07 November 2016. A tea cozy might seem like a terribly old-fashioned item, and, historically, it is. Tea cozies may have been used as far back as 1660, when tea was brought to Britain, but their first documented use came just after the custom of afternoon tea was introduced.
Around 1840, the Duchess of Bedford (Anna Maria Russell to her friends) decided that the wait between breakfast and dinner had become intolerable; dinner was getting later and later, sometimes as late as 8:30pm. (Sidenote: some of us around here consider an 8:30 dinner to be both practical and an achievement.) The Duchess deemed a light afternoon repast was in order, one made up of cakes and sandwiches that would stave off hunger. According to Wikipedia, the Duchess took such a liking to afternoon tea that she started inviting friends. "Hey Jane, wanna come over for this new meal category I just invented?"
As the Duchess and her friends ate, drank, and talked, their teapots and tea would grow cold. In earlier years, this might have put an end to their merriment, but the introduction of tea cozies solved this problem. Acting as insulators and, on occasion, silly hats, tea cozies kept the tea warm and the gossip flowing. Word of these nifty fabric teapot covers spread to America, and in 1892, the Philadelphia Enquirer reported on cozies' "sudden and unexpected rise in public favor." Unexpected? Let's be real. When haven't we co-opted British trends with a ravenous, frenzied appetite? Exhibit A: The Beatles. Exhibit B: Gastro-pubs.
These days, you might see a vast range of tea cozy designs in a variety of textiles. Ornate or simple, tea cozies still carry the practical function of keeping your tea warm so that it lasts through a date with a friend (or tv show or book). The importance of warm tea to carry you through a catch-up session? Perhaps one of the few things on which you and the Duchess of Bedford could relate.