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  • Japanese Tea Pots Demystified. Your Questions explained

    Japanese Tea Pots Demystified. Your Questions explained

    A guide to understanding the Japanese tradition of Kyusu making

    I receive several emails a week from customers asking about Japanese tea pots. I thought it might be helpful to compile the list here and this could function as a handy reference for those shopping for a new or for those who already own one and may have questions about care.

    The ceramic traditions of Japan are deep and there are many different styles and materials used to make traditional Japanese tea pots. Shapes, sizes, and colors may differ but most Japanese tea pots share the fact that they are made from clay. Clay is a wonderful material for a tea pot. It comes from a renewable source, is sturdy, light, and can tolerate very high water.

    What are those side handled pots?

    One of the most often asked questions We receive in our Brooklyn gallery space is “what are those side handled pots?” They are of course referring to a Kyusu - the famous side handled tea pots used throughout Japan. While Japan has a storied history of creating world class tea pots in varying shapes and sizes as well, the side handled style is the most quintessential/.

    The handle on Kyusus is generally hollow and placed at a slight angle to allow for unencumbered pouring. Pouring with a handle placed at the side allows your wrist to turn ergonomically After trying it, it just feels natural!

    Where is Tokoname and why is it so popular for making Japanese tea pots?

    Tokoname, a small town in Aichi Prefecture, produces the majority of Japanese tea pots - many in the orangeish iron rich clay of the area. Tokoname has a rich history of ceramics that dates back to the Heian Period (794-1185). Even from this early period, Tokoname produced an immense amount of pottery eclipsing many of the older more established pottery towns. But it wasn’t until the Edo Period (1868-1912) that teaware became a popular item made in Tokoname.

    Today, Tokoname is the teapot capital of Japan. Known for its Shudei style of clay which is bright reddish orange due to high levels of iron. The majority of the kyusu made in Tokoname are unglazed and fired only in electric kilns. Balance and precision are the defining characteristic of tea pots from this region. To the untrained eye, it can seem inconceivable that these perfectly crafted teapots could be made by hand. In fact, the highest caliber kyusu are indeed 100% hand crafted.

    Japanese tea pots seem kind of small. Why is that?

    Japanese tea pots can range in size but the most popular range is about 5-9oz (150-266cc). A serving of tea in Japan is often smaller than the mug sized servings we are used to in the west and smaller pots allow for a level of balance and control that can be difficult to attain as water is added to the tea pot. The more water, the heavier the pot becomes and it can be most stressful to pour. So keeping the pot size a bit smaller means an easier pour. Also, Japanese tea can be rebrewed so making several smaller servings and savoring the flavor is a wonderful way to experience the nuances of Japanese tea. I generally drink between 180-250cc as a single portion of tea - So I love a Kyusu in the 250-266cc range. And for Gyokuro, I like a smaller 120cc capacity Kyusu.

    Can I use my tea pot to brew any kind of tea?

    Japanese tea pots made from unglazed clay are mildly porous and can absorb flavors and aromas from the tea brewed in them. Because of that, it is a good idea to stick to a common style of tea for each teapot. To be honest, the biggest thing to avoid is flavored or scented teas like Jasmine or herbal blends. The fragrance can be absorbed by the Kyusu and easily stick around long after you have cleaned your tea pot. Soon enough your Sencha or Houjicha will have notes of Jasmine - not a great combination in our opinion.

    What do you recommend for brewing Gyokuro?

    A serving of Gyokuro (often to people's surprise) is much smaller than other type of Japanese tea. A single serving can range from 30-90cc. Because of that, smaller or delicate tea pots are often used. While you can make Gyokuro in a normal sized kyusu, it is a nice ritual to have a separate piece that you can bring out to brew the good stuff. In addition to a small kyusu, another popular style is a Shiboridashi. Shiboridashi function almost exactly like a Chinese Gaiwan and is more or less a small bowl with a spout and a lid which acts to catch the leaves. No filter is involved. This style of teapot really only works with light steamed, larger leaf teas and does require some getting used to. But once you have the hang of it, it is a meditative vessel and is such a pleasure to use. Our takeaway is to find something you really connect with and find a pleasure to use and then use it everyday.

    Can I put my tea pot on the stove?

    No, you can’t. Japanese ceramic teapots are meant to brew tea, not boil water. When they are heated directly they will crack. Instead, use a Tetsubin. Tetsubin are cast iron kettles that are meant to be heated over charcoal, electric burners or indirect flame. True tetsubin generally hold a liter or more of water and differ from the small (often made in China) cast iron tea pots with the removable brew baskets. The inside of the Tetsubin is almost always raw with no sealant where as the small cast iron brewing tea pots have a shiny lacquer applied. While ideal for boiling water, we do not recommend brewing your tea in cast iron as they tend to hold too much heat. But true cast iron Tetusbin are wonderful for boiling water and even have a positive impact on the flavor of the tea brewed tea made after being boiled in them.

    How should I clean my Japanese teapot?

    Ceramic Japanese tea pots require nothing more than hot water and your hands. We recommend rinsing out your leaves when you are finished (try to avoid leaving the wet leaf to sit in the teapot overnight). Rinse your teapot well with warm water and use your hand to remove any small particles that may be hiding in there. Teapots with wider lids are easier to clean - so keep that in mind. If you find your strainer is blocked from leaf particles, use a water pick or tooth to remove them carefully. Always rest your kyusu upside down on a towel with the lid off to let it dry.

    Making great Japanese tea requires a great tea pot. If you are just getting into Japanese tea or already an aficionado, you can get the most out of your teas by using a Japanese teapot. If you are in the market for a piece, take a look at our lineup of Japanese Teapots here.