Cast iron teapot or kettle? Here are the differences and how the Japanese use them.
If you enjoy a nice cup of tea, then you’ve probably heard that old-fashioned cast iron teapots and kettles are the best to brew that perfect cuppa. If you are looking for a cast iron teapot then look to a country which has a proud history of making teapots for hundreds of years. You guessed it Japan has a long history of making some of the best teapots and kettles you can buy. But which one do you need… a teapot or kettle?
I can’t say I’m a tea expert but I have lived in Japan for 17 years and collect cast iron. I have also visited Japanese cast iron foundries. So hopefully I can pass on some knowledge about cast iron kettles and teapots. For sure, using cast iron makes your tea and taste great but they also look beautiful. However, teapots and kettles are used differently. Let’s learn about the differences.
What’s the difference between a teapot and a kettle?
These two vessels might appear very similar, yet they have some important differences. And more importantly, they have different purposes. What are they? Let’s start with cast iron kettles or tetsubin in Japanese.
The history of the Japanese kettle.
A traditional tetsubin or cast iron kettle originated in Japan some time in the 17th century. In tea ceremonies Buddhist priests used tetsubins to boil water to make sencha (high quality tea). However, both the tea and a cast iron would have been far beyond the reach of most people. Few could afford such a luxury and most people could not buy sencha let alone a beautiful hand crafted iron kettle.
When did kettles become popular in Japan?
It’s a little surprising but cast iron kettles only became popular in Japan around the 18th century when sencha became affordable for the masses. People not only enjoyed drinking tea but they released the health benefits of drinking tea made with water boiled in a cast iron kettle.
Early Japanese tea kettles were very heavy pots and much larger than the ones you are likely to see today. Back then the Japanese used an indoor hearth called an Iori. A tesubin hanging over an Iori would have been a common feature in Japanese homes. The Iori was used to cook and a way to warm their homes.
Hanging a cast iron kettle over an Iori served two purposes:
- Hanging a tea kettle over the fire would mean there was always hot water available.
- The steam would humidify the room; indoor fires would make the air extremely dry.
The best Japanese cast iron teapots and kettles
Iwate, a prefecture in the northeast of Japan, is famous in Japan for the manufacture of cast iron tea kettles. Its history of making ironware dates back hundreds of years with Morioka and Oshu cities being the largest producers of ironware in Japan.
What is a cast iron teapot? Nanbu tekki no kyusu
Cast iron teapots and kettles look similar but teapots are smaller and have enamel on the inside, this is to prevent rust. It is important to know cast iron teapots cannot be heated on a stove or over an open fire. Cast iron teapots, nanbu tekki no kyusu in Japanese, are meant for brewing or steeping tea, not for boiling water. If you do boil water the enamel may chip or craze (develop fine cracks). Whatever you do, don’t use your enamel teapot on your stove.
Today cast iron teapots are more popular than cast iron kettles
You could argue that Japanese enameled teapots are not part of traditional Japanese culture since the technique of enameling came from the West. However, today you are more likely to find a cast iron teapot in a Japanese house than a cast iron tea kettle. Tesubins are used to boil water for Japanese tea while ceramic teapots (kyūsu) and cast iron (nambu tekki) are used for steeping tea.
Cast iron teapot vs cast iron kettle. Do I have a teapot or a kettle?
Apart from the enamel inside the teapot, there is one simple way to distinguish them: kettles are generally much larger. Most kettles hold over two quarts (about two litres) of water, whereas most teapots hold between 300-500 milliliters.
Is there is a hybrid teapot-kettle?
While kettles and teapots are used for different purposes there are hybrid versions available, i.e. one vessel in which to boil water and to brew tea. These hybrids are lacquered or seasoned on the inside to prevent rust, and unlike enamel, these coatings do not crack or craze. In general, they look more like cast iron as they are similar in size and shape.
Bare in mind not all pots, hybrid or otherwise, are IH compatible so be sure to check with the retailer before purchasing.
Cast iron teapot, kettle or hybrid. Which one is right for you?
Cast iron teapots and kettles are durable, beautiful tea vessels. You can use them on special occasions and for everyday use. Many people enjoy these pots as a comforting part of a nightly routine. However, it is important to know the difference between cast iron teapots and kettles. Otherwise, you may inadvertently damage your teapot. However, both these pots provide a great way for you to savour nice hot cup of tea.