A teaspoon (tsp.) is an item of cutlery. It is a small spoon that can be used to stir a cup of tea or coffee, or as a tool for measuring volume.[1][2] The size of teaspoons ranges from about 2.5 to 7.3 mL (0.088 to 0.257 imp fl oz; 0.085 to 0.247 US fl oz). For cooking purposes and dosing of medicine, a teaspoonful is defined as 5 mL (0.18 imp fl oz; 0.17 US fl oz), and standard measuring spoons are used.[3]

Left-to-right: Serving spoon, tablespoon, dessert spoon, and teaspoon


A cup of coffee with coffee spoon

A teaspoon is a small spoon suitable for stirring and sipping the contents of a cup of tea or coffee, or adding a portion of loose sugar to it. These spoons have heads more or less oval in shape. Teaspoons are a common part of a place setting.

Teaspoons with longer handles, such as iced tea spoons, are commonly used also for ice cream desserts or floats. Similar spoons include the tablespoon and the dessert spoon, the latter intermediate in size between a teaspoon and a tablespoon, used in eating dessert and sometimes soup or cereals. Much less common is the coffee spoon, which is a smaller version of the teaspoon, intended for use with the small type of coffee cup.[4] Another teaspoon, called an orange spoon (in American English: grapefruit spoon), tapers to a sharp point or teeth, and is used to separate citrus fruits from their membranes. A bar spoon, equivalent to a teaspoon, is used in measuring ingredients for mixed drinks.

A container designed to hold extra teaspoons, called a spooner, usually in a set with a covered sugar container, formed a part of Victorian table service.


Teaspoon is a European invention.[5] Small spoons were common in Europe since at least the 13th century, the special spoons were introduced almost simultaneously with the tea and coffee[5] (Pettigrew points to use in the mid-17th century[6]). Originally the teaspoons were exotic items, precious and small, resembling the demitasse spoons of the later times.[5] Also used for coffee, these spoons were usually made of gilt silver, and were available with a variety of handle shapes: plain, twisted, decorated with knobs,[6] also known as knops, hence the knop-top name for such spoons.[7] Widespread use and modern size date back to the Georgian era.[5] The teaspoon is first mentioned in an advertisement in a 1686 edition of the London Gazette,[8][9] teaspoons, probably of English origin, are present on the 1700 Dutch painting by Nicholas Verkolje, "A Tea Party".[10]

An 1825 cartoon makes fun of a Frenchman unfamiliar with the British etiquette. The guest did not place his spoon into the cup and is thus being offered his thirteenth cup of tea.[11]

A special dish for resting the teaspoons, a "spoon boat", was a part of the tea set in the 18th century.[12] At that time, the spoons were playing important role in the tea drinking etiquette: a spoon laid "across" the teacup indicated that the guest did not need any more tea, otherwise, the hostess was obligated to offer a fresh cup of tea, and it was considered impolite to refuse the offering.[13] Pettigrew reports that sometimes the spoons were numbered to make it easier to match the cups with the guests after a refill.[13]

Unit of measure

Measuring spoons, with the second largest one representing the volume of a teaspoon.

In some countries, a teaspoon (occasionally "teaspoonful") is a cooking measure of volume, especially widely used in cooking recipes and pharmaceutic medical prescriptions. In English it is abbreviated as tsp. or, less often, as t., ts., or tspn.. The abbreviation is never capitalized because a capital letter is customarily reserved for the larger tablespoon ("Tbsp.", "T.", "Tbls.", or "Tb.").[14]

The household teaspoons provide very bad approximations of any unit of measure. In a small-scale research, Falagas et al. found out that the volume of liquids inside different teaspoons varies almost three times, between 2.5 and 7.3 ml (the average value was 4.4 ml).[15]

Metric teaspoon

The metric teaspoon as a unit of culinary measure is 5 ml,[16] equal to 5 cm3, 13 UK/Canadian metric tablespoon, or 14 Australian metric tablespoon.[17]

United States customary unit

As a unit of culinary measure, one teaspoon in the United States is 13 tablespoon, exactly 4.92892159375 mL, 1 13 US fluid drams, 16 US fl oz, 148 US cup, 1768 US liquid gallon, or 77256 (0.30078125) cubic inches.

