As early as the 18th century, tea drinking was becoming a daily ritual all over England and the need for well-made, affordable teapots increased significantly. The city of Stoke-on-Kent, in Staffordshire, England, the area known as “The Potteries” since medieval times for the deposits of clay and other needed materials for the ceramics industry began making teapots that retained the heat longer. These pots from Staffordshire were priced so the average tea drinker could readily afford one.
- A true Brown Betty MUST be made of red clay from the Staffordshire area. Once fired, the clay from this area has been found to keep the tea hot longer which is huge benefit to enjoying tea (especially during a time when there was no microwave to re-heat drinks).
- The glaze MUST be a Rockingham glaze, a dark manganese glaze that gives the Brown Betty its unique color. This dark blackish brown glaze doesn’t show tea stains over time, a definite advantage for Victorian housewives for easy cleaning. Even today, one can just rinse the teapot with warm water after tea time turning it upside down on the drainboard till dry.
- A true Brown Betty MUST have the classic round shape which allows the tea leaves to gently swirl around the pot as the hot water is poured in giving a better taste to the finished tea.
- A true Brown Betty should be stamped on the bottom “Made in England”. Other makers all over the world mimic the shape and style of a Brown Betty but to be an authentic Brown Betty, it must have the mark.
- Brown Betty teapots come in many different sizes. My favorite one is a 4 cup pot that is perfect for sharing a cup of tea with a friend or enjoying a pot of tea with a book.
- How did the Brown Betty get it’s name? That is up for discussion but the most plausible answer is that during Victorian times most well-to-do households needed servants to manage their day to day existence. Elizabeth was the most popular name during that time and most homes likely had a servant named Elizabeth. That servant most likely shortened her name to Betty. The pot became known as Brown Betty after the color of the pot and the servant’s name. No one knows for certain but this is the most common story.
I have several Brown Betty pots in my collection, most are Sadler, some are from unknown makers; some are decorated, some are plain; but all of these wonderful pots make a mighty find pot of tea and keep the tea warm longer than any other pot.
Whether you enjoy tea in a mug or a cup, you’ll find that tea made in a Brown Betty tastes better and stays hot longer.