Once drinking Japanese green tea was reserved only for the Emperors, noblemen, and samurai. Nowadays, Japanese green tea is enjoyed in households all throughout Japan. The kyusu is used all through Japan for the convenience of brewing Japanese green teas like sencha, genmaicha, and gyokuro. It is an iconic part of modern Japanese tea drinking culture.
What Is A Kyusu Teapot?
A kyusu is a traditional Japanese teapot made of clay. Its iconic characteristic is that it has one side handle. Although kyusu refers to all teapots in Japan, the term refers to Japanese side-handled teapots in the West. While an authentic Japanese teapot (kyusu) is made from high-quality clay, it is not uncommon to see some variations—notably, porcelain and glass kyusu. Porcelain ones are usually used for tea tastings.
A standard kyusu is slightly smaller than the average western teapot. It can be anywhere from 100 - 300 ml, although slightly larger ones are often used for serving Japanese tea to guests.
A traditional kyusu has a handle located at a 90-degree angle from the spout, although variations are not uncommon. It is believed that kyusu, compared to western teapots of the same size, are much easier to handle and are more gentle on the wrists of the person serving tea.
One unique characteristic of a kyusu teapot is that during firing, the lid is always fired together with the teapot. This makes finding a replacement for a broken lid nearly impossible.
While the body is made from quality clay, the inside is often lined with a fine mesh strainer (either removable or built-in). This is crucial for brewing Japanese green teas, because of how fine the lea leaves are. The tea is brewed directly in the teapot with every last drop of tea being decanted, to prevent over-steeping.
While the kyusu teapot was initially brought to Japan from China, it indeed saw its growth and evolution in Japan. With the gradual popularization of sencha over traditional matcha green tea, many households started owning their own kyusu teapots. They could afford to drink green tea leisurely at home, which was unheard of in the era of matcha.
Kyusu teapots originated in China during the Song Dynasty (960-1279).
Nowadays, most Japanese households own a kyusu for drinking Japanese green teas after dinner or throughout the day.
Sencha was popularized in the 18th century by a poet and monk named Baisao. Baisao was known for leaving the temple and selling tea around Kyoto. His name translates as "old tea seller." He is regarded as the first Senchado master.
Read more: History of Senchado - The Way of Sencha
Much like Yixing clay teapots, some kyusu teapots are unglazed or otherwise glazed using a very thin coat of clear glaze. As such, much importance is put on the type of clay used for crafting the kyusu. Various clay types that are rich in iron, zinc, copper, or manganese are favored. While brewing the tea leaves directly in the kyusu teapot, the mineral-rich clay has a direct effect on how the tea will turn out. Usually, the clay will soften the tea, removing unwanted bitter notes, and making it sweet and smooth. Japanese green tea enthusiasts can often tell how the clay of a specific region of Japan will affect the tea's final taste and make their purchase based on this knowledge. The clay also brings out the tea's gentle aroma during brewing.
The two most popular types of clay for kyusu teapots are Banko from Yokkaichi, Mie prefecture, and Tokoname from Tokoname, Aichi prefecture.
The Yamada family, from Tokoname, is regarded as the most notable potter family producing kyusu in Japan. Yamada Jozan III (1924-2005) was named a Living National Treasure in 1998. Making handmade kyusu teapots is not an easy trade in pottery, and kyusu artisans are highly respected throughout Japan.
Which Tea Can Be Brewed In A Kyusu Teapot?
It is most common to brew Japanese sencha green tea in a kyusu. However, kyusu are also ideal for brewing other Japanese green tea varieties like genamicha, gyokuro, shincha, and hojicha. Because the clay absorbs the tea aroma, flavors, and the tea's oils, we recommend sticking to one type. For example, dedicating your kyusu teapot only to Japanese green teas is a good start. Even roasted green teas like hojicha may impart a new flavor if you are used to brewing sencha in the kyusu.
How To Brew Tea Using A Japanese Kyusu Teapot
The following instructions are for sencha green tea. To brew other tea types, make sure to adjust the amount of tea leaves, water temperature, and brewing time.
- Prepare 0.5 grams of sencha for every 1 oz/30ml of water, place them directly in the kyusu
- Heat water in a tea kettle to 175℉ / 80℃
- Brew the sencha for 1 minute, for the first infusion
*make sure to decant every last drop of tea to prevent the tea leaves from over-brewing
- For the second infusion steep the tea for 30 seconds
- Add 15 seconds to every subsequent infusion (Japanese green teas can usually be brewed 3 - 5 times)