If you are anything like I used to be, you might be brewing every type of tea you drink in a single teapot. Black, oolong, green, white, you name it. Everything goes, everything works. Over the years, however, I came to realize how important using the right teapot to brew tea really is.
As an example, if you are using an unglazed teapot to brew every type of tea out there, you might come to realize that the taste of your brews has changed over time. But the teas you are using & the teapot are exactly the same ones. So what changed? It's is fairly simple, the unglazed material is porous & absorbs some of the essential oils released by the tea leaves during the brewing process. As a result, the tea liquor you are obtaining might have been tainted with aromas & scents from other teas you have been brewing using the same pot. Who knew?
This is one of the reasons to keep a dedicated teapot for every single type of tea, or at least, for every single group of teas you are brewing. It ensures that tea flavours don't mix or get affected by any foreign scents. It is even more important for Chinese tea brewing since they present a wider range of flavour profiles.
What types of teapots are there? If we have a look at the number of teapots & styles that exist for Gong Fu Cha brewing, we will feel overwhelmed straight away. My impression is that there are more teapots than types of teas. But no one knows for certain how many types of tea there are in China, maybe there are as many teapots as types of teas. For Japanese tea brewing, however, there are six main types of teapots we can choose from depending on the needs of the type of tea we want to brew. Of course, there are also numerous models, styles, materials, glazings & manufacturers, yet they are fairly easy to classify by their type.
Kyuusu/kyūsu (急須): also written as kyusu outside Japan. While many use this term to refer to the side handle teapot, the truth is this word translates just as a teapot. So any Japanese teapot is a kyuusu. Yokode kyūsu (横手急須 ): the most well known & possibly common model of a Japanese teapot, the side handled teapot. They usually have a lid, however, there are some models known as open teapot which doesn't.
An interesting fact that many of you might not know about is that side-handed teapots can be found specifically made for the right or left-handed. So if you are left-handed & wondering if such a thing exists now you know. I am thinking about bringing some to the shop. Stay tuned! Ushirode kyūsu (後手急須): a teapot with a back handle similar to other teapots that can be found outside Japan. Uwade kyūsu or dobin (上手急須,- 土瓶): a teapot with a top handle. There is even a Japanese silver version of it that looks quite luxurious. Houhin (宝瓶): a teapot without a handle that resembles the gaiwan used in Gong Fu Cha brewing. Shiboridashi (搾り出し): while considered a variation of the hohin, the shiborisahi can sometimes have a handle & therefore I chose to place it separately from the houhin category.
Tetsu Kyuusu (鉄急須): not to be mistaken with a tetsubin (鉄瓶) which is a cast-iron kettle, not a teapot. What type of tea are they used for?
Side handle kyuusu: used to brew green teas in general, sencha in particular since it makes it easy for the hosts to pour tea to their guests that usually sit opposite to them on the tatami mat. This type of teapot was specifically designed to make tea pouring in small amounts more efficient. Japanese teas are poured evenly on each tea vessel in order to ensure a homogeneous flavour for all guests.
Back handle kyuusu: adapted from the Chinese teapot of this type, can be used to brew any type of tea. However, it is mainly used to brew teas from China or from any other countries.
Top Handle kyuusu: the handle is made of a different material such as bamboo. Generally chosen when brewing houjicha, bancha, wakoucha, post-fermented teas or if you have a large number of guests to serve tea to.
Houhin or shiboridashi kyuusu: mainly reserved for top quality teas such as gyokuro or kabusecha. They allow fast pouring which helps to be more precise when brewing high-quality teas like for example gyokuro. Since gyokuro is brewed at a lower temperature than other types of high-quality Japanese teas, there is no need for a handle.
Iron cast teapot: widely used outside Japan, I have seen really stylish ones used being used at certain cafés in Japan. They are good to brew teas that can handle lots of heat like white, black, bancha, post-fermented, houjicha... Are all the materials safe & suitable for brewing tea? Water is a solvent, at high temperatures, it interacts with the material the teapot is made of, This is the reason why it is really important to ensure that the materials used to manufacture the teapots (or the tea vessels) don't contain harmful substances such as lead, paints, lacquers that will be released during the brewing process.
Porcelain & glass are considered the safest materials for tea brewing. Unglazed clay might contain a certain type of minerals that might help to improve the overall flavour of the brew. It all depends on the material, the mineral content, the type of tea, the quality of water, the quality of the tea as well as the temperature used to brew the tea. As you can see there are a number of factors to be taken into account.
Metallic teapots are traditionally valued for their ionic interactions, silver teapots are believed to help to purify the water, whereas copper is appreciated for its antibacterial properties. In fact, sometimes pieces of copper are used when fermenting (pickling) certain types of food during long periods of time. While iron is believed to also purify the water, the iron teapots should be vitrified otherwise they will become rusty & could release potentially harmful substances into the brew.
Said that knowing the origin of the teapot you are using will help you to determine if the teapot is safe for tea brewing or not at all.
I will not be talking about tea brewing per se in this article or the chemical reactions involved in this process since I am planning to write an extensive article on the matter together with a tea friend who comes from a scientific background. Are there any recommended regions to get tea implements from? There are six kilns in Japan which are considered the most important, Tokoname, Bizen, Echizen, Seto, Shigaraki & Tanba. They are all part of the six ancient kilns group. Tokoname yaki (常滑市): produced in the Tokoname province in Aichi Prefecture. It has been at the centre of pottery manufacturing in Japan for centuries. Tokoname used to produce the largest amount of ceramic goods during the Edo period. Its signature ware is of a red colour & its teapots are easily recognized due to their characteristic manufacturing style. Not only teapots are produced in Tokoname but also, tea vessels, chasen holders & all kinds of pottery goods. Tokoname remains as the largest manufacturer of Maneki Neko figurines & it is worth a visit for those who love tea & tea pottery alike. Bizen yaki (備前焼): used to be produced in Bizen province in Okayama Prefecture, also known as Imbe or Inbe ware due to the name of the most prominent manufacturing village. Bizen craft almost disappeared during the 19th Century, however, the artist Kaneshige Toyo from Okayama, helped to preserve the craft & avoided its extinction. In 1982 the Japanese government designated Bizen yaki as a traditional craft which helped to preserve it up to this day.
