The Georgian tea equipage usually included a tea strainer or mote-skimmer, “mote” being the old English word for a minute particle of foreign matter in food or drink. This dainty little tool was like a long-handled spoon. The barbed or point on its slender stem, was used for clearing the perforations at the base of the tea spout, and the bowl patterned with perforations, for skimming the infusion in the cup.
The London Gazette for 1697, refers to long or ‘strainer’ teaspoons, with narrow pointed handles. They were known as “long teaspoons” throughout Queen Anne's reign. The bowl had rat-tail strengthening and circular perforations. Saw pierced bowls, lacking the rat-tail, were of the Georgian era. Early examples were sold en suite with the teaspoons.
It has been suggested that the contemporary tea-pot spout was usually too boldly curved for the spear-topped stem to be thrust down it. This suggestion overlooks the fact that the juncture of spout and body was protected by a perforated tea leaf strainer.
At that period, according to John Worlidge and other contemporary writers, the tea leaves were dried whole. After two or three minutes infusion in the pot, “the leaves spread out to their former breadth and shape” and were liable to block up the perforations, obstructing the flow of the tea into the spout. The sphere knop of the mote-skimmer was used to remove these from inside the perforations.
Another widespread misapprehension concerns the perforations in the bowl of the mote skimmer. Some collectors consider these too large to collect tea dust. In this connection, it must be remembered that Georgian tea contained all the foreign matter now extracted by mechanical means. Such as floating on the cup of tea, (the motes) could be removed in the skimmer bowl.
The skimming was done by the “tea-blender,” usually the most presentable house-maid or parlor maid, who had charge of the tea-table equipment, preparing the tea and handing a cup of tea to each guest and member of the family. Unless on formal occasions, however, mote-skimming was each individual's own concern.
Giant specimens (of mote spoons) usually bear George III hallmarks and were designed for use with contemporary tea urns. Some collectors of strainer spoons express their belief that they were used in France as snail spoons, shell-fish spoons and absinthe spoons. While somewhat resembling the mote-skimmer, such spoons show certain dissimilarities of design in keeping with their different purposes. - From “1500-1820: Three Centuries of English Domestic Silver,” by Bernard and Therle Hughs, 1952
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