The term “tea set” usually refers to a set of dishes used for formal tea parties. Although any set of matching tea cups and tea pot could be referred to as a tea set, formal tea sets consist of a porcelain or sterling silver tea pot and matching cups, saucers, creamer and sugar bowl.
These Western style tea sets have their origins in the days when Europe was first exposed to tea from China. In the 17th century Asian goods where starting to become popular in Europe. Tea was a big hit, but because of its relative scarcity it was extremely expensive, making it a beverage for the elite. Although matching tea sets date from a later era, tea ware of the time was correspondingly priced.
The first silver tea pot was made in 1627 and silver tea cups and saucers date from 1648. At about the same time the custom of adding milk to tea became widespread and we can see examples of silver creamers and sugar bowls from this period.
It wasn’t until the end of the 18th century, however, that the first matching tea set was produced. These tea sets consisted of a silver tea pot, sugar bowl, creamer, and tray – collectively termed a “tea service.”
About 50 years later during the reign of Queen Victoria 6-piece tea sets were introduced. They included a tea pot, coffee pot, creamer, sugar bowl, tea kettle and waste bowl.
Sterling silver tea sets remain popular for wealthy tea lovers who have the leisure for formal tea parties. The tea service is rounded out with silver tea spoons, tongs for serving sugar cubes, and other sterling silver cutlery such as knives and forks. The tea is served in porcelain (or China) tea cups with matching saucers.
Asian Tea Sets
Tea sets are by no means limited to western-style tea services. Tea sets have been used in China since at least the Han Dynasty (206-220 BC), although tea ware from this period consisted of bowls that were used to prepare and serve the tea.
The first tea pots date from the Song Dynasty (960-1279 AD) when glazed ceramic tea sets of tea pots and tea bowls became popular items.
When tea culture passed from China to Japan and Korea these countries developed their own types of tea sets. Korea developed a type of tea ware with inlaid designs, while Japan formalized a set of tea ware to be used in the Japanese tea ceremony.
Tea is now one of the most popular beverages in the world, so a great variety of tea sets can be seen in every country of the world. From formal tea ware for special events, to everyday tea ware for that daily cup or three, there are tea sets to suit every mood and every occasion.