Historically, tetsubin with bronze lids were used by tea ceremony masters and are viewed as high-quality tetsubin. The knob on the bronze lid of a Kogecha Tsutsuhan is in the shape of an ume (plum blossom) that represents beauty and life. Grasp the ume and you will discover that it turns on the lid, a little bit of whimsey in an otherwise breathtakingly austere piece. The use of a bronze lid instead of iron serves to convey a different image and sets this kettle apart from other lid combinations of iron & silver and iron & ceramic. This water kettle is made by KIYOSUYE, a name derived from a combination of characters used in the name of the founder of Iwachu, Iwashimizu Suyekichi. It is given to those artists of the highest caliber who have worked for Iwachu. The given name of the artist who cast this kettle is Mizusawa Shigeki, who is the 3rd person to receive the Kiyosuye name. This water kettle is a lovely, soothing moss brown color. It is beautiful without being flashy or ostentatious – however, it certainly makes a statement!
The production process of crafting tetsubin consists of 64 to 68 steps. Most of this is still done by hand and quality is strictly maintained and controlled by master craftsmen known as “Kamashi”. It requires at least 15 years of apprenticeship to become a full-fledged craftsman and 30 – 40 years to become a “Kamashi”
Using A Tetsubin Water Kettle:
Tetsubin water kettles are different than Tetsubin cast-iron teapots, although the teapots evoke the spirit of the kettles. This is an authentic Japanese tesubin made for the Japanese market – as such it is not enamel lined on the inside as export kettles sometime are (and premium Japanese tetsubin teapots always are). In Japan, the viewpoint is that an iron interior has several advantages.
- It allows the kettle to be placed directly over a flame or other direct heat source (do not do this with a teapot).
- Heating water in an un-lined Tetsubin will enhance the taste of the water, which in turn will pleasantly affect the taste of tea steeped with this water. You may notice that tea steeped with this water has a more well-rounded, softer, and long-lasting flavor. This is due to the affinity between the water molecules and the iron in the kettle, which, when bonded together, gives the water a viscosity and flavor from the interaction of the minerals in the water with the iron. Of course, the results will vary depending on the composition of the water that you use, so you may wish to experiment with different waters to find the best one for this ‘marriage’ with your kettle.
- Asian tea enthusiasts who follow the Chinese philosophical system of the five traditional elements – Wood, Water, Fire, Earth, and Metal – when making tea often use a cast iron Tetsubin for boiling water and an Yixing or other high density, unglazed teapot for steeping.
Despite the over-all large size of these water kettles, the internal fill-line for the cold water is the middle or top of the water spout hole, which is easily seen by looking into the kettle. This is generally about one-half the total capacity of the kette. The reason for this is the design of the kettle – the spout has a mid-level placement and if the kettle is filled to more than a certain level, it will spill water from the lid while pouring. We have measured these kettles to confirm the recommended water capacity, but please experiment with this on your own (with cold water) so you can see what we mean.
Caring for Your Tetsubin:
A Tetsubin water kettle is a valued item of status in Japanese tea culture and incorporates traditional hand-labor skills with modern technology to create an object of lifelong beauty and utility. Here are some tips to treat your kettle well. Do not leave water standing in the kettle – pour off any water remaining in the kettle and use a soft cloth to dry the interior. Set the kettle aside (without the lid on) to finish air drying. Do not ‘scrub’ the inside of the pot with anything abrasive such as a scrubby pad or salt (and certainly do not rub cooking oil on the interior of the pot as one might do to help ‘cure’ a cast iron skillet). An un-lined cast iron Tetsubin will develop rust and mineral buildup. This is to be expected and is considered by many to be the reason why the water in a Tetsubin tastes so good. If you want to keep rust spots to a minimum, simply wipe them off with a wet cloth. As the inside of the kettle develops a mineral-based patina, future rusting will be minimized. Where rust does develop in the spout, wiping it off with a damp cloth and then rubbing the rusted area with already-steeped tea leaves will keep the rust at bay. Our Asian colleagues tell us that as long as the water from the kettle runs clear there is no problem. Do not heat the kettle without water inside and apply only low-to-medium heat to the kettle.