For nutritional labeling and medicine in the US, the teaspoon is defined the same as a metric teaspoonprecisely 5 millilitres (mL).[18]

Dry ingredients

For dry ingredients (e.g., salt, flour, spices), if a recipe calls for a level teaspoon, it refers to an approximately leveled filling of the spoon, producing the same volume as for liquids. A rounded teaspoon is a larger but less precise measure, produced by scooping a larger portion, then lightly tapping the spoon so that the loose ingredient falls away without leveling the ingredient off.* A heaping (North American English) or heaped (UK English) teaspoon is an even larger inexact measure consisting of the amount obtained by scooping the dry ingredient up as high as possible without leveling it off. For some ingredients, e.g. flour, this quantity can vary considerably.

  • This is a clarification of the previous definition of "rounded" teaspoon, which was, in essence, identical to "heaping" teaspoon. Cite - my father's kitchen, my mother's kitchen, and my grandmother's kitchen, and my high school home economics class, all from which and whom I was taught.


As an unofficial but once widely used unit of apothecaries' measure, the teaspoon is equal to 1 fluid dram (or drachm) and thus 14 of a tablespoon or 18 of a fluid ounce.[19][20] The apothecaries' teaspoon was formally known by the Latin cochleare minus (cochl. min.) to distinguish it from the tablespoon or cochleare majus (cochl. maj.).[21][22]

When tea-drinking was first introduced to England circa 1660, tea was rare and expensive, as a consequence of which teacups and teaspoons were smaller than today. This situation persisted until 1784, when the Commutation Act reduced the tax on tea from 119% to 12.5%.[23] As the price of tea declined, the size of teacups and teaspoons increased. By the 1850s, the teaspoon as a unit of culinary measure had increased to 13 of a tablespoon, but the apothecary unit of measure remained the same.[24] Nevertheless, the teaspoon, usually under its Latin name, continued to be used in apothecaries' measures for several more decades, with the original definition of one fluid dram.

See also


  1. Marie O'Toole, ed. (6 June 2013). Mosby's Medical Dictionary, 9th edition. p. 1746. ISBN 978-0323112581.
  2. Charles Sinclair (January 2009). Dictionary of Food: International Food and Cooking Terms from A to Z. ISBN 9781408102183.
  3. "Spoons give wrong medicine doses". NHS UK. 15 July 2010.
  4. T. S. Eliot's poem The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock mentions coffee spoons: "For I have known them all already, known them all: / Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons, / I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;"
  5. Ukers 1935, p. 448.
  6. Pettigrew 2001, p. 37.
  7. Veitgh 1923, p. 121.
  8. "Home : Oxford English Dictionary". oed.com.
  9. "London Gazette Issue 2203 27 December 1686 page 2 'three small gilded Tea Spoons'".
  10. Pettigrew 2001, p. 25.
  11. Pettigrew 2001, p. 84.
  12. Pettigrew 2001, p. 81.
  13. Pettigrew 2001, p. 85.
  14. In German and Dutch, teaspoon is abbreviated TL, for Teelöffel and Theelepel respectively.
  15. Falagas et al. 2010, p. 1185.
  16. 21 CFR (Code of Federal Regulations) 101.9(b)(5)(viii)
  17. "How to Convert Cup to Tablespoon?". Airo. 8 June 2016.
  18. 21CFR101.9(b)(5)(viii) 2 1CFR101.9
  19. Robert Borneman Ludy (1907). Answers to questions prescribed by pharmaceutical state boards. J.J. McVey. p. 125.
  20. Dr. Collins (1803). Practical rules for the management and medical treatment of Negro slaves in the sugar colonies. Printed by J. Barfield, for Vernor and Hood. p. 465.
  21. Alexander Whitelaw, ed. (1884). The popular encyclopedia; or, 'Conversations Lexicon'. p. 11.
  22. Henri Milne-Edwards; Pierre Henri L.D. Vavasseur (1831). A manual of materia medica and pharmacy, from the Fr. of H.M. Edwards and P. Vavasseur, corrected by J. Davies. p. 12.
  23. Tea.co.uk. (2020). UK Tea & Infusions Association  Illicit Tea Trades. [online] Available at: https://www.tea.co.uk/tea-smuggling [Accessed 1 February 2020].
  24. Robert Eglesfeld Griffith (1859). A universal formulary: containing the methods of preparing and administering officinal and other medicines. The whole adapted to physicians and pharmaceutists. H.C. Lea. p. 25.


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