Exemplary craftsmanship is the hallmark of Japanese tetsubin – cast iron water kettles and teapots. Tetsubin originated in Japan as pot- bellied, cast iron water kettles with handles and spouts. Tetsubin hang in the hearth on iron chains and are intended for household needs. (Tetsubin are different than chagama, the handle-less, spout-less water kettles used in the Japanese tea ceremony).
Tetsubin have been ‘faithful servants’ to emperors, scholars, artists, and tea connoisseurs for hundreds of years. Historically, these water kettles feature simple designs that underscore their functional nature. Eventually the kettles became a status symbol among the elite classes, and their designs and shapes became more intricate and costly. The sizes of the kettles became smaller, too, and more artistic in feeling.
Tetsubin water kettles are different than Tetsubin cast iron teapots, although the teapots evoke the spirit of the kettles. Water kettles are not lined with enamel on the inside, and can be placed directly over a flame or heat source. Their intended purpose is for boiling water. They are not suitable for steeping tea.
Alternatively, Japanese tesubin teapots have an enamel-lined interior, and are made for the purpose of steeping tea, not heating water. Cast iron teapots usually have removable mesh filter baskets rather than a leaf-catching ‘cage’ where the spout meets the body of the teapot, and, due to the enamel lining, they can be used for steeping all types of tea.