Tetsubin – Japanese Cast Iron Teapots for Green Tea

Japan Finds - Japan Culture and Travel Guide

Tue 2012/10/2 0:35 JST



tetsubin japanese cast iron teapot

Japanese Cast Iron Teapots, known as “Tetsubin” (鉄瓶) in Japan, were first made in the mid 1600s to prepare the full leaf Sencha (煎茶) green tea that quickly became popular at the time.

The Japanese were more accustomed to Matcha (抹茶), a powdered form of Japanese green tea that dissolves in hot water and does not require steeping. Tetsubin continued to evolve in shape, size and color throughout the 1700s through the 1800s as Sencha became the most widely drank green tea in Japan.

Due to their elaborate preparation and premium cost, Tetsubin became status symbols featuring intricate and symbolic designs. The Japanese believed that Tetsubin conveyed a Zen-like quality of tranquility and awakening for the traditional tea drinking ritual.

In present day Japan, Tetsubin are admired and collected not only for their beauty, but also for their ability to brew the perfect pot of Japanese green tea. Crafted by the oldest, most acclaimed iron producers in Japan, the perfect Tetsubin is distinguished by a hand-crafted, high grade iron exterior and a smooth enamel interior.

Simply making one Tetsubin requires the skill and work of 17 craftsmen! The traditional Japanese technique of Tatara () casting, dating back over a thousand years is a unique process where akome (iron sand) charcoal are placed in a Tatara and burned for many days creating a different kind of iron composition (zuku-oshi), one that has a unique texture unlike traditional cast iron pots.

tetsubin

The Tatara is defined as both the furnace box use for casting and the refined molten iron used to make tea pots. The person overseeing the furnace, called “murage”, gives precise directions over many days and nights, introducing more iron sand and charcoal and controlling the speed of the bellows to keep the furnace conditions stable.

Following ancient tradition, on the first day the flames should burn with the color of the rising sun. By the second, flames burn with the color of the middle day sun; and by the third day, the color matches the sun sinking behind the western mountains.

Considered to be the very best pots used for Japanese green tea, Tetsubin cast iron keeps tea hot for an extended period of time. Their designs have unique symbolic meanings that share core eastern philosophies and can become family emblems to pass on from generation to generation. The Japanese use traditional bamboo utensils with Tetsubin because the bamboo does not damage the beautiful enamel finish on the cast iron.

With certain colored Tetsubin, slight color transference is expected and normal. With use, the tea and water will form a mineral layer, and health benefits and enhancing the wonderful flavor of high quality loose leaf tea. If properly cared for, Tetsubin Japanese teapots can be enjoyed for a lifetime.

tetsubin

Basic Directions For Use

Before you make your green tea, wash the inside of the pot with mild soap, hot water and a soft sponge. Don’t wash the outside however, and let it air dry.

Avoid getting any salt or oil on it. These will severely damage the finish on the outside of the pot. Unfortunately, if oil stains the pot it can’t be removed.

To brew your pot of Japanese green tea, preheat your teapot by pouring boiling water in the pot and swirling it around. Then, discard this water.

Next, add your Sencha tea leaves to the pot. This can be done either into a mesh basket or directly into the pot itself.

Pour hot to boiling water over the leaves and allow it to steep for the desired amount of time depending on the type of teat your brewing. Usually, this is 30 seconds to 2 minutes for green tea, 3 to 5 minutes for black tea, and anywhere from 2 to 7 minutes for oolong tea. This will also depend on the size and type of tea leaf you’re using as well.

I’d recommend that you follow the instructions provided by the tea supplier first, and then adjust to your taste with later brews.

As soon as your tea is done steeping, remove the mesh basket. If you didn’t use a strainer, then decant all of your brewed tea into another pot. It’s very important that you don’t allow the tea leaves to remain in the water or the tea leaves and the remaining brewed tea will be completely ruined. Depending on the type of tea you’re brewing and your own personal taste, you might enjoy steeping the tea leaves multiple times.

Once you’re finished brewing your tea in the Tetsubin, you simply wipe the teapot with a dry towel, both inside and out. You should try and do this while the pot is still warm. May sure you dry the pot thoroughly. Rust will form if the Tetsubin is not completely dry, both inside and out.

Following its initial cleaning, never use soap to wash your Tetsubin. Instead, simply rinse your cast iron teapot with hot water if necessary. After wiping with a dry towel, let each piece air dry separately to further prevent rusting. Reassemble the Tetsubin only when you’re sure that it’s completely dry.

Tea residue will naturally build up overtime, but this isn’t harmful to you in any way. This natural mineral layer, called a “patina”, will gradually develop on the inside of your Tetsubin. The Japanese consider this to be especially beneficial for your health and the flavor of the tea.

Make sure that you do not use the teapot on a stove or in a microwave to warm up or boil water. In addition, don’t let the teapot soak in water and do not run it through the dishwasher. You shouldn’t let water, wet leaves or the wet strainer to sit in the teapot overnight, as this can cause rust.

Japanese Tea Ceremony

My Tetsubin Philosophy

To me, Tetsubin is the symbol of the ritualistic Japanese Tea Ceremony. Throughout the various ceremonies that I’ve witnessed, there was always an overwhelming feeling of peace, focus, spirituality and tranquility.

Modern life has become rather rushed wouldn’t you say? Moving from one appointment to the next, one email to the next, checking off items on our endless “things-to-do” list, until our days become nothing but a blur.

I find using a Tetsubin for preparing tea to be the perfect medium for helping me slow down and return to the natural rhythm of life.

So when things become very stressful in my daily life, I pause. I place some loose, whole-leaf Japanese green tea into my Tetsubin. As I pour the boiling water into the cast iron teapot, I take a moment to enjoy the sight of the consistency of the leaves, hand-picked by farmers from small farms in Japan, and finally breathe in the leaves to evoke their fragrance. I then focus my breathing as the tea steeps for about half a minute.

This is my short moment of meditation. Next, I pour the slightly steeped tea into my small, personal tea cup. I meditate shortly on the color, texture, and smell of the tea.

I take a sip. The first taste is always a revelation for me, as if the rushed world fades away. My tongue washes in the warmth of the tea, carrying flavors that began their journey in the earth, thousands of miles away in a country that has been doing this for centuries.

Then I rest, breath and then take another sip.

This is my Tetsubin philosophy.

tetsubin

Although the Tetsubin play a very small role with Japanese tea ceremonies, they are still charming and interesting pieces in themselves. The detail and shapes engraved on the Tetsubin are beautiful in their minimalism. Not only are they aesthetically pleasing, but they also represent an important part of Japanese culture that captures the spirit of the moment shared by friends and family when drinking tea.

So how about you?

Are you a Tea enthusiast? How do you prepare your tea? What are some of your favorite blends and flavors of tea?

Leave your responses below and as always, thank you for sharing your time with me.