Tea Cozies, Yesterday and Today

Think of any object you can and I’ll bet there’s a verbose description of it somewhere.

Take the simple tea cozy (British, cosy).

cozy reversible

For many years tea connoisseurs have used a tea cozy in brewing tea in order to secure a beverage having the desired flavor and stimulating effect. Such devices usually have been formed of a fabric material in the form of a blanket or covering which surrounds the tea pot and is placed thereon during the infusion of the essential elements from the tea leaves into the hot water as well as for maintaining a proper temperature level in the pot during this time to assure the optimum infusion into the hot beverage of the water soluble elements from the tea leaves. (Wales 1954)

The “cozy” and “tea connoisseurs” in the same sentence dates this description, and indeed, this is a 1954 patent application from Fred A. Wales, a Detroiter who was seeking a way for restaurants to inexpensively and efficiently keep tea hot while it was brewing.

But I love how he was concerned that the tea was correctly brewed:

With either form of tea cozy it will be appreciated that the heat-reflecting insulation incorporated therein will effectively maintain the contents of the tea pot at the desired temperature and for the time period required to assure correct brewing of the tea. (Wales 1954)

Nowadays many restaurants, and even some “tea” places, dump a teabag into a cup or aluminum pot and call it tea. As if!

Wales explained that there should be sufficient dead air space between cozy and teapot, with a reflective surface on the cozy for “effective thermal insulation.”

And because he was targeting the restaurant industry, he designed a cozy that was disposable, easily and cheaply made, and supplied a surface for advertising (hey, why not capitalize on that valuable real estate?).

Wales tea cozy patent
Wales’ 1954 tea cozy patent application

When Wales’ invention was listed in the Official Gazette of the United States Patent Office, it was sandwiched between such things as “molded cartons for fragile items,” “container for storing and transporting pourable materials” (think boxes with spouts), “disposable refuse container,” “open window envelopes”—all of which are still in use today.

But Wales’ tea cozy? I’ve never seen any type of disposable one, and rarely do I see any in use at all (well okay, it’s the U.S.).

Yet the humble cozy actually does keep tea hot while brewing, and a snug metal case can be spotted on both vintage and modern (usually retro-style) teapots.

When cleaning out my mother-in-law’s house awhile back, I was mystified to find this vintage teapot in a nearly inaccessible cupboard. She hated tea, so why did she own this teapot? Of course, her distaste for tea may explain the pot’s pristine condition as well as its storage place!

hall teapot

Slight staining of the unglazed lid and spout web prove the pot has been used at least once, by someone, if not her. The cozy, due to its light weight, is probably aluminum, in a chrome finish. It’s insulated with gray felt and has a plastic finial whose yellow color perfectly matches the china pot’s cheery hue. The set weighs a hefty 2.6 pounds!

Hall teapot alone

The maker’s mark identifies this as made in the U.S. by Hall China (founded 1905) sometime from 1930 to 1970, but I’m guessing closer to mid-century because an “insulated teapot” with a “lagged chrome casing” was a 1930s invention, “lagged” simply meaning insulated (Faulkner  2003:118).

Hall pot cozy

This Hall teapot was mass produced for everyday use, and the cozy would have effectively kept the tea hot during brewing and serving.

A modern tea cozy is more likely to be knitted or made of material, like this stylish quilted cozy made by a friend, featuring a honeybee motif for my bee-keeping husband.

quilted cozy
Quilted tea cozy by Diane Brown and pottery honey jar by Kristin Bartlett

Cozies have apparently been used since afternoon tea was popularized in Britain (see my previous post), with many online articles saying that cozies were first documented in Britain in 1867—but with libraries closed right now, I can’t find any primary sources on that.

However, cozy design contests continue to be popular, and today’s entries are certainly far more fanciful than Vera Way Marghab’s 1940 patent application for her no-frills take on the cozy.

Marghab cozy
But regardless what your cozy looks like, it’ll do the job at keeping your teapot warm and cozy!


Sources:
–Faulkner, Rupert, ed.,
Tea: East and West, London: V&A Publications, 2003.
–Marghab, Vera Way, US Patent 121,550, filed May 25, 2940.
–United States Patent Office, Official Gazette of the United States Patent Office, p. 402, Government Printing, Washington, D.C., February 14, 1961.
–Wales, Fred A., Tea cozy, US Patent 2,862,780, filed April 5, 1954, and issued December 2, 1958.

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