For many tea lovers, drinking tea is an art form. Traditional methods involve brewing loose leaves in special cups and teapots with the ultimate goal of maximum flavor and aroma while creating an exquisite taste experience. The Japanese have mastered the art of tea preparation for centuries. Japanese teapots have been specially designed to enjoy the delicious flavors of green tea.
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This definitive guide to Japanese teapots is designed to help you choose the right teapot for your style of tea preparation. Learn more about the construction, types, and benefits of Japanese teapots.
3 types of Japanese teapots (Kyusu)
Japanese teapots come in three main shapes and are also called kyusus. Teapot handles make each style distinctive and add a new dimension to the art of steeping and serving tea. Teapots are mainly created in Mie, Gifu, Aichi and Niigata prefectures. In these prefectures, Iwachu and Tokoname are among the most prolific teapot makers.
Famous teapots include the Banko, Arita Yaki, Onko, Mumyoi Yaki and Tokoname Yaki teapots, which take their names from the clay and the regions where they are created. The type of clay used in its construction also differentiates the teapots. For example, Banko teapots are usually made from purple clay while Tokoname varieties are made from red clay.
Yokode Kyusu (Side Handle Teapot)
A Yokode kyusu is characterized by a handle that protrudes directly from the side of the pot. The handle is narrow at the rounded teapot rim and becomes more convex towards the free end. The spout is located at an angle of 90 degrees to the handle. The teapot allows the tea drinker to hold the handle and place their thumb on the lid for one-handed pouring.
Uwade Kyusu (Top Handle Teapot)
An Uwade kyusu is characterized by a distinctive handle located directly on top of the pot. The handle is usually made of a different material than the rest of the pot. For example, if the teapot is made of porcelain, the handle can be made of bamboo, plastic or rattan. The handle stays cool because it is attached to the kettle with metal hooks. The handle style also makes this kettle a good choice for left-handers. This teapot is round and sturdy like the Yokode kyusu.
Ushirod Kyusu (Back Handle Teapot)
The Ushirode kyusu teapot is inspired by classic Chinese teapots. It has a handle located directly in front of the beak. These teapots feature a lid that helps seal in aromas and moisture during steeping. This type of Japanese teapot should be used to brew Chinese and British teas.
Other styles of Japanese teapots (Tetsubin, Houbin and Shiboridashi)
The Japanese tetsubin is a cast iron teapot. In Japan, the tetsubin cast iron teapot is traditionally used as a sencha teapot for heating water and steeping sencha tea in teacups. Cast iron construction heats tea quickly and keeps it hot longer than porcelain or clay alternatives. The interior of the cast iron teapot can be coated with enamel, allowing the teapot to brew multiple types of tea. Traditional varieties of Japanese cast iron teapots do not contain an enamel coating and should only be used for one type of tea.
A Hohin is a Japanese teapot that does not have a handle. It is designed to be held directly in cupped hands. This allows the tea drinker to enjoy the feel and warmth of the tea, adding a new dimension to the tea drinking process. Since it does not have a handle, this teapot should be used for low-temperature brewing of green teas, such as premium gyokuro or sencha. This kettle is also ideal for brewing high quality, expensive teas as waste is minimized due to the small size of the kettle.
Shiboridashi is similar to hôhin, except it is more robust in shape. The teapot features a shallow bowl and a handle just in front of the crescent moon spout. This kettle does not come with a filter. A shiboridashi should be used to brew high-quality teas, as its large surface area allows the tea leaves to expand and develop intense flavor.
Japanese teapot materials
Most Japanese teapots are made of clay or porcelain.
Clay teapots are typically used to brew green teas, as the porous clay absorbs the flavor of each brew. This creates a deeper, richer flavor with each new brew. This also means that the stoneware teapot can only be used to brew one type of tea.
Among the most popular clay pots are the Banko-yaki and the Tokoname-yaki. Both teapots contain iron clay which enhances the umami notes of green teas by chemically interacting with the tannins. Clay teapots can also produce a smoother, more even flavor without the bitterness associated with some green tea brews.
Japanese porcelain teapots are generally used for other types of tea. As porcelain is non-porous, it does not absorb aromas and can be used to steep different types of tea.
Glass and stainless steel are rare when it comes to consuming Japanese tea. There is no such thing as a classic Japanese glass teapot. However, glass teacups are quite common for drinking iced green tea.
Choose a filter
Most Japanese tea sets have built-in tea filters or infusers. The most common materials are clay and porcelain. The material matches the construction of the kyusu or hôhin and prevents tea leaves or dust from entering the teacups when poured. Some Japanese-style teapots contain metal strainers. Most tea lovers avoid metal because it can alter the flavor of certain types of tea. When it comes to choosing a Japanese teapot, clay and porcelain seem to be the big winners.
Choose a Japanese teapot
Japanese teapots offer an incredible variety of ways to brew tea like a work of art. From the purple clay Banko teapot to the red clay Tokoname teapots, there are dozens of options. Choosing the right Japanese teapot will depend on your style of tea making.
If you prefer high quality green teas or individual servings, a hôhin, Yokode kyusu or shiboridashi is the best option. If you like to prepare large quantities, uwade or ushirode kyusu will suit you better. If you are left-handed, Yokode kyusu can be difficult to pour unless you have one custom made with the handle on the opposite side. The bamboo handle of the Uwade kyusu is ideal for left-handers.
Once you know your crafting style, you can choose the type of material you prefer. If you love Chinese-style ceramic teapots, the Ushirode kyusu offers a similar look with white porcelain construction. Otherwise, choose a clay option based on your color and regional preferences.
Antique Japanese teapots also make great gifts for Christmas, weddings, and housewarmings. They are the perfect choice for tea lovers who want to create their own version of the Japanese tea ceremony. Japanese teapots are also perfect for daily brewing of loose leaf tea. Simply add hot water, your favorite loose leaf tea, and enjoy the art of tea brewing.