The weather in Japan with a lot of rain relayed the harvest of the first 2015 shincha. So in the meantime, I’ll talk here a little about Japanese teapots (Kyûsu but hôhin) to give, especially to beginners, some choice criteria in the purchase of tea pot. The arrival of new crops isn’t the best time to get a new kyûsu ?
Here I will try to avoid as much as possible subjective criteria, to stay simple and concrete.
Some key criteria
The budget is inevitably a very important criterion for most people. Nevertheless, the teapot is an essential accessory for the preparation of tea, it should even be an important part of the pleasure, and one should not aim too low price. I think 40 USD (price in Japan) is a minimum to get a quality tool, especially in the case of earthen ware.
The “made in China” or “made in Vietnam” Kyûsu, very cheap, are of course to avoid.
One should not be too obsessed about the size of the pot, but it is preferable to use an object whose volume is adapted to the use that we will make (what kind of tea ? for how many people ?). I think most are looking for a tool to prepare a high grade sencha, tamaryokucha or kama-iri quality. Thus, if the use is exclusively infusions for one person, it will be better to have a small volume pot, between 100 and 200 ml. With 180 – 200ml, one could even make two cups of sencha. With a volume of 100-150 ml, we can prepare two or three cups of Gyokuro.
A pot around 250 ml will be a very multipurpose tool, in which one could prepare three cups of sencha, but still adapted to make a single cup, and will also fit for hôji-cha type teas.
Conversely, if one main purpose is to prepare tea for many people, a teapot greater than 300 ml should be better.
Clay or porcelain?
More difficult question, but I would say earth, at least in the case of a first teapot.
Porcelain is neutral, does not affect the taste of tea, while each clay (unglazed) will all have slightly different properties. However it seems to me that start with a good clay is preferable to simply succeed good brewing.
Also, it seems that there are more very good quality clay teapots (size, shape, etc.) than porcelain teapots.
Porcelain remains an essential tool for anyone who wishes to deepen the subject by analytical tastings. Hôhin is then the most obvious choice.
What clay ? Which regions?
It is on this precise point that I rather not go into details. Indeed, with these questions, every clays, every type of firing is a special case that does not necessarily apply on each tea. We go there in a subjective domain, and all very subtle.
However if we must speak about region or tradition, there is no any hesitation: Tokoname (Aichi Prefecture, Tokoname City) and Banko (Mie Prefecture, Yokkaichi City).
With Tokoname-yaki and Banko-yaki, potters are “kyûsu-shokunin” (kyûsu craftsmen). Manufacturing a kyûsu is a very specilized area in pottery, a specialty in itself, extremely difficult.
After, we enter the field of personal tastes, regarding the variety of techniques, the technical level Tokoname artisan’s skills are matchless.
There are of course many beautiful objects in other areas, but from the technical point of view as a tool for brewing tea, I would not recommend others areas pot as a first or main pot.
Hand turned or mold made ?
The idea that hand turn manufacturing is necessarily superior to the mass production mold, is a very romantic idea, which is sometimes wrong.
On the one hand, with ” ikomi ” mold made, each parts to the teapot (body, handle, spout, lid, filter) is manufactured separately exactly as in the case of hand turn, and then assembled, finished exactly the same way as for hand turned teapots. Also, according potters, hand turning on the wheel is actually the easiest part of pot manufacturing, and that it is the finishing work that is the most delicate. Finally, we must understand that with ikomi manufacturing, we only make between 5 and 10 pots. In addition it takes time.
Of course, most of the ikomi production is very low end, but there are also excellent works, sometimes better than some of potters work (especially in the case of non-specialized potters, which pots are often expensive and completely unsuitable for the preparing tea).
Brewing tea should be a fun a pleasure in itself. For this it is essential to have a teapot that one love. Thus, aesthetics are quite essential criteria.
The filter is a question that is debated a lot, especially here in Japan or the average consumer of tea drink mainly ‘fukamushi’ tea, very powdery, and does not want to take care of the preparation. This is to ward off the filter clogging that emerged in the 70s the metal filters. It sounds simple, but it took several years to develop efficient metal filters and to adapt kyûsu manufacture to it.
But seriously! Let’s go for ceramic filters ! Actually, I am not convinced of the effectiveness of metal filters, it seems that one way or another very powdery teas will clog it, and it tend to get dirty on the back side (hard to clean, so the risk of bad smells, and then clogging).
Here are some ceramic filters.
If we should avoid simple big holes in the body, unsuitable for some tea, I would not make specific recommendations regarding the type of ceramic filter.
Fine and wide ceramic filters found in Tokoname were a response to the metal filters from Takasuke workshop, “ikomi” mold pioneer, particularly renowned and appreciated in the Japan tea industry for their high quality molded teapots.
The way we use a teapot, a kyûsu in particular, is not trivial. On the contrary, few people pour properly, which is not without influence on these issues that filter will clog and even the taste of tea.
One should pour slowly, little by little, so to avoid the liquid flowing out from the edge of the lid first, but also for the leaves do not come completely cover the filter. Thus, even with a very powdery tea and and “debeso” type filter, the teapot is not clog. To realize this, one can train pouring without the lid. A slow pour also allows less stir the leaves and prevent parasite tastes.
I do not know if the images are understandable ….
In this case, it is clear that in the case of infusions for many people, the alternating pouring from one cup to another is more difficult. It is sufficient to use a pitcher, the yuzamashi will do the trick.
After use, the teapot should be rinsed thoroughly with water only to empty it completely from the leaves, then rinse with boiling water (or very hot). So it will dry faster. It is best to store your tea pot in a well ventilated area, and even not to replace the lid before it is completely dry (note inside the spout remains wet for a long time).
whether the teapot is hand turned or mold made, the lid is specifically adapted. Each teapot is fired with the lid placed on, and after baking, there is a process called “futa-awase” which is used to fit perfectly body and lid. So, when you break the cover, it is not possible to get a new one. So it is a farewell or a shot of super glue, or, the ideal solution that will make you happy to have broken, lacquer and gold / silver / tin repair (Kintsugi, etc).
This Tokoname-yaki gaiwan it is lacquer and tin
Here is a small selection of specific recommendations of products available on Thés du Japon.
The famous ikomi (mold) kyûsu from Takasuke workshop (Tokoname-yaki). A small 130ml and a 290ml. High quality tools, exemplary processed, hard to find better at this price.
If one have to retain only one banko-yaki workshop, no doubt that this is Shôfû. Works of Yamamoto Kenji, these teapots are prefectly processed, finished, very fine, light, qualities that is not found elsewhere in the Banko-yaki style. There is no best quality / price ratio. The clay is beautiful, silky to the touch.
For porcelain lovers, the beautiful Asahi-yaki hôhin. This is a pot which I cannot do without since I got it. However, two defects: maybe be a bit heavy (that is porcelain defect in comparison to clay), and very expensive. But it is an investment that worth it.
5. Broad and flat bottom
A very broad, wide and flat bottom allows optimum infusion of the leaves with very few water. This type of pot is very suitable for the preparation of steamed Japanese green teas, extracting great umami, main feature of these teas. The water it rapidly cooled when lid is not set (due to the wide contact surface between air and water), but set on, retain heat very well (characteristic of the clays, Tokoname, and Bizen for the second one). This kind of shape allows regulating simply the brewing temperature inside the teapot to optimally make several brew ones after the others.
That’s all for this concise and very general guide.
I hope the next post will announce shincha! See you soon.
Categories: Tea ware and works by artisans