This seems to be a popular question causing mystery to many ‘What are the pieces in a tea set?’ I suppose the reason why it can be a tricky one to answer is that it depends on the complexity of the tea set as to what the pieces are. I think it might be useful to delve into the history of the silver tea set first, that way we can really get to the bottom of this mystery.
History of the Tea Set
In the 1600s tea started to become very popular throughout Europe. It was around this time that the Dutch added milk to their tea, making milk jugs a necessary part of the tea service. It was the East India Trading Company who initially began to import oriental porcelain tea sets from China. These porcelain sets would often be embellished with the English family crest upon arrival into Britain.
It was in the 1600s, and the early 1700s that it became popular to include a creamer, and then a sugar basket, or sugar bowl.
In the Western world, the three piece tea set, which incorporates the teapot, sugar bowl, and cream jug, were introduced in the late 1700s. This was largely because tea became cheaper at this time, and therefore became more available to the wider public.
At the end of the 18th Century tea sets went from strength to strength, with more and more items being added. There were even some that contained up to 43 pieces: 12 teacups, 12 saucers, 6/12 coffee cups, a teapot with cover and stand, a tea caddy, a milk pot, and also a spoon tray. A lot of people couldn’t afford to buy such a magnificent set. When that was the case, often families would come together for tea, so that they could form a whole set.
During the Victorian era, mid-afternoon tea became extremely fashionable. Subsequently, the coffee pot and tea kettle were added to the larger tea sets. Afternoon tea was already a very elaborate experience, involving sandwiches, pastries, and other small cakes. So it made sense to expand the tea set to match the experience.
Traditional Tea Sets
Despite going over the history of the antique silver tea set, it is still quite difficult to exactly answer the ‘what are the pieces in the silver tea set?’ question. So perhaps it would be easier to suggest items that could be included in a tea set. A classic combination is the teapot, milk jug, and sugar bowl. The four piece tea set is typically made up of: spirit burner, teapot, cream jug, and sugar bowl. A five piece tea service usually consists of a: spirit kettle, teapot, coffee pot, cream jug, and sugar bowl. A typical six piece tea set can consist of a: coffee pot, teapot, cream jug, sugar bowl, tea strainer, and even a salver.
Create Your Own Traditions
I suppose the main answer to the question is: include the pieces that you deem necessary for your own tea set. It used to be afternoon tea etiquette to have a certain number, or certain pieces included in your tea set. However, those days have gone. If it fits your need, include it in your tea set!