M is for Mote Spoon

Image result for mote spoon


Tea in the 17th and 18th century was supplied in a rather crude form with large leaves and a great deal of dust.  Most of that tea had some kind of foreign matter mixed in with the tea leaves. When tea leaves were harvested, in addition to the leaves themselves, tiny twigs, insect parts and other small bits often made it into the large bags of tea which were shipped to England. Tea merchants bought and sold their tea by weight, so they were not overly eager to reduce the weight of the tea they had purchased by meticulously removing any foreign matter. Unscrupulous merchants might even add more foreign matter to expand the weight of their tea offerings.

Hence the Mote Spoon…

It was a small slotted teaspoon to help with serving loose tea. It was used to fish out floating tea leaves from a cup. It began its short life in the late 17th century, with the London Gazette describing these elegant and charming spoons as “long or strainer spoons with narrow pointy ends.” People were slightly baffled as to how these dainty and shallow spoons could be used to strain tea and they only remained part of a tea ware service until the end of the 18th century due to the arrival of the tea strainer.

They were considered an essential part of any upscale English tea service for well over a century before the Regency began. Yet today, very few people are even aware of the existence of mote skimmers, let alone what they looked like or how they were intended to be used when tea was being served. Though there were some who considered a mote skimmer old fashioned by the time the Regency began, these handy little implements were still a part of a great many family tea services.


Whether their teapots were made of silver or porcelain…

 Most upper-class households had a set of silver implements which were considered part of their tea service and were brought out when tea was served. At the turn of the nineteenth century, these sets of silver implements typically included a dozen or more silver teaspoons, so that each guest would receive a silver spoon in the saucer when their tea was served to them. However, there were other implements in these silver sets which were meant for use only by the hostess as she brewed and served the tea to her guests. These silver hostess utensils typically included a tea scoop, a set of sugar tongs and a mote spoon.

The design of the Mote Spoon…

In the last years of the seventeenth century, the London goldsmiths who made small silver objects, directed their attention to these inconveniences of tea making. They developed an elegant tool which could be used both to remove motes floating on the surface of tea and to clear a blocked teapot spout. This handy device was made of silver, so as not to impart any unpleasant metal taste to the tea, as well as making it an appropriate addition to most tea sets. The design was based on the table spoons of the time, which had a large oval bowl.  The bowl intended for a mote spoon was flattened somewhat and was then drilled with a number of holes. A length of silver wire was attached to the back of the bowl to serve as a handle. The handle was made longer than a regular spoon handle, and it was given a rather sharp point at the end.

 Throughout the eighteenth century, the mote spoon was constantly improved and redesigned, though its basic form remained the same. The bowl of the spoon was an elongated oval, pierced with a pattern of increasingly decorative slots rather than the original plain round holes. This was accomplished by drilling small holes in the bowl, through which a fine saw blade was threaded to make the necessary cuts to create the ornate, curvilinear openings. The handle of the mote spoon was usually made of a piece with the bowl, rather than being soldered on. Yet the handle remained long, nearly round and tapered to a point at the end. But on many of these later mote spoons the handle terminated in a squared, pointed finial.

mote spoon in tea caddy

https://www.webstagram.one/tag/silvertracaddies    mote spoon in the tea caddy

Using a Mote Spoon…

 Traditionally tea was made by adding loose leaves to a teapot of hot water.  When the brewed tea was poured from the teapot it would not be uncommon for some stray leaves to enter the tea cup. Society hostesses who served tea were aware that there might be a few motes floating on the surface of the tea which they prepared for their guests. They needed a reliable, and of course, an elegant, accessory with which to remove those motes from the brew before they offered tea to their guests.  For this unruly situation any true hostess would have a mote spoon handy on the table in preparation.  The slots in the mote spoon would allow the tea leaves to be removed with a simple scoop. The word “mote” is an Old English word that means an obstruction which is in a place it shouldn’t be.  With this spoon, the mote is the tea leaf.

There was also an additional use for the Mote Spoon…

 Due to the pointed terminal of the spoon it made the perfect tool to unblock the teapot spout which would regularly get blocked from infused leaves and make the pouring of the tea impossible.  The mote spoon terminal would simply be inserted into the pout and rotated; the tea leaves causing the blockage were then released. There was one further use for a mote spoon which is less a common perception. Due to the early period of the spoon, many households would not be able to afford a silver mote spoon in addition to a caddy spoon for their tea service.

The pierced mote spoon could be used to scoop tea out of a container, allowing the powdered remnants of the tea leaves to fall back into the tea caddy. Due to their long handles however, the mote spoons could not be stored in a tea caddy but were stored in a special clip inside the lid of a large size tea chest.

 Continued use…

Mote spoons continued to be made in silver through the end of the eighteenth century, when they began to be superseded by the fine mesh tea strainer. By the turn of the nineteenth century, tea was becoming more affordable and was enjoyed by the middle classes as well as the upper classes. Though the mesh tea strainer was more effective than a mote spoon, the mote spoon had tradition on its side and there were many people who did not consider their tea sets complete without one, regardless of whether they actually made use of it while serving tea. However, by the Regency period, mote spoons were no longer made only in silver. They were also made of Sheffield plate and Britannia, as well as other, less costly metals.

Next… Meng Ding Huang Ya


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