Saturday, October 6, 2012
Tetsubin Tea Kettle
My kid thought I had purchased an antique when I opened a box that arrived from Japan a few days ago. Inside the box was a used Japanese Tetsubin tea kettle. "I am going to use the kettle to boil water, and to brew tea with it' - I told my daughter when she had a closer look at the kettle. Her reply was an exclamatory "whoa".
You, the reader will ask me, after looking at the pix,....why buy an old kettle? Its old and even has some discoloring marks on the inside of the kettle.
Well, I was chatting with a new tea friend from Ipoh, Malaysia about pu erh in general when I was told to buy a tetsubin kettle. I was told to get such a kettle as a tetsubin 'sustains heat better from fire to pot so there is little reduction in heat from kettle to pot......and for vintage tea you need really hot water to bring the tea out'. I laugh in jest. It could be a psychological enhancement......its all in the mind. Another user had also told me the water tasted better. Curiously, in the back of my mind, I could vaguely recollect that I had seen such kettles in use......at a friend's place in Hong Kong, a tea shop in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and in another tea shop in Taipei, Taiwan. Water in Singapore can be drunk straight from the tap. The water here, comes from reservoirs, desalination as well as from a reverse osmosis process (from waste water). I thought if a Tetsubin kettle can make my tea better.....its worth a try. I decided to take up the challenge.
A tetsubin kettle is simply a cast iron kettle. Its made from iron. Nothing fancy. Yes, I am sure you have seen iron cast pans and trays used in the kitchen but the popularity of using cast iron kitchenware is waning, at least in my part of the world. The reason - it rusts easily if the iron cookware are not taken care of properly. You can imagine the tetsubin kettle is even less popular in our rush-rush urban cities.
At this point I would like to highlight the difference between a tetsubin kettle and a tetsubin teapot. The teapot is smaller from 300ml to about 1 litre while the kettle starts from about 500ml to more than 3 litres. The tetsubin teapot is internally lined or coated. It may be ceramic coated or a layer of 'teflon like" material is applied to the inside of the teapot so that rust would not occur in the teapot. You would brew tea in that teapot. A kettle on the other hand has no coating inside, and the kettle is only used to boil water. Yes, one would place the kettle over a fire and boil the water. This, as I gleaned from the internet, is where the water, coming into contact with the iron surface, would make brewing tea with this water a more tasty experience. Further information from the internet said that I should not use any detergent in cleaning the kettle and I should keep the kettle dry when not in use.
There are many websites on the internet selling tetsubin kettles. I decided to buy a used Japanese model. I turned to ebay. I snagged one 2 weeks ago. You would have observed that the surface of the kettle was dotty. The seller mentioned that these bumps are called Arare design (aka hobnail). The seller also mentioned that there are 'nambu tekkie' manufacture marks which signifies the popular Japanese foundries in the late 60s. This kettle holds 500ml of water. It also comes with a matching trivet - where the hot kettle can sit without damaging the table top.
This tetsubin is strangely captivating. I realized that this kettle was a little small for my needs as I usually use more than a litre of water in one tea brewing session. So......I got myself another larger Japanese one today. "Whoa !". Stay tuned.