Japanese cast iron teapot vs kettle. What’s the difference?

Teapot or kettle or teapot kettle whats the difference?

If you enjoy a nice cup of tea, then you may have heard that using old-fashioned cast iron teapots and kettles is one way to make that perfect cuppa. In Japan many people enjoy making their tea in traditional cast iron teapots. But did you know there are two kinds of cast iron vessels to make tea? One is a teapot and the other is a kettle.

If you’re unsure of the differences don’t worry you’re not alone. I’ve even seen retailers mislabel them. But after reading this article you should be able to tell them apart fairly easily.

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 in Iwate which is famous for making cast iron products called Nanbu Tekki or Nambu Tekkei depending on translation. So hopefully I can pass on some knowledge about cast iron kettles and teapots. I think using cast iron makes your tea and taste great and they also look beautiful. If you want to learn how to use your teapot then click the link to read the step by step guide.

What’s the difference between a teapot and a kettle?

Let’s start with cast iron kettles or tetsubin in Japanese

Japanese kettles are for boiling water. They are much larger than cast iron teapots and lack the enamel interior which teapots have. Since a cast iron kettle doesn’t have enamel, it might be okay to use it on a heat source such a fireplace. Although I’d recommend you check with the retailer. Just to be on the safe side.

Japanese cast iron kettles are usually a dull grey to whitish color inside. This is the natural colour of raw iron without any lacquer.

Cast iron teapot or kettle
Do you need a teapot or kettle? Let’s learn how they are used.

Traditional Japanese kettles

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 tetsubin 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:

  1. Hanging a tea kettle over the fire would mean there was always hot water available.
  2. The steam would humidify the room; indoor fires would make the air extremely dry.

Although the heating method has changed the purpose hasn’t. If you have a fireplace you may want to use a tetsubin in winter to humidify the room and have hot water ready anytime you feel like a cup of tea.

A traditional Japanese hearth
An open fire was once common in Japanese homes. This reproduction has an earthenware bowl hanging on a hook. By the 18th century this pot would most likely be replaced by a cast iron kettle called a Tetsubin. This Iori is located at Mahoron Shirakawa Fukushima.

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 remember not to use a teapot on a stove or over an open fire. Cast iron teapots are 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.

Learn about Japanese cast iron teapots
This is a Japanese teapot made by Iwachu. The bright interior is the enamel which protects the teapot from rust.

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.

Japanese tea kettle vs teapot infographic
Which is your perfect pot a teapot or kettle?

Cast iron teapot vs cast iron kettle

  1. Apart from the enamel inside the teapot, there is two simple ways 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.
  2. Many Japanese teapots come with a tea infuser which fits snugly into the pot. While a traditional kettle will most likely not with a tea infuser.

Is there is a hybrid?

While kettles and teapots are 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.

Some are not IH compatible so I would recommend 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. This reminds me, if you want to know how to care for your cast iron kettle then this article covers the a lot of the questions you may have.

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