Category Archives: Tools and Equipment

The Bodum Assam Tea Press

Bodum Tea Press

A few years ago, when I was a mature student studying for my B A Illustration Degree, I wrote the following essay in 2011. Our brief was to describe a designed object in a museum collection. I chose the Bodum Assam Tea Press and I feel many of the observations still stand. I would really appreciate any comments and comparisons you may have about tea brewing implements of the past and present day.

fig-2The Bodum Assam Tea Press (fig.1) is located in the ‘Making the Modern World 1990 – 1999’ cabinet (fig. 2), Gallery 5 at the Science Museum. I find it is interesting that a teapot, which has a history going back well over a thousand years, is displayed as an innovative product of the final years of the 20th century in a museum of Science.

Is it regarded as an innovative product because of how it looks? Also, although displayed in a cabinet featuring products made in the past 25 years, does it maintain a respect for the rituals and traditions of our British tea drinking culture? And, is it an effective functional object that is relevant to life today?

fig-3The physical structure of the Tea Press
The outer body of the Bodum Assam Tea Press retains the familiar fat-belly shape of a traditional tea pot (fig 3) that has long since been regarded as essential for allowing space for the leaves to brew.

It is madfig-4e of borosilicate glass, a thermal shock resistant glass consisting of silica, alumina, calcium sodium oxide and boric oxide, which was invented primarily for industrial use. In addition to the glass pot there is a removable central plastic column punctured with holes except for the bottom three centimetres, and a vacuum plunger (fig 4). When this is depressed, the contents of the sealed-off base section of central column become isolated from the liquid in the pot. It was designed Carsten Jorgensen for Bodum, the Swiss glass manufacturing company.

fig-5Because it is made of glass, the Bodum Assam Tea Press “has its own inherent ‘decoration’ – the beautiful colour of the tea seen through the glass”(a). The audience can participate in the thrill of watching the dry leaves unfurl and the colour of the liquor intensifying as it brews (fig 5).

How its design was influenced by earlier makers
It is worth noting the similarity and influence of the teapot (fig. 6), designed by Wilhelm Wagenfeld in fig-61932 for Jenaer Glaswork Schott and Gen, a revival of which was also marketed by Bodum in the early 1990s. Likewise it can be seen that Jorgensen’s Teaball teapot (fig. 7), described as being of ‘beautiful simplicity and excellent materials for everyday life’(b), is highly evocative of Marianne Brandt’s silver tea infuser (fig 8). fig-7Both endorse the influence of Modernism on Jorgensen’s work.  In addition, the clean, almost perfect spherical tea pot shape with the pared back spout reflect ‘the smooth surfaces and pfig-8recise geometric shapes associated with the International Style that continued to surface in new examples of aesthetic purity in design’(c) of the late twentieth century.

The beauty and ceremony of the Bodum Tea Press
Being made of glass, The Bodum Assam Tea Press fulfils our fascination with the visual aspects of tea brewing whilst the ‘engineered’ look of the central perforated brewing chamber intimates a forthcoming sense of theatre and the ceremony of brewing tea.

Picture 643

This sense of ceremony was highly important when tea was first arrived in Europe and England in the middle of the seventeenth century. It was a highly expensive and sought-after luxury enjoyed only by the fashionable rich elite strata of society. You can still see contemporary portraits (fig 9, right) of families drinking tea.

These paintings were an important indicator of status and high fashion. The expensive tea paraphernalia: tea pot, sugar bowl, kettle, slop bowl, and delicate tiny tea cups, often made of silver, delicate porcelain and later bone china, were equally important for the sense of occasion, the tea often only being drunk perhaps once or twice a week.

fig-10-11-in-one-image-for-blog-postSocial status or intellectual prowess?
Today the emphasis of the ceremony has shifted from the social status of the hostess pouring the tea, to the intellectual status of the teapot owner. His ownership signifies his superior knowledge of high quality (and no doubt expensive) tea leaves. The contents of the pot are on display, indicating a high quality leaf and quite unlike the opaque bag containing an unknown, invisible tea dust (figs 10 & 11) that is consumed by more than 90% of the UK’s black tea drinking population.

