The teapot was invented in China during the Yuan Dynasty. It was probably derived from ceramic kettles and wine pots, which were made of bronze and other metals and were a feature of Chinese life for thousands of years. Tea preparation during previous dynasties did not use a teapot.
In the Tang Dynasty, a cauldron was used to boil ground tea, which was served in bowls. Song Dynasty tea was made by boiling water in a kettle then pouring the water into a bowl with finely ground tea leaves. A brush was then used to stir the tea.
Written evidence of a teapot appears in the Yuan Dynasty text Jiyuan Conghua, which describes a teapot that the author, Cai Shizhan, bought from the scholar Sun Daoming. By the Ming Dynasty, teapots were widespread in China. The earliest example of a teapot that has survived to this day seems to be the one in the Flagstaff House Museum of Teaware; it has been dated to 1513 and is attributed to Gongchun.
Early teapots, like those still used in modern Gongfu tea ceremony, are small by western standards. They use a higher ratio of leaves to water, which enables the brewer to control the variables of brewing to create several small infusions. After brewing, tea would then be decanted into a separate vessel, and distributed into the small cups of several drinkers, and brewed again. This allows the tea to be skillfully brewed, and for the flavor changes to be experienced through the various infusions.
Many traditional Chinese teaware is yixing ware. Yixing and other regional clays are left unglazed. This allows the clay to absorb the flavor of the teas brewed over time, and enhance the flavor of the tea going forward. Some Gongfu practioners designate their unglazed pots for specific types, sometimes even specific varietals of tea.
From the end of the 17th century tea was shipped from China to Europe as part of the export of exotic spices and luxury goods. The ships that brought the tea also carried porcelain teapots. The majority of these teapots were painted in blue and white underglaze. Porcelain, being completely vitrified, will withstand sea water without damage, so the teapots were packed below deck whilst the tea was stowed above deck to ensure that it remained dry.