Tetsubin by Masamitsu Kikuchi

// Published January 29, 2017 by mgualt

I bought this from Horaido in Kyoto.

The tetsubin is by Masamitsu Kikuchi, Yamagata prefecture, and the model is “Mozuya”.  It is designed to be reminiscent of the large Kama / Chanoyugama (釜) used in the Japanese tea ceremony to boil water.

When I bought it, the shopkeeper, Nagahiro Yasumori, showed me a selection of about 10 tetsubin from around Japan. The tetsubin from the Masamitsu workshop were a lot nicer than the others and only slightly more expensive. Among those from the workshop, I chose the design with the largest and flattest base.  Unfortunately traditional tetsubin makers don’t think about the modern methods of heating, and the pots still seem to be designed for boiling over a fire — they often have a narrow and/or uneven base.  The tetsubin I chose came in two versions, one by the master and one by the student, and due to the small price difference I opted for the master’s work. The main differences were a sharper looking spout and a smoother interior, as well as more defined designs on the exterior.

The maker applied some rough raw urushi lacquer to the interior (and exterior) surface of the tetsubin. At first, boiling water in it resulted in cloudy water. After boiling about 5 kettlefuls of water for 10min each, the water is crystal clear (to the eye). However there is a smell and taste, which is actually the lacquer, which is derived from tree sap. So it kind of smells like wood. Not bad, but I won’t be able to use it for tea until it is completely gone.

Because of the lacquer on the exterior surface, Horaido gives a traditional recommendation: wipe the outside of the tetsubin with a damp (or even tea-soaked) cloth after each use; as far as I can tell, this is to help the lacquer stay bound to the sides of the tetsubin and to buff it a bit, making the tetsubin shinier over time.

The Horaido shopkeeper was very clear on one point: never touch the interior, or apply any substances or abrasives of any kind. The only thing allowed to touch the interior is water.  Once in a while, if you want to experiment against rust or any off taste, there is a recommendation to boil tea leaves in the tetsubin.

After about 10 kettlefuls of boiling water, the lacquer on the interior is much reduced and the smell is almost completely gone.  I’ll report on the actual performance later.

As for the heating method, I opted to go with induction heating.  I got a good deal on a NuWave Titanium 1800W model and it has very good temp control and even heating, and can be put on very gentle settings.  The main reason I went with IH is that it is much safer from a fire hazard point of view, and more energy efficient.   The boiling is very nice indeed; I can easily get small calm evenly spaced bubbles at one temp, and increase intensity if needed.

Horaido instructions for tetsubin care

Comments

  1. Ganesh
    February 22, 2018 @ 11:42 pm

    May I ask, how your experience with induction heating is by now? Asking, because I have come across the following (copying from hojotea.com):
    ”Usually tetsubin has 2 circular spots at its bottom part. It is the trace where “katamochi” was located. Katamochi is the 2 nails that used to fix the internal mold (nakago) during casting. Thus tetsubin has 2 holes on its bottom. These holes are sealed with material that is prepared mixing urushi with iron sands.
    When cast iron tetsubin is heated on induction heater, these 2 spots tend to be over heated. Due to the nature of the material used on these spots, it gets hotter than cast iron. Therefore it is necessary to start heating at very low output if induction heater is used.“

    Reply
    • mgualt
      February 23, 2018 @ 12:19 am

      No problem with induction heating. Also it is not necessarily true that a tetsubin will have the holes. Honestly, there is too much talk of delicate or fragile tetsubin… That being said, the main problem I have with this tetsubin is that I can still taste the urushi, or maybe the taste of water boiled in the tetsubin has too strong a taste. I prefer stainless steel.

      Reply
      • Ganesh
        February 23, 2018 @ 11:27 pm

        I use an electric stainless steel kettle for daily brewing and a tetsubin or chagama on charcoal for special sessions.

        Reply
  2. Joann
    March 10, 2018 @ 8:45 am

    Very nice tetsubin! May I ask how could one distinguish the work of the masters and their students without putting them side by side? Did they make it obvious (e.g., name stamp on the metal)? I’m asking because I would like to purchase one and am seeing different price point for even the ones supposedly made by the same craftsman. Thank you!

    Reply
    • mgualt
      March 10, 2018 @ 8:53 am

      Yes, there is a stamp, and there is a receipt from the factory. But realistically I am relying on the shopkeeper for this information. He sourced it directly from the maker.

      Reply

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