Japanese Cast Iron Tea Kettles: A History of the Tetsubin
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Japanese Cast Iron Tea Kettles: A History of the Tetsubin

You may have heard or seen Japanese tea lovers refer to a tetsubin (鉄瓶, which means ‘iron kettle’) but may not have been entirely sure of what it is or even the appeal to using one.

These tea kettles come in many different shapes and sizes—some are simple while others are more elaborately made. But when handcrafted to perfection, it can be appreciated and passed down for generations. These special pieces are rooted in unique history in Japanese culture.

Luckily, we’re here to break down the history of tetsubin, or Japanese cast iron tea kettles for you! You also may see why many tea lovers are using a tetsubin in our modern day and age.

What are Tetsubin?

Tetsubin are Japanese tea kettles (or teapots) made of cast iron. In order to fully understand the history and the usage of tetsubin, it is important to note and understand the history of tea culture in Japan. Traditionally, Japanese tea culture was focused on Japanese tea ceremonies, known as chanoyu (茶の湯) or sadou/chadou (茶道).

The procedures and practices of a Japanese tea ceremony involve many details. From the cup that one is served to the appliance that the water is boiled in, each utensil used has symbolism of peace, harmony, and hospitality. The slow boiling of water in a tetsubin allows for a moment of mindfulness, patience, and care.

While the iron kettles were later only used for outdoor chanoyu as well as for novice students learning how to perform and host a chanoyu, its history of it begins with the arrival of sencha to Japan.


The History of Tetsubin and Its Usage

As it is not clear where the first tetsubin kettles appeared, it is speculated that the creation and usage coexisted with the popularity of sencha.

Introduced in China in the 17th century, drinking sencha was not done in ceremonies like chanoyu. Chanoyu was reserved for the ruling and wealthy upper class. Typically drinking sencha was done in informal settings, in order to get together and share a cup of tea with friends and families. However, in the 18th century, tea drinking began to be adopted and more widespread among the common people. Because Chinese teaware at the time was expensive and rare, artisans in the Iwate Prefecture began handcrafting tetsubin. Many of these traditional handcrafting processes are still used today.

As popularity grew, these newly created iron tea kettles became a common household item. In the 19th century, tetsubin designs went from simple to becoming more elaborate. The more elaborate the design, the higher the price. The style of tetsubin one held became a reflection and symbol of one’s status.


The Appeal and Usage of Tetsubin Today

Using a tetsubin to boil water for a cup of tea truly makes every cup special. While tetsubin is traditionally used for boiling water only, nowadays many can be used to brew tea as well. While boiling the water, iron is able to seep into the water, which is said to give a smoother and fuller taste. It is also said that tea made with water boiled from a tetsubin has a richer taste due to the nutrients from the iron.

Another major appeal is that high-quality tetsubin that is properly cared for can be passed down to the next generation. If you love Japanese tea, the practice of using a tetsubin kettle can instantly take you to a moment of reflection. It causes you to slow down and make each cup of tea with intention; allowing us to continue practices of slow-paced living and balance.

🍵 Drinking our tea? Snap a pic and tag us on Instagram at @senbirdtea or #senbirdtea. We’d love to see your moment with tea!

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