For travellers and locals to Great Britain alike, the wonderful tradition of having a cup of tea is upheld by small cafés (and motorway service stations) all over the country. Many of the more upmarket eateries will serve tea in a suitably twee ceramic teapot. However, most establishments provide the beverage by putting one or two cheap teabags and some boiling hot water into a small stainless steel teapot (enough to hold perhaps two cups of tea if you're lucky). This will be accompanied by an even smaller stainless steel milk jug and a somewhat cracked and off-white teacup and saucer1. There's a certain charm to this, but also some pitfalls for the uninitiated.
A Metal Teapot?
As the entire teapot is made of stainless steel, including the handle and lid, once hot water is poured in, the metal naturally heats up quite nicely. This in turn makes it nigh-on impossible to hold, lift and then pour any hot tea out of the teapot without getting minor burns to your fingers. One solution is to thread a paper napkin (of the kind readily available at the table) through the teapot handle. This adds a mild buffer between the scalding hot metal and your delicate skin - enough to give you time to pour a cup of tea before needing to seek medical assistance.
There may be a knack to grasping the handle betwixt thumb and forefinger only so much as to minimise 'ouchiness', and allowing the tea to pour into your cup precariously. But this means you're ever conscious of the fact that the teapot may slip from your limited grip - smashing with alarming ferocity into your teacup. Also bear in mind that, as metal is such a good conductor of heat, it isn't long before the stainless steel teapot is piping hot, yet its contents tepid. It's advisable to be quick off the mark with your first cup if you want a decent second.
Paddling up Steam
Given the boiling hot contents of the teapot, steam is a common by-product. This will gently waft from the spout, the aroma of the brewing tea inside the pot breaking through the heady scents of the 'All Day English Breakfasts' around you.
If you try to raise the teapot to pour some of the fine beverage into your cup, the hinged lid will invariably slip open and a gush of hot steam will try its level best to scald the nearest bare skin. You can try to avoid this by putting a fingertip to the little metal knob atop the teapot lid. But this will inflict a measure of pain due to the intense heat of the brew inside. It becomes increasingly apparent that stainless steel teapots were probably designed with the masochist in mind.
Up the Spout
Have you ever wondered why teacups come with saucers? The stainless steel teapot is quite possibly the reason. When pouring your tea from the pot, due to an incredible feat of engineering by the manufacturers, a large amount of it will end up running down from the spout and dribbling in a steady stream not into your teacup but the saucer. There appears to be no way of preventing this from happening. The most unfortunate of souls will find they've spilled their tea all over the table and down their trousers as well2.
Again, by applying a paper napkin to the bottom of the teapot you can soak up a lot of the spout dribble. But no matter how hard you try there'll always be at least enough tea in your saucer to float a sugar cube. You can of course simply take the saucer and pour its contents into your teacup. However, but one does like to try to cut out the middle man when having a cuppa. And it's most certainly not good form to slurp spilt tea from your saucer in polite (or even impolite) company.
A Question of Taste...
The imbibing of tea was once regarded as a rather elite activity, so the stainless steel teapot has never really been seen alongside the best china, or at 'milord's' or 'milady's' croquet parties3. Good taste aside, that's another problem. Any tea served from a stainless steel teapot tends to have a tinge of metal about it - making your finest Earl Grey taste like someone's mixed it in the bottom of a rusty bucket, which to all intents and purposes they have.
How do you alleviate this problem? Add sweetener, a lot of sweetener. This will usually be found in the form of several different types of sugar sachet on the table. Or you could take your mind off it by reading the tabloid newspaper you found on the seat next to you, or sampling something else from the menu (like black pudding or Spam).
A Place in History
You won't see a stainless steel teapot being fawned over by antiques dealers or lauded about by historians. Not any time soon, anyway. However, the stainless steel teapot remains the mainstay of 'greasy spoons' throughout much of England, Scotland and Wales - providing tea for the unwashed masses in an affordable and suitably de rigueur manner. That is:
Pot o' cha, cheers luv.