We then come to the functionality…
The Bodum Assam Tea Press’s most prominent feature is the central filter system. In a comparison about tea pots, Robin Harrison, the then chairman of the Tea Brokers’ Association and director of Thompson, Lloyd & Ewart tea brokers, said: “The ability to isolate the tea leaves from the liquor easily was a serious advantage over the others (teapots). It prevented the tea stewing”(d).

Another benefit of this teapot is its lightness and its strength, both features being due to being made of glass. With its 1.5 litre capacity it is possible to make a large quantity of tea that can sit until required without stewing. The full pot can also be lifted with ease using one hand by the person pouring the tea. With the transition of the twentieth century we no longer embrace the ‘Victorian values of display’ and when ‘the availability of cheap servants enabled formal rituals of eating and organised leisure to develop in the home’(e). The pot is designed to hold a high volume of tea thus eliminating the need to go back and forth to the kettle to make a new brew.

The one area of functionality that Jorgensen did not improve in terms of efficiency was the cleaning after use. We no longer have the cheap servants and ‘someone’ has to empty the leaves out of the narrow chamber, a fiddly exercise that uses copious amounts of water to rinse them out and clog up the sink drain because , after use the leaves are no longer controlled, the brewing function being over. I find this too onerous for everyday use. Perhaps here we have a case of style over function.

In conclusion, Jorgensen has created a product that has strong visual intrigue and also respects the importance of brewing techniques. I feel it has been designed by a man for men and certainly to this end you can find it in John Lewis and Selfridges department stores costing between thirty to fifty pounds (depending on the materials used for the internal filter column). It is one of those household products that are ‘not only functional but pieces of sculpture – true objects of desire’(f). It will probably sit alongside a Philippe Stark orange squeezer and Nespresso coffee maker.

Sadly I fear the desire of a cup of delicious tea is limited. Society is now driven by the need for instant gratification, which a tea bag provides; instant colour in the cup and the flavour is almost irrelevant. The art of making good tea is being forgotten and is no reflection on the Bodum Assam Tea Press. It is down to our inability to wait for a mere four minutes to create the perfect brew.

Do you have any questions about the Bodum Assam Tea Press or anything else around the use of tea pots today? Perhaps you have other questions that relate to English tea drinking culture, both past and present? Please let me know. Every question sets me off on another quest!

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Bibliography:

Picture descriptions:
Fig. 1. Bodum Assam Tea Press, courtesy of the Science Museum Picture Library, London.

Fig. 2. Bodum Assam Tea Press in the cabinet entitled Making the modern World 1990 – 1999, Gallery 5, Science Museum, London.
Fig. 3. Brown Betty teapot.
Fig. 4. Bodum Assam Tea Press. Picture courtesy of the Science Museum.
Fig. 5. Bodum Assam Tea Press. Filled with tea to illustrate the colour change as it brews.
Fig. 6. Image of tea pot manufactured by Jenaer Glaswerke Schott & Gen, 1932. Designer: Wilhelm Wagenfeld. Materials: Borosilicate Glass.
Fig. 7. Assam Teaball tea pot by Bodum 1998. Stainless steel, Bronze and Plastic. 1.5 litre capacity tea pot for use with loose tea leaves, made in Germany, designed by Carsten Jorgensen. Image from Power House Museum Collection, Sydney, Australia.
Fig. 8. Silver and Ebony tea infuser. Designer Marianne Brandt, 1924. British Museum London. Twentieth Century Gallery.
Fig. 9. The Tea Party, early 18th century. This painting attributed to Richard Collins, hangs in the Goldsmiths’ Hall, London.
Fig 10. Dry tea leaves: Loose leaf early season darjeeling leaves on the left. Contents of darjeeling teabag on right.
Fig. 11. Wet tea leaves after brewing: Loose leaf early season darjeeling on the left, the leaf is clear to see having now unfurled. On the right we have the brewed teabag leaves, difficult to identify as being tea leaves.

