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 hung in the hearth on iron chains and were intended for household needs.
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 the designs and shapes became more intricate and costly. The sizes of the kettles became smaller, too, and more artistic in feeling.
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.
Making a Tetsubin:
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 two advantages.
1. It allows the kettle to be placed directly over a flame or heat source (do not do this with a teapot).
2. 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.
3. Asian tea enthusiasts who use the Chinese philosophical system of the traditional five elements - Wood, Water, Fire, Earth and Metal - in tea-making use a cast iron Tetsubin for boiling water and an Yixing teapot for steeping. For information on this and Tetsubin in general please click here to read what our friend WuDe has to say.
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 of the total capacity of the kettle. The reason for this is the design of the kettle - the spout has a mid-level placement and if the kettle is over-filled 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.
History of Tetsubin:
In Iwate Prefecture, located in north-east Japan, the area around Morioka and Mizusawa City have been producing traditional ironware since the Edo period (1603-1868). Production of ironware is thought to have begun in Morioka City at the end of the 17th century, when craftsmen who came from Kyoto started producing ironware such as teakettles, weapons, and temple bells.
Casting in Mizusawa, on the other hand, is said to have originated in the 12th century for items used in Buddhist ceremonies and military armor. Two factors led to the development of metalworking in both places: production materials for metal casting were locally available, including metal ores, good quality clay, and charcoal; and the industry received protection during the Edo period. The name Nambu Tekki was applied to the products of both centers in approximately 1960. Nambu Tekki ironware was designated a traditional craft by the Japanese government in 1975.
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) 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 '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, rust will minimize. 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