The Exotic Teapot Blog
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Iron Dragons - Tetsubin cast iron kettles
Called tetsubin in Japanese, these heavy, ornate kettles are intricately linked to Japanese culture & history. Centrepieces of the household, these artisan objects were handed down generation to generation: they were central to social life, and the handicraft & care put into making them shows how revered the customs of tea were in early to modern Japan.
I like to think of them as the iron giants of the tea world. They dominate the breakfast table, throwing out heat, pouring out steaming hot tea into your cup --the weight of the pot and the ornate design lending a certain pomp to the occasion (it’s certainly hard to make adding milk to Weetabix as ceremonial).
In order to understand the cultural significance of the cast iron teapot, we need to first look at the invention of sencha tea in Japan.
The relationship between tetsubin and sencha
Tetsubin arose in Japan on the back of a highly significant innovation in tea production: sencha green tea. Green tea was introduced to Japan from China by travelling monks, and was initially only drunk in the form of matcha (powdered tea leaves whisked into hot water).
An elaborate tea ceremony grew up around matcha, called chanoyu, and it was adopted by the ruling military class. The objects used in this ceremony were very expensive & rare, and consequently the tea ceremony became a loci for receiving important guests, conducting business and political negotiations.
Tea even spread to the samurai, and its disciplined rules for serving were valued for focus and meditation. It wasn’t all about strictness however; a thirst for tea parties grew where it was common to compete in tea-naming --imagine drunk samurai hitting quiz show buzzers, but without the buzzers.
Eventually a new way of processing green tea was invented in the 17th century; this method created whole leaf tea that was steeped in water. After plucking, the green tea leaves were steamed to prevent oxidation (the step that differentiates green tea and black tea), creating a fragrant tea that required much less preparation.
All because of a monk - Baisao and the rise of sencha tea
The popularity of sencha was cemented by a nomadic monk nicknamed Baisao (the old tea seller). He would travel the countryside with his tea utensils slung over his back. He only asked people to pay what they could afford for his tea, and the ease of making infused tea lent itself to his trade on the go.
This new method began to spread across Japan. It was also adopted by the intellectual class at the time, in a cultural move against the ruling shogun class where chanoyu was still predominant.
Sencha tea became, to an extent, a tea for the masses. It was drunk informally in households. A range of teaware was developed that was inexpensive compared to the luxury items used for matcha tea. Over time, sencha became the informal cuppa you offered guests who came to visit.
And so the tetsubin was born…
A beverage of such social importance required a new kind of kettle, and so the tetsubin was born. Many believe that the tetsubin were based on copper water kettles in use at the time, but adapted for the new method of infusing tea leaves. Cast iron kettles were originally heated over charcoal or a fire. Some of the iron leached out into the tea and it was realised this improved the flavour, making a sweet fragrant tea.
Choose your unique teapot and let it be your companion
Cast iron teapots are made by pouring molten iron into a mould. This method allows for a huge variety of styles, patterns and symbols. There is a teapot for every taste. Colour can also be applied to the outside relatively easily, further expanding the range of designs.
There is a teapot out there just for you and because they are so hard-wearing, it will accompany you through many years of tea drinking.
Modern production methods
The modern cast iron teapot isn’t strictly speaking a tetsubin (which was almost always used primarily to boil the water), and modern variants have a enamel coating on the inside. This layer spreads the heat out evenly, extracting excellent flavour from the tea but ensuring that it does not damage more delicate teas.
Dedicated craftspeople make our teapots, and there is quality control at every stage. Just enough modern technology has been injected into the process to speed it along, meaning you get a high-end, artisan product at an affordable price.
Modern tetsubin-style cast iron teapots include a steel infuser, that sits in the pot under the lid, preventing tea leaves from travelling down the spout into your cup.
Advantages of cast iron teapots
• They keep the tea warmer for longer
• Heat is distributed evenly, extracting better flavour from the tea
• They are very durable
• They are stunning, aesthetic objects to handle & enjoy
• They give a grandeur to tea making, encouraging you to get the most out of the experience
• Surprise guests when they come for tea, making your own tea ritual with friends & family
• They can be used on a gas stove like a regular kettle
• Because of the enamel lining no iron will leach into the water (although for some this may be considered a disadvantage)
Some of the teapots in our classic tetsubin-style range
Kasumi Cast Iron Teapot
Available in a rich orange, black, or dark emerald this striking teapot has a subdued grace, decorated in just a bold, expressionistic pattern of lines. This teapot is 800ml, enough for four large cups.
Guzu Cast Iron Teapot
A recent addition to our cast iron clan, this grand & stately pot has a copper sheen, giving a slight metallic shine against the otherwise burnished look. This teapot is 600ml, serving 2-3 large cups.
How to look after your teapot
• Clean with warm soapy water, but don’t be abrasive
• The infuser is dishwasher safe
• After it has been washed, pat dry the inside and place it upside down to dry out
• If, after a long period of time, you notice some rust on the outside, don’t worry. This is natural and won’t affect your tea on the inside
• If you want to remove some rust, use a mix of water and vinegar and scrub lightly with steel wool
• Our cast iron teapots can be used on a gas or wood stove but not on an electric hob
• We highly recommend using a trivet to stand your teapot, as they get quite hot during use