Primary Sources:
– Science Museum, London. Ground Floor, Gallery 5, cabinet entitled “Making the Modern World 1990 – 1999”

– John Lewis Department Store.
– British Museum.

Secondary Sources and footnotes:
(a) Heath, Adrian, Heath, Ditte, Lund Jensen, Aage, 300 Years of Industrial Design, Function, Form, Technique 1700 – 2000, Herbert Press, London 2000. p261.
(b) Production notes, Teaball teapot, Powerhouse Museum Collection, Sydney, Australia.
(c) Raizman, David, History of Modern Design, Laurence King, London 2003. Design in Context: An Act of Balance p364.
(d) Metzstein,Ruth, One for the Pot, How do new types of teapot compare with the round-bellied pot our grandmothers used? Our panel finds out. Independent on Sunday, 3rd September 1995.
(e) & (f) McDermott, Catherine, Twentieth Century Design, Design Museum, Carlton, London 1997.

Resources for your baking

I share my top sources
This is a list of resources that I normally share with anyone who comes along to any of my baking courses, workshops or demonstrations. You may find them helpful in your baking journey:

Ingredients and equipment:

Bien Manger french gourmet food and gifts

Bien Manger: a French website that sells lots of colourings and flavourings plus pistachio ‘flour’ (pre-ground pistachios – very expensive). Also try Atelier de Chef in Wigmore Street. 

Screenshot 2015-11-19 11.27.06Lakeland: Great equipment for the domestic kitchen and the only people who seem to sell textured piping bags that have such a good grip. They also sell microplane zesters and large rolls of siliconised baking paper.

DivertimentiDivertimenti: I got my blossom silicone heat distribution mats from them.

Little PodLittle Pod: Vanilla Paste – either buy direct from Little Pod – you can’t beat high quality vanilla. 100ml tube of paste costs £ 10.50 and lasts for about six months to a year with frequent use. Also available in Fortnum and Mason and WholeFoods.

The Spice Shop

The Spice Shop in Blenheim Crescent: they sell dried beetroot powder if you want to use a natural pink colouring.


Cake Craft worldCake Craft World – For boxes in which you can put your macarons or cakes AND Gel Food Colours – I recommend using SUGARFLAIR Gel EXTRA colour to prevent any browning – also excellent for Red Velvet Cake.

Cherry Tree PreservesThe Cherry Tree– excellent ‘home-made’ Curds and Preserves. I found the Passion Fruit a little runny (but fabulous taste). They make a Ginger Preserve and also a nice ‘solid’ Lemon Curd. 

If you have any further baking questions please do not hesitate to ask.  

Cake Decorating Company

The Cake Decoration Co. – infusions/colourings, everything for sugarcraft.

Screenshot 2015-11-23 12.41.32
Rycraft – stamps for biscuits or cookies – it is an American company. I ordered a stamp with a thistle on it for my Scottish shortbread (the emblem of Scotland).

Tiptree preserves and jams
Wilkin & Sons (Tiptree) – Their Little Scarlet Strawberry Jam – costs £3.99 per jar ( at time of writing). 
This is far superior to any other shop bought strawberry jam. The jam is made with miniature strawberries and only a finite amount of jam is produced each year using the fruit from a single harvest. It is almost double the price of their standard strawberry jam. 

Remember you can also follow me

I have a Facebook Page and am on Twitter – so please do join me there and ask me any questions you may have. I blog about all sorts of subjects related to baking, preparing and hosting an Afternoon Tea as well as preparing the perfect cup of tea – so make sure you subscribe to get my new posts in your inbox.

