While tea has been around for many thousands of years the teapot is a relatively new invention that only appeared on the scene around the year 1500 in China. Up until that time bowls and cups (as in gaiwan) were used to prepare tea that was consumed in cake and powdered form. The first teapot to be invented was the Yixing teapot in China in the 1500s, but it was not until the late Ming Dynasty (1368--1644) that its use became widespread. In “The Tea Lover’s Treasury,” James Norwood Pratt writes “Second only to tea, perhaps the most important contribution China made to European life was “china” itself—the hard, translucent glazed pottery the Chinese had invented under the T’ang Dynasty and which we also know as porcelain.”
Europeans were introduced to the beauty of Chinese ceramics by the British East India Company (also known as John Company) in the 17th century. John Company imported tea to England starting in 1660. By 1750 tea had become the national drink of Britain and John Company was importing millions of pounds of tea per year. While tea and other perishable cargo was stored above the water line Chinese & Japanese porcelain teapots and other non-perishables were used as ballast in the lower portion of the cargo ships. Europeans greatly admired Chinese ceramics but it was very costly to import it. Nevertheless, the porcelain industry in Europe didn't get going until 1709 when Johann Friedrich Böttger finally perfected the production of translucent white porcelain. At this point tea was still an upper class beverage. With the industrial revolution the middle class started to enjoy tea and demand for porcelain teapots became more widespread. This demand was met by artist-merchants in England such as Josiah Wedgwood and Josiah Spode. By the mid to late 1700s porcelain production became widespread in Europe with England dominating the arena. Throughout the 18th century teapot shapes and designs changed frequently and by the beginning of the 19th century the teapot had become a household necessity.
As the British ventured off to the New World America caught on and the pottery industry in this country really took off.