spoon, tea spoon, teaspoon, mote spoon, linda villano, serendipitea
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TEA SPOONS by Linda Villano

Monday, March 16th 2015 @ 10:59 AM

Have you ever wondered why a teaspoon is so named?  



As one might suspect, the term originated in England where the first mention of teaspoons was found in an advertisement in a 1686 edition of the London Gazette for "Three small gilt Tea Spoons."  These were utensils made for stirring sugar or cream into tea; they were not used as measuring tools.



London Gazette December 27, 1686


From personal experience, we’ve all undoubtedly noticed that the sizes of teaspoons in flatware sets vary greatly. And anyone who collects antique silverware knows that these differences are pronounced when teaspoons are compared along a timeline of manufacturing dates.  Notable size increases of British teaspoons and teacups directly correspond with the decrease in the cost of tea and sugar over time, particularly from the late 1600’s through the late 1800’s.



Teaspoons ranging from 1820 to 1932 ranging in size & design.


The manufacturing process of hand-made vs machine-made greatly increases discrepancies.  Craftsmen of old hand-forged pieces, sometimes using hand-made molds, so accounting for the variations from teaspoon to teaspoon within the same design and even within the same flatware set.  With the arrival of the industrial revolution and machines eventually the bowl & length of the spoon was loosely standardized but still vary from design to design, manufacturer to manufacturer.




Standard measurement of a teaspoon is 5 ml (dry) or 5 grams but this can range from 2.5 ml to 6 ml so the advice of using “one teaspoon per cup of tea” is too generalized.  The size of teaspoons is too often dictated by design rather than true measurement. 


For accuracy when preparing tea it’s best to use a gram scale and the following guidelines:


PuErh, Black & Green Tea:  2.5-3 grams loose tea for a 6-8 oz. cup

Oolong Tea:  3 grams loose tea for a 6-8 oz. cup

White Tea:  3 grams loose tea for a 6-8 oz. cup

Tisane:  2.5-3 grams for a 6-8 oz. cup


NOTE: Do not use teaspoons from the kitchen drawer for prescription medication ~ use a true measuring teaspoon.  It’s quite common for incorrect doses to be dispensed due to the wide variation in flatware spoon sizes. 


While on the subject of tea & spoons, we must not forget Mote Spoons, also known as Skimmers, which were quite common in pre-Victorian England (17th & 18th Century).   This tea tool was first advertised in The London Gazette of 1697, as "long or strainer tea-spoons with narrow pointed handles."



The Mote Spoon has a long handle with spiked end and a “bowl” with holes.  When steeping loose leaf tea in teapots, before the days of strainers & infusers, tea leaves and debris (twigs, dust, insects, etc.) sometimes made their way into the cup.  The bowl of the spoon, about the same size of the tea spoons made at that time, would be dipped into the cup to retrieve floating leaves & tea particles and the pointed end would be used to dislodge leaves creating blockage in the narrow spout of the teapot.   The mote spoon also served as a caddy spoon as it was used to scoop up tea leaves to be transported to the teapot while leaving dust & crumbled bits of the leaves behind.



Victorians saw the, then novel, tea strainer replace Mote Spoons ~ although it still served quite well as a spout cleaner.



George II Silver Mote Spoon; London circa 1750-60


Aside from being beautiful, these items could still be very useful for those of us who steep leaves freely and loosely in our teapots.  Bring back the Mote! Hear Hear!


~ Linda Villano, SerendipiTea

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© All content and images are copyright of author.
LINDA VILLANO co-founded SerendipiTea.com in 1995 with Tomislav Podreka. With a passion for all things Tea, she oversees all aspects of the business; including client consulting, concept and design, staff training, sourcing and product development (recipe creations). Having grown up in a family of restaurateurs and chefs, she considers her role as a purveyor of premium teas & tisanes a natural continuation of her family’s culinary tradition.   Linda is a published illustrator and writer. Her illustrations appear in Tomislav Podreka’s book, SerendipiTea: a guide to the varieties, origins and rituals of tea, and she writes articles about tea for trade publications.

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