Make Friends With Your Oven | How to Get The Most Out of Your Oven

Caroline's oven

One of the most common complaints I get in my baking classes is students saying how dreadful their oven is to use. Do any of these sound familiar to you:

  •  one area of the oven being hotter than another,
  •  each time you bake your outcomes are different ( maybe undercooked one time or overcooked the next, i.e. a lack of consistency)

I liken these comments to people moaning about how beastly their boyfriend is or a disappointment in their latest girlfriend’s behaviour. Perhaps the problem is that they are not being handled correctly or there is an unrealistic expectation of how they will behave?

For best results (both human and oven-related) it might help to understand your oven’s (and lover’s) little foibles – don’t apportion blame for characteristics that are inherent in its/his/her performance. Why not work with their best features and get great results?

How often do you use your oven?

Most of us only use our ovens for an hour or two maybe every two or three days. We  preheat the oven and, once the thermostat light goes out – think it is up to temperature. It is, but probably only in one area where the thermometer is positioned. It does not take into account that the shelves and certain patches in the oven walls have not evened out.  You may need to allow a longer time for preheating to get a really even ambience in your oven. (In Winter I find it is worse because the metal is generally colder). I now always bake a tray of biscuits or macarons before a class to get my oven really loosened up for consistent results in the class, i.e. always cooking at the optimum temperature.

In simple terms the oven sides are made of metal that expand and contract as they heat and cool with the particles in the metal shifting their positions. (This also applies to baking tins but I shall save that for another blog.) Most commercial bakeries use their ovens every day for eight to ten hours. As a result the metal ‘tempers’ very evenly as the particles have memory and expand quickly and easily to even out the temperature (I liken it to going to the gym regularly – your muscles remember the exercises more easily than when going once a month).   Constant heating equals consistent baking results. I find the lower the quality of the oven the more pronounced  the problem.

Do you understand the principles of how your oven works?

Different types of oven will all perform in slightly different ways. These are the most commonly found:

Conventional electric ovenThese are less usual these days but often, if you have a double oven with a large oven and a small half size oven, the smaller oven is a conventional electric oven.  The heat in this type of oven is produced by elements either in the sides of the oven or the top and bottom of the oven. This (slowly) heats the air in the oven up to the required temperature. It can use a lot of electricity. The oven will be hottest at the top.

Conventional gas ovenThe oven is heated by the gas flames at the bottom back of the oven and again the air is hottest at the top. The gas oven heats more quickly than the electric one.

Fan assisted oven   These operate as described above with a fan at the back that circulates the air around the oven. This provides a more even heat distribution.

Fan oven (as opposed to fan assisted) – these make up the majority of ovens now sold in the UK. The air is drawn out of the oven through the fan at the back over a heated element and injected back into the oven at different levels. This saves energy because you are only heating a small element  over which the air is heated as opposed to heating up static air in the whole oven cavity and heats up far more quickly. Under perfect conditions the temperature for a fan oven would be adjusted down by about 10% compared to something being cooked in a conventional electric oven.

Do you view a recipe as a guide or gospel?

So many times I have heard people wail that they follow the recipe to the letter and still the result is undercooked/burnt etc. Do you realise that the temperatures provided  may not be correct for your oven?  The author is using another oven in another kitchen and you may need to adapt your recipes to suit. Oven manufacturers are allowed a margin of error (I think around 8%) of the stated temperature compared to the true temperature before an oven is regarded as faulty. A recipe may say 180°C  so a 5% leeway hotter would mean you need to cook at 190°C. The author’s oven might be cooking at 5% cooler than the stated temperature so actually cooking at about 170°C. A further complication is that often it does not specify the type of oven being used, e.g. the difference between conventional or fan oven.   You may find it helpful to buy an oven thermometer to focus on whether your oven cooks hotter or cooler than the stated temperature.

So…in summary…

It is important that you take ownership of the process, adapting recipes and oven temperature to suit your way of cooking in your kitchen. Perhaps also get into the  thought process of thinking cool heat, medium heat, medium hot, hot etc.  And of course the better quality the oven, the less unbalanced the results.

Be tender with your oven and it will reward you with great results (all under your guidance).  You don’t expect a new lover to behave in the same way as an earlier one; you can delight in pleasures new. Happy baking!