Drink Magazine

Life with a Tetsubin

By Dchew78 @peonyts

Not all tea making equipment are equal. Ask a tea lover for his or her ‘stuff’ and you will be treated to an array of teapots, gaiwans, tea trays even, but seldom do any tea lover talk about his or her kettle. I know of tea addicts who fuss over their teapots but do not even own a dedicated tea kettle. As I wrote about earlier, when it comes to making tea, it is only as good as the weakest link. The finest Dahongpao, infused in a genuine Yixing Shuipinghu, would only taste mediocre when heavily chlorinated tap water is used. By the same token, a summer Assam is going to taste horrible even if a Yixing is used with spring water. As I wrote here, kettles are probably the most underrated piece of the puzzle, yet one of the most important, unless you drink cold infused tea exclusively.

One of the most extravagant tea purchases I made is a Tetsubin- a cast iron kettle. Some get it wrong and assume it is a teapot, which is not the case. The advantage of cast iron is for boiling water, the sweeter taste, not making tea, and while there are cast iron teapots, those are not called Tetsubins.

I had struggled with it initially, I felt it was pricey, not to mention the deluge of fakes in the market. Even when I found a reliable source, the shipping cost proved prohibitive- cast iron is heavy! It took a bit of a fortuitous turn, I saw a status update of my cousin he posted while at Kyoto. So I asked him to get it for me, giving him the address of the shop. Mind you the aforementioned kettle is heavy, despite being 0.9 liters, if I did not know him all my life, I probably would have been embarrassed to make that request. Even with the savings in shipping costs, it still cost me around SGD 200, not astronomical, but a price tag that warrants a second thought.

Practical Considerations

After beholding this work of art in my hand, there was a problem, the Tetsubin was not going to boil itself.  Naked flame or charcoal stoves would be an issue in cramped areas, as it is in my home and workplace. So I used an induction stove- in this case it is a Kamjove, works well, except the auto-cutoff function does not work on the Tetsubin- though it functioned perfectly on the supplied kettle.

Besides the auto-cutoff the other problem is lack of variable temperature. Drinking green tea daily, I had grown accustomed to having a variable temperature kettle. It was convenient, heating the water to 75-85⁰C, and having water at those temperatures available on demand. Using a Tetsubin deprives me of this option.

Did I mention it is heavy? This affects how water can be poured. Further accentuating it is the relatively short spout of the selection I have seen. Though not as pronounced as jug style kettles, water flow is too fast for my liking.


The tradeoff is worth it, by and large. These are problems that can be worked around.

The lack of auto-cutoff function, forces us to depend on our senses, mainly hearing. Which is not a bad thing really, a relaxing activity. The act of identifying chirping cricket like sounds, faint rumbles, requires focus, and in an age where multi-tasking is taken to new heights, we could do with a bit of simplicity.

Life with a Tetsubin
As for variable temperature kettles, there is a simple workaround- pouring into a water pitcher. In experiments, I found that water is cooled about 5⁰C when poured into a warmed pitcher, and an additional 9⁰C when poured from an additional 30cm (approximate) height. Hence, if I pour a freshly boiled kettle from a height into a pitcher, and from a normal height to another pitcher, I can cool it down to approximately 81⁰C. (Or from a height twice, if I am brewing Dongting Biluochun). If I am making Taiwanese oolong, then I would pour freshly boiled water into a pitcher before pouring in the gaiwan or teapot.

A slight inconvenience, but not a deal breaker.

As for the weight, well, I suppose you get stronger.

Caring for a Tetsubin

There are a few things to note about a Tetsubin:

a) Like glass, be mindful of the effect of temperature change on cast iron-

i) Don’t heat an empty kettle

ii) Don’t add water to a heated empty kettle

These cause sudden heat changes and may cause the kettle to crack.

 b) Washing

There is no need to wash, beyond rinsing a cool kettle. Do not scrap, or brush the interior of the kettle lest the coating comes off.

c) Rust

Life with a Tetsubin
This is a common problem. In fact, I encountered it as well. A couple of times of water left in the kettle inadvertently, albeit in a tiny volume, resulted in rust. After boiling green tea leaves in the kettle to remove the rust, I was conscientious in removing every last drop of water.

This is actually simpler than it sounds- after pouring the water completely, while the kettle is hot, remove the lid and allow the residual water to evaporate off, within minutes, the kettle will be completely dry.

Water boiled in a tetsubin does taste sweeter, and fresher, particularly for green tea. In addition, the cast iron material retains heat well. Typically I finish my 3 green tea infusions in about twenty minutes or so, hence I do not need to reheat the kettle. Just boil once and the entire kettle suffices for my purpose (just reducing the pouring into the pitchers accordingly), which both saves energy, as well as reduces evaporation of water since it is not re-boiled.

This may not be for everyone, at least not initially, but when your tea brewing has reached a plateau, buying a tetsubin might be a way of busting it.

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