Centuries ago, tetsubin were used solely for boiling water.
Nowadays they have gained immense popularity outside of Japan. We find them in many restaurants, cafes, and homes. Not only are these cast iron teapots aesthetically pleasing to the eye, with their simple zen-like form; but they are also great at keeping our tea warm.
What Is A Tetsubin?
A tetsubin is a Japanese cast iron teapot, or more specifically, tea kettle.
Traditionally, in the Japanese tea ceremony, chanoyu, a cousin of the tetsubin, was used to heat water over hot charcoal for the preparation of matcha.
Nowadays, we can often find tetsubin in Japanese homes for brewing casual tea.
Although these words are now often used interchangeably, a tetsubin is not to be confused with a tetsu kyusu. Tetsu kyusu are used only for brewing tea, but not boiling water. Tetsubin are used for boiling water, but not for brewing tea.
How Does A Tetsubin Look?
While all tetsubin are made from cast-iron, they do come in different colors, shapes, sizes, and with different designs.
It can get as small as 0.5 liters and as big as 5 liters. And while black is the most common color, other popular variations are green, brown, red, and blue. All keeping a fairly earthy feel to the color scheme. Both smooth and bumpy are common textures of the tetsubin, while popular designs include dragonflies and bamboo, to name a couple.
Outside of Japan, a more frequently seen variety of the tetsubin is a tetsu kyusu, literally meaning iron teapot. While tetsubin can be used to heat water stovetop, tetsu kyusu cannot. Instead, they have an enamel coating on the inside which makes them a handy teaware item for brewing tea, and easier to take care of. If properly taken care of, tetsu kyusu will last a long time.
The History Of The Japanese Cast Iron Teapot
Although the exact origin of the tetsubin is unknown, they first started appearing during the 16th century, with the growth of sencha. By the 18th century most households started using a tetsubin for heating water. During the 19th century, the craftsmanship of the tetsubin makers began growing. These cast-iron kettles slowly started becoming collection pieces with quite spectacular designs!
During the 19th century, tetsubin were a symbol of status, more so than a functional household item.
Why Use A Tetsubin?
It is believed that not only does the iron material of the teapot enrich the water, but also the properties help to smooth the taste of the water. This makes it perfect for brewing delicate Japanese teas. Additionally, the tea's after-taste becomes more prominent and sweet. If you happen to own a tetsubin, try the water boiled in it side by side with regular boiled water. Do you notice the difference?
Although we can brew any type of tea in a tetsu kyusu, we particularly enjoy brewing Japanese teas. One of the best features of cast-iron teapots is their heat-retaining quality. For this purpose, we mainly prefer using our tetsu kyusu during the colder weather, especially when brewing up some roasted green tea — hojicha!
How To Brew Tea In A Japanese Cast Iron Teapot:
Note: Traditionally, tetsubin are used only for boiling water, while a tetsu kyusu is good for brewing tea.
- Pre-rinse your tetsu kyusu using hot water
- Fill the tea strainer with your desired tea
*When using a tea strainer, we always recommend using fewer tea leaves as to not over-pack it. This allows for the tea leaves to have adequate space to expand.
- Pour the hot water into the teapot and steep as per the tea's instructions
- Remove the strainer with tea once it has brewed
- Repeat as many times as the tea leaves can withstand
- Once finished, rinse the teapot using warm water and carefully dry with a dry cloth or towel.
How To Use A Cast Iron Teapot: Tips
- Rinse your kettle with cool water after purchase, then boil water inside several times until it runs clean.
Can you use a cast iron teapot stovetop?
Tetsubin should be used over gas stoves or open fire and are not suitable for electric stoves.
- Once the water boils carefully slide the lid open using a towel or oven mitt to avoid getting burned.
*The steps above are specific to cast-iron kettles without an enamel coating. Tetsu kyusu, on the other hand, require less care. Furthermore, they should never be used over a fire. Please skip the above steps if you have an enamel-coated cast-iron teapot.
- Don't pour cold water immediately into a tetsubin that just had hot water in it, or one that is still hot. This will cause damage and possible cracking. It is the case with all teapots.
- Don't leave water sitting in a tetsubin for long periods and dry the outside immediately after use, to prevent rusting. Always use a dry cloth. If storing away, make extra sure that the inside is dry!
- If you haven't been using the tetsubin for a long time, make sure to repeat step one of these instructions carefully. Same goes for a newly purchased antique cast iron teapot.
- As with any teapot, refrain from using any soaps or detergents.