As with Tokoname, Bizen yaki doesn't only refer to teapots or tea vessels, but a number of pottery items such as vases, mugs, saucers... Bizen style has a characteristic look rustic, unglazed, raw & earthen-like. Echizen yaki (越前焼): produced in the provinces of Echizen, Odacho & Miyazaki in Fukui Prefecture. With an outstanding pottery-making tradition of 850 years, Echizen used to be the largest pottery producing area from the Hokuriku region. While there was a time when Echizen wares weren't prominent, they have managed to preserve the craft up to this day.
As with Bizen & Tokoname, they also produce a number of pottery goods, such as bowls, trays, soy sauce & sake jars among other things. Their wares look a bit raw, cracked, irregular, glazed or unglazed.
Seto yaki (瀬戸焼): produced in Seto province in the Aichi Prefecture, has been in production since the 13th century. It uses a number of glazes which is a characteristic of some of the chawan used for tea ceremony. Shino & Oribe are good examples of the glaze types used in the Seto ware production. Many of the utensils used in tea ceremony are made in Seto using its characteristic glazing style. Shigaraki yaki (信楽焼): a type of stoneware made in the Shigaraki area. The Shigaraki craft has gone through a number of transformations since Medieval times, a number of products made in a similar geographical area are part of this group. It is believed that Bizen potters travelled to the area & this is when Shigaraki ware production begun.
If you have visited Japan you might have noticed giant tanuki sculptures placed in a number of locations. They are produced in Shigaraki. Tanba yaki (丹波立杭焼): also written as Tamba is produced in Sasayama & Tachikui, in Hyogo Prefecture. Storage jars, vases, sake bottles, jugs, mortars were typically produced yet teapots & tea vessels made using this style can also be found. Their unique ash-covered colour is very distinct & every piece they make is one of a kind. They have managed to preserve their traditional craft which started over 800 years ago. Tamba pieces are very unique & often times have interesting patterns & odd shapes.
Bankou yaki (萬古焼): is made in Yokkaichi in Mie Prefecture & it's believed to have originated in the 18th century. While it does not belong to the group of the six ancient kilns, its teapots are quite popular due to the superior heat resistance characteristics their content of petalite confers them. Bankou ware has a very distinct aubergine-like colour thanks to the purple mud used to manufacture it. A designated traditional craft since 1979, their share of the domestic Japanese clay pots accounts for 80%.
Kutani yaki (九谷焼): traditionally made in Kutani, now part of Kaga in Ishikawa prefecture, is divided into two styles, ko Kutani (old Kutani) & Saikō-Kutani a later revived production in the 19th century. Kutani style is easily recognizable due to is bright, strong & rich colours often times depicting natural sceneries & covering the whole surface. Go-sei (五彩手) is the term used to describe the classical five colours, green, yellow, purple, blue & red. The revived version used new overglazed techniques, intricate designs & gold known as kinran-de (金襴手). Kutani has been a designated craft since 1975, nowadays there are hundreds of companies which manufacture Kutani ware. Kutani tea implements are a feast for the eyes. However, due to their sumptuous looks don't tend to appeal to everyone. Arita yaki (有田焼): also known as Hizen yaki, is a broad term used to refer to the porcelain ware made all around Arita Province (former Hizen Province) in Kyushu. Almost of the porcelain that used to be exported from Japan was made here. Its characteristic blue & white colors make this type of ware easy to spot & recognize. Unglazed at the early stages, Arita became the authority in overglazing when they made possible to used enamel in a number of colours. A func fact the colourful Kutani ware originated around the Arita area. Nowadays Arita ware produces a number of tea implements, kitchen utentils, jars, vases, cups, saucers, plates... some of which are very affordable.
There are also a number of independent potters which pieces of art can be found within Japan & abroad. Unfortunately, they all work independently or as a part of a cooperative so it is not possible for me to list them all.
Should I really have a teapot for every type of tea?
Many tea drinkers including myself, have several teapots since they like to have a teapot for each type of tea they brew. I personally have a dedicated Bankou houhin to only brew kabusecha or gyokuro in it. It is unglazed, nothing else goes on that teapot no matter the type of tea. I want the flavour of my brews to be consistent over time & to ensure no other scents such as flowers, roasted rice or any type of botanicals (if any) affect the delicate taste of the gyokuro brews.
For houjicha, bancha, genmaicha, sannenbancha, wakoucha or post-fermented teas, I either use a dobin or a glazed Tokoname teapot. Sometimes I use a cast iron teapot since I like to test the nuances & changes in flavour. For white tea I use a cast iron teapot or a glass jug depending on the flavour profile I want to get.
It all boils down on how picky you are with your teas & how bothered you are when the flavour of a certain type of tea gets modified by brewing a completely different type in the same teapot if glazed. At the end of the day, all of us tend to drink tea in our own way. This is, without a doubt, the best to enjoy it. Do you use only one teapot to brew all your teas? Or do you have a dedicated teapot for each type? Leave your comments below!
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Keep sipping on great organic whole leaf Japanese teas! Until next Monday!