ONE FOR THE POT

TRIED & TESTED How do new types of teapot compare with the round- bellied pot our grandmothers used? Our panel finds out
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The Independent Culture
OUR grandmothers would have blanched at the thought of making tea in a pot made from borosilicate, or of taking a plunger to their delicate Darjeeling. But times change, and teapots have moved with the times: you can now serve a cuppa from vessels constructed out of anything from plastic to steel to glass; teapots can be ovoid, multi-handled, elegantly traditional or even spoutless (sporting a lip like a coffee pot). And with the advent of the tea bag and more recent innovations like instant tea-granules, even the process of brewing is changing.

Though the teapots tested here can be used with bags and instants, they are designed to make the best of leaves. Traditional teas are carefully rolled after picking and produce a far superior flavour, according to Edward Bramah of the Bramah Tea and Coffee Museum in London. They are intended to make several pots or drawings with each serving. Modern "quick- brew" tea-processing involves chopping the leaves; though the tea is made faster, it's not comparable, say connoisseurs.

Either way, Britain continues to be the biggest importer of tea in the world, with 77 per cent of us drinking tea daily. From Lapsang Souchong at the Ritz to brimming mugs of brickies' brew, tea is truly our national drink. So the relationship between a Briton and his or her teapot is inevitably most important. The question is, can you achieve a truly perfect flavour if Mother doesn't pour from the bone china Crown Derby? We enlisted four panellists to find out.

THE PANEL

Edward Bramah of the Bramah Tea and Coffee Museum in London; Robin Harrison, Chairman of the Tea Brokers' Association and Director of Thompson, Lloyd & Ewart, tea brokers; Clare Wright, architect and tea addict; Alma Tozer, walking-tour organiser and teapot enthusiast.

THE TEST

The panel gave the teapots marks for how easy they were to use and clean, how well they poured and retained heat, how attractive they looked, and value for money. Of course, we also asked them to judge the flavour of the tea each pot poured.

**CHATSFORD STRAINER TEAPOT

pounds 16.95, 6 cups

A traditional-looking pot with a removable fine mesh strainer; you put the leaves into it, place it in the pot and pour the water through. But the pot was neither modern nor traditional enough for our panellists. The tea it produced was praised, though. Robin Harrison said: "It produced easily the best liquor." Alma Tozer judged this pot the most versatile. "It is fine for use with either leaves or bags, but it is a little expensive," she remarked. But Clare Wright didn't like it at all: "The spout on this tea-pot spurted and dripped and it is ugly, heavy to lift and awkward." And Edward Bramah could not see the need for an infuser at all.

***BODUM ASSAM

pounds 15.95 1litre

This pot has a plunger in a central perforated column which isolates the leaves or bag once the tea reaches the desired strength. For Robin Harrison the Bodum Assam was "the best all-round pot" and he scored it highest for both ease of use and appearance. A feature he particularly admired was the enclosed chamber into which the plunger pushes the leaves or bag. "The ability to isolate the tea leaves from the liquor easily was a serious advantage over the others. It prevented the tea stewing," he said. Clare Wright also marked this pot highly for ease of use, although she did not like the "insecure and plasticky" lid. Alma Tozer also complained about the lid: "It's shaky and you have to hold it to pour out the last cups." She also found that the central strainer got clogged with leaves. However, she added: "This pot made good tea and it looks good both with and without tea in it." Edward Bramah did not agree: "This pot is too ugly by half and with three different parts it makes washing-up too bitty," he said.

**BODUM NOUVEAU

pounds 17.95 1.25 litres

Another one with an infuser column, this spoutless pot looks rather more like a coffee pot. Yet it was Clare Wright's favourite. "All the pieces seem robust and long-lasting and the pot pours beautifully without dripping," she said. "However," she continued, "it looks too formal; I would probably only use this in the office as it is not really cosy enough for home." Alma Tozer commented on its coffee-pot-like appearance and observed: "Neither the handle nor the lid are securely positioned. On top of that, there are too many parts to assemble and clean. I wouldn't buy either of the Bodum pots unless they could be used for both tea and coffee as they are not superior to the traditional teapot," she said.

Robin Harrison observed: "The brewing results for this pot were a little disappointing." Although he recognised the practicality of a glass pot, he felt the square shape might retain heat less efficiently. Edward Bramah complained that the spoutless pot was difficult to pour and he did not like the fact that the bowl filled with condensation. "We have made tea in teapots for 500 years. Why are they trying to change the shape?" he asked.

LEONARDO GLASS TEAPOT

pounds 39.95

"Ugly, useless and very expensive," said Alma Tozer, accurately summing up the feelings of all the panellists. Robin Harrison expanded on this: "Not much from a practical point of view to recommend this pot. It brewed the worst liquor due to the poor level of circulation possible during brewing. Its heat retention was poor. Overall the least effective and most delicate - and at a very significant premium. Surprisingly, it didn't even rate highly on appearance," he went on, "although the younger people around the office were more appreciative of its looks." Clare Wright said simply: "It pours like a watering can and is impossible to clean; the lid, which moves about disarmingly, gets too hot to touch."

**** SADLER 6 CUP TEAPOT

pounds 6.50

A traditional round-bellied brown teapot, with a filter at the base of the spout, this was the overall winner with our panellists. "Excellent," said Edward Bramah. "A teapot used to make tea as we have known it for years. Why try to re-invent the wheel?" Robin Harrison also liked it: "It produced a good brew from a sound, cheap, simple pot." Both Clare Wright and Alma Tozer thought it was exceptional value for money, though Alma Tozer thought that it would be fine with tea bags but less useful for leaves, and Clare Wright said: "It feels heavy. The balance of the weight of the teapot and the handle is not good." However, she added, "the cosy connotations engendered by its round shape and the dark colour give the Sadler the vote for home use".

STOCKISTS

Chatsford: John Lewis, Whittard of Chelsea, independent cookshops; Bodum, phone 01451 810460 for stockists; Leonardo: The Conran Shop (0171-589 7401); Sadler, phone 01782 811211 for stockists.

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