The Japanese Tetsubin Teapot Both Stylish and Functional

The original Japanese tetsubin was basically a large iron kettle used to heat
water for brewing tea, much the same as we use a tea kettle today.  No one is
sure exactly when the tetsubin was created, but it’s believed to be in the mid-
1700’s when a form of tea-drinking called sencha  became popular, which used
tea leaves to brew with rather than powdered tea.

China introduced sencha tea-
drinking to Japan in the mid 1700’s, a time in
which Japan’s literati – their distinguished
writers and scholars, were most influenced
by China’s ways, as well as by Neo Confuc-
ian thought.
Because sencha tea-drinking used tea
leaves during brewing, in a more relaxed and
informal setting rather than the

tea used in Chanoyu, the traditional formal
Japanese tea ceremony the literati viewed
their sencha drinking as a sort of symbolic
revolt against the formal Chanoyu, in favor
by the ruling class during that time.

During the 18th century more and more regular, ordinary Japanese townspeople took up sencha
tea drinking, and eventually it turned into a relaxed, comfortable time for sharing a cup of tea
among family and friends.
However, the tea utensils used by the Chinese during their
original sencha tea ceremony still remained out of reach, being
too rare and expensive for most regular Japanese folk to afford.

This created a need for less expensive

tea tools to use in place
of the expensive Chinese pieces, which eventually led to the
creation of the tetsubin.
No one is sure by whom, or when exactly the
tetsubin was created, but it’s believed to
have come from the imagination and design
of several teakettles already in use.  There
are five such water kettles identified as com-
ing before the tetsubin: the tedorikama, the
toyama (sake warmers), mizusosogi, dobin,
and the yakkan.

The yakkan is believed to be the closest rela-
tive to the tetsubin as it’s the most similar in
size and shape, with the only main difference
being that it’s made of copper rather than iron.
So the assumption is, that because water boil-
ed in iron tastes much better, the re-
designed iron tetsubin replaced the copper yakkan.

Another clue to the tetsubin and yakkan’s close connect-
ion has to do with the ornamentation.  On the tetsubin
the side with the ornamentation is usually the one with
the spout facing right.  The reason for this is in sencha
the tetsubin is held in the right hand, where in Chanoyu
it’s held in the left hand.  The yakkan is also held in the
right hand, showing further proof that the tetsubin and
yakkan are closely related.

The tetsubin continued to be an ordinary household tool throughout
the 18th century, used to heat water for

brewing tea, and sometimes
even used for warmth to chase away a bit of chill.  But at the same
time it underwent design and style changes, with designs ranging
from very simple and minimal, to elaborate, elegant designs.
The more intricate the tetsubin, the higher the price.  Even though
not intended to be a class or status symbol in the beginning, through-
out the 18th century the style and design of tetsubin became a reflec-
tion of one’s class or desired class, symbolizing the status of the own-
er.  Several different classes of tetsubin existed, starting with the
kitchen kettle, rural kettle, standard kettle, and at the top, the ornamental tetsubin

Even though tetsubin were originally intended for sencha
drinking and considered to be an ordinary household
tool, at times they still held a small role in Chanoyu, the
Japanese tea ceremony.

The most important of these occassions is ryakubon, the
very first ceremonial setting a host learns.  Ryakubon is a
relatively simple ceremony, requiring minimal tea tools
and equipment, one of which is the tetsubin to heat the water for preparing the tea.

The tetsubin is used when Chanoyu is held outdoors, in
place of a chagama, because the tetsubin is smaller, has a
handle with which to carry it, and a spout to pour, neither
of which the chagama has.

With the chagama the water must be ladled with a hishaku.  Another ceremony, called
kaiseki, also uses tetsubin.  Kaiseki is a light meal served to guests before Chanoyu.

By the mid 19th century tetsubin had become a status symbol of the elite for serving tea, with the design becoming
more slender, sleek, and artistic.  Today, companies such as Kunsan, Nambu, and Iwachu in Japan’s Iwate prefecture
are producing beautiful tetsubin teapots, along with artisan iron workers in Yamagata prefecture who are also
producing lovely, stylish pots.

These new tetsubin lean toward function as well as beauty with interior enamel
coating, and added stainless steel infusers.  New contemporary colors and sleek
new designs join the traditional tetsubin kettles, along with iron tea cups and heat
proof trivets.  Enjoy.

                                                     (Visit The Tea Detective’s Gift of Tea Store – teapot category, to find the perfect
teapot or tea kettle – from ornamental and decorative to totally utilitarian, such as
La Creuset tea kettles.  You’ll also find Yixing teapots, Brown Betty, cast iron, and
tetsubin styles, along with electric and one-cup Keurig brewers, like the popular B30, Tassimo, Melitta, and more.)