The Ultimate Guide to Japanese Teapots
By now I'm sure you have seen pictures and videos of different types of Japanese teapots. You may be wondering, what are these different types of Japanese teapots called, and what sets them apart from what we consider to be "normal" teapots. In this article, we're going to break down the difference between Japanese teapots and more western style teapots, and talk about the benefits you get by using them. Without further ado, let's get started!
Watch the Video on Japanese Teapots
What are Japanese Teapots?
Japanese teapots simply refer to teapots that are made in Japan, but in reality the definition is a bit more complex than that. We like to think of Japanese teapots as teapots that are specifically designed for Japanese green tea. We find that this definition helps us to establish the unique features and functions of a teapot that help brew delicious cups of Japanese green tea.
There isn’t just one japanese teapot set that’s the best for Japanese green tea, but rather a variety of different Japanese teapots, all of which serve different purposes and occasions. The teapots are also designed for different varieties of tea.
Finally, it’s important to clarify that the Japanese teapots we are going to be talking about are meant to work for all Japanese green teas with the exception of matcha tea. Matcha tea is unique because it’s a powdered tea and doesn’t require a teapot to prepare. It’s simply mixed into water using a bamboo matcha whisk and a chawan matcha bowl.
Leaf teas like sencha require a different toolkit. The leaves need to be infused into water and then sifted out as they are poured. This is done with the help of a few important design features which we will discuss later.
What makes Japanese Teapots different from western style teapots?
The biggest difference between Japanese teapots and more western style teapots is the size. This is probably the most noticeable difference, and there is a very important reason for it.
When preparing tea using western style brewing, you use a lot of water and not very much tea leaves. This leads to a very weak, watery tasting tea. Japanese tea brewing uses far less water, and far more leaves and so the teapots are designed to accommodate this style of brewing. When it comes to brewing Japanese green tea, it’s recommended to use 5 grams of leaves and 150ml of water. This really concentrates the infusion, and rather than getting a larger quantity of watered down tea, you get a smaller amount of rich, flavorful tea. Once you get used to the flavor of this, it will be very difficult to go back to drinking the more watery, western style brewed teas.
The second main difference is that most Japanese teapots are made out of clay. There is such a thing as a japanese cast iron teapot called a tetsubin, but this is really not recommended.
The clay is the perfect material for brewing green tea. The teapot can either be glazed, which provides some neutrality and allows you to brew multiple types of japanese green tea with one teapot, or it can be unglazed. With unglazed japanese teapots, the tea is in direct contact with the clay, which some claim softens the bitterness of the tea. The japanese teapot can also be “seasoned” meaning that it can absorb a certain amount of flavor overtime like a skillet.
What are the different kinds of Japanese Teapots?
Kyusu Japanese Teapot
This is the classic and most iconic Japanese teapot. these teapots are made out of clay, usually either red clay or black clay, and they often have a side handle. This side handle has a few benefits. First, it allows the Japanese teapot to be poured with more refined movements. All it takes is a simple turn of the wrist to pour out the tea.
Also, the side handle is hollow so it stays cool to the touch, even when you fill it up with hot water. This allows you to hold and pour the teapot without getting burned, something that can be a problem with other types of teapots.
Houhin japanese ceramic teapot
This is one of two Japanese teapots that are designed for the premium Japanese green tea. This teapot does not have a side handle, and it is meant to be held with 3 points of contact. When the tea master pours tea with a Houhin, she will have one finger on each side of the teapot, and one finger on top of the japanese ceramic teapot.
The finger position and porcelain design, makes the houhin teapot very similar to the gaiwan, a lidded bowl specifically designed for gongfu brewing. This style of tea preparation is great for Chinese green teas, but a lot of Japanese green teas have smaller leaves, so it is tough to brew without having the leaves fall into your cup.
If you are used to Gongfu brewing and trying to make the transition to Japanese teapots, you may want to start with the houhin. The preparation and pouring technique for this teapot will be most familiar to you.
Shibooridashi Japanese Teapot
The Shibooridashi is another Japanese teapot designed specifically for premium green teas. The key design feature for this teapot is the fact that it has a very flat shape, which means more surface area at the base and a smaller capacity.
This is ideal for the preparation of gyokuro, a tea known for it’s sweet and savory taste profiles. This savory or “umami” flavor is concentrated by preparing the tea with a high leaf to water ratio.
The shibooridashi is designed to accommodate this higher leaf to water ratio. The tea master will load up the base of the teapot with leaves and then pour in a very small amount of water. This produces a small quantity of dense Gyokuro tea. This density weighs heavy on the palate and the texture of the tea is savored along with the taste.
