Exactly when the tetsubin first appeared in Japan is unclear, but much evidence suggests a close relationship with the rise of the sencha, a form of tea-drinking that uses tea leaves instead of powdered tea. Sencha was introduced to Japan from China around the middle of the 17th century, a period when Japan’s literati were greatly influenced by China as well as by Neo-Confuciani thought. Sencha was not considered a formal ceremony but introduced tea as a drink that was closely associated with medicinal herbs. Most literati adopted sencha drinking as a symbolic revolt against the formality of chanoyu, favored by the ruling class.
During the 18th century, as more and more ordinary townspeople throughout Japan adopted tea drinking, sencha gradually became an informal setting for sharing a cup of tea with friends and family. For most Japanese citizenry, however, the Chinese tea utensils used in sencha remained too rare and expensive. Thus a market developed for a new Japanese style teapot to replace the expensive Chinese styles. That need was filled with the creation of the tetsubin.
Tetsubin or iron teapots were originally kitchen items used for boiling water and brewing tea. These tetsubin generally were not ornate as they were commonly left on or over a hearth, to provide heat and humidity during cold weather. During the mid-19th century as infused tea drinking became popular, tetsubin were no longer viewed as kitchen items, but as status symbols. Some of these tetsubin were elaborately decorated with high relief designs and inlays of copper, gold and silver. The two prefectures best known for tetsubin are Iwate, which is considered to produce the best designs and quality at a reasonable price, and Yamagata, which is best known for the handmade tetsubin and changama that are preferred by the tea ceremony masters.
Cast iron ware is a boon for cooks since it heats evenly, retains heat well and lasts forever. It yields important health benefits, too; iron-deficient diets are all too common these days and food or liquid cooked in cast iron ware provides significant traces of this essential mineral.
We recommend that you care for your tetsubin by following these guidelines:
Use the tetsubin to brew tea, not as a stove-top kettle.
Do not leave tea standing in the tetsubin for a long period of time. Dry fully before storing.
Do not wash the tetsubin with abrasive pads or use harsh detergents or soaps. Simply rinse it with plain water and wipe it dry after each use. In Japan the natural mineral layer buildup inside a tetsubin is considered to be good for the health and helps to prevent rust from forming inside.
Do not expose your kettle or teapot to salt or oil.
By following these guidelines your tetsubin will provide many years of enjoyment.