Tea trappings, in the strictest sense of the term, are devices literally used to “trap” (i.e strain or hold back) loose tea leaves so that a tea drinker might enjoy sipping a filtered cup of tea. Such filtering devices were mandatory gadgets for any tea drinker in the Western world at one point in time. Now, in an age of tea bags, they are for the most part optional.
Other tea-drinking accoutrements, however, came to be included in the term “tea trappings”: items such as sugar tongs, lemon slice plates, and even the tea caddies in which the precious tea was stored (and locked up.) It came to mean any of the accessories involved in the preparation, presentation, serving, and enjoyment of tea as a ritual.
The category also includes tea balls, tea presses, tea strainers, stick infusers, and spout strainers (which hang off the tea pot spout, and catch the leaves of loose-leaf tea in mid-stream as the tea is poured.)
Mote spoons were amongst the first tea trappings to be devised, to help fish errant tea leaves out.
Though today’s designs emphasize functionality, designs from the 1600s until the 1900s emphasized decorativeness and novelty as well, and many are highly prized as expensive collector’s items, being made of silver or silver plated with gold (aka “gilt”.)
The invention of the tea bag in 1908 heralded the beginning of the end for the glory days of tea trappings.
Now, just having any one of these gadgets even in plain stainless-steel is considered novelty enough.
See also: Tea balls, Tea presses, Tea strainers