Tetsubin cast iron teapot
This is the Japanese cast iron teapot. Its design is much more similar to that of a western style teapot, and as a result is comes with many downsides. First of, the Japanese cast iron teapot is much larger and heavier, which makes the pouring less graceful. The Japanese cast iron teapot takes your entire arm to pour, compared to the kyusu teapot which can be poured with just a simple turn of the wrist.
These graceful movements are integral to the preparation of Japanese green tea, and they can be important when it comes to establishing a calming tea moment. A lot of Japanese cast iron teapots also come with a detachable metal sifter, and this is not what you want.
If you use a teapot like this, you might as well be using a tea strainer and a tea cup to brew your tea. We’ll explore the reason for this next.
iwachu cast iron teapot
The iwachu cast iron teapot is another type of Japanese cast iron teapot we do not recommend using. These cast iron teapots may look nice, but in practicality they are very difficult to use and they produce a less flavorful tea. If you already have a tetsubin or an iwachu cast iron teapot, you can use it as a water heater to heat your water over the stove. This has traditionally been the use for this vintage japanese teapot set and not to brew the actual loose leaf tea.
The iwachu and tetsubin are also examples of the cast iron teapot with infuser that we really discourage from using. The cast iron teapot with infuser isnt a good way to brew tea, and when you remove the infuser, there is nothing from stopping the leaves from pouring into your cup.
Benefits of Using a Japanese Teapot
When it comes to brewing Japanese green tea, an important thing to keep in mind is that the leaves need lots of space to open up and release their flavor into the water.
The teabag is the worst solution for this, because it crams the leaves into a small space and gives them almost no room to expand. Slightly better is the tea strainer, which provides some room for the leaves to expand but not nearly enough.
When you brew loose leaf Japanese green tea with a strainer, you will end up with a more watered down infusion, and less of this rich and complex flavor. Unfortunately, many teapots recreate this effect by brewing the leaves inside a basket. This negates the positive benefits of the teapot that come from allowing the leaves plenty of room to unfurl.
Because these clay teapots are designed with these wide bases, the tea leaves are able to swim around, which produces these rich, complex infusions.
The leaves are then automatically sifted out with the built in filter. For this reason, you should always use a teapot with a built in filter, not a detachable one.
How Japanese Teapots are made
Because most Japanese teapots are made out of clay, they are made in the traditional style that involves the carving of clay around a pottery wheel.
The most desirable type of clay is produced in Tokoname, a small town on the main island of Honshu. This clay is the most porous, so it can hold water even when wet.
Once the teapot has been shaped in the pottery wheel, it is then ready to be fired so that the clay can harden. To make the red clay teapots, the firing process is done twice and to make the black kyusu teapots, the firing process is done 3 times. This one of the reasons why, all else being equal, black kyusu teapots will be more expensive than red kyusu teapots.
Where to buy Japanese Teapots
If you are looking to buy a kyusu teapot, we have plenty to choose from on our website, nioteas.com. Here are the 3 basic types of Japanese teapots we offer.
Red Tokoname Kyusu Teapot
The red tokoname kyusu is the starter model of the kyusu teapot. It comes with a built in metal filter and a red glazed finish. This glazed design makes it suitable for all tea type. If you are planning on just having one teapot to use for multiple different types of Japanese green tea, this is a good one to start with.
Black Tokoname Kyusu Teapot
The black tokoname kyusu is one for the more experienced tea drinkers. It’s made from the black oxidized clay, slightly glazed and fired 3 times. Because it is slightly glazed, it can be seasoned for a particular tea type.
The porosity of the clay is also thought to interact with the tea and reduce its bitterness. This Japanese teapot has a built in clay filter, because the metal is believed to have a subtle impact on the flavor, something that is sure to be noticed only by the true tea connoisseurs.
Finally, we the Fukamushi Teapot, another specialist teapot. This one is made with a circular metal filter, making it perfect for fukamushi or deep steamed teas.
During the longer steaming process, the cell membranes of the leaves are broken down, allowing more of the leaf to flow into the cup. This produces an excellent flavor and color, but it makes the leaves more brittle, so they can break into these smaller leaf particles.
These leaf particles clog up clay filters, but with the circular metal filter the water can just move around and pour into the cup.
If you are planning on preparing a lot of Fukamushi teas, you may want to invest in the Fukamushi teapot. This will simply make your life a lot easier.
Feel free to browse our selection of Japanese teapots, and see which one speaks to you. If you have any questions about teapots, please feel free to leave them in the comments below. Until then, we’ll see you next time!