Awhile back I unabashedly waxed rhapsodic about my little cast iron teapot from Japan. Others before and since have done the same. So, just what is so special about these teapots that they would inspire such a reaction from their users? I found five reasons. You may have more.
Designed as much for their visual appeal as for their practicality, cast iron teapots are a graceful ornament to your décor. In Japan, cast iron teapot designs have evolved to be quite intricate with different shades and colors and various decorative elements, as well as a variety of shapes, including some that are rectangular. Some design elements include cherry blossoms, dragonflies, elephants, bamboo, koi, and dragons. There is also what I call the “bump” design where the exterior is covered with uniform little bumps (that’s the kind I have).
2 Heat and Steep
Unlike most teapots, cast iron teapots can be set directly on your stove or even an open flame. Some guidelines to follow:
- It’s best to have some liquid in the teapot before setting it on the heat source.
- When using a gas stove or setting on an open flame, keep the flames low so they do not hit the sides of the teapot.
- Fill the teapot about two thirds full of water so that when it boils it does not bubble over.
- Add the tea leaves in after the water is heated (not a strict rule, just my personal experience here — you can always try added the tea leaves into the water first and then heating).
- If you use the infuser basket that often comes with these teapots, put it in after heating the water. (Also, the rim will get very hot during steeping, so take care when lifting it out.)
- These teapots can absorb some of the flavors of the teas you steep in them (not quite as readily a zisha clay teapots), so you may want to designate different teapots for different teas and “season” them by doing several steepings close together.
If you’ve ever had one of those “Oops!” moments, no explanation is needed here. We all probably have at least one ceramic, bone china, terracotta, stoneware, glass, or zisha clay teapot that is chipped or missing a spout, handle, or lid. A cast iron teapot could survive just about anything you do to it except throwing it in a smelting furnace — or an erupting volcano.
Pig iron forms the basis for cast iron. While it is being melted, scrap iron and steel are often thrown into the mix. Impurities such as sulfur are subtracted, leaving an end product that is about 95% iron and various percentages of carbon, silicon, and traces of other elements. The metal is more brittle and malleable than pure iron and steel, making it ideal for creating intricate shapes such as these teapots.
Cast iron teapots are not too heavy and wash up easily with warm water and a mild, unscented soap. You should be sure to dry them thoroughly after washing.
Japanese cast iron teapots (also known as “tetsubin”) bring to mind centuries past. Cast iron teapots have been used in Japan as early as the 1600s. They became popular with the rise in steeping tea leaves instead of matcha tea powder. When you use one of these teapots, you are in essence carrying on a tradition of tea steeping that focuses on a full appreciation of every aspect of enjoying tea.
It is not just the stunning visual of a cast iron teapot that appeals, but also the atmosphere created when using one. You have to slow down and take a little more time. You have to pay a little more attention to the tea steeping process. And the pouring of the steeped tea is in itself a small ceremony done with care and patience. (And you definitely don’t want to giggle while you pour!)
Get one. Get two. Then, a third and a fourth. Before you know it, you’ll have a whole collection. And then you’ll need to buy some Gunpowder tea and some Gyokuro tea and even a package of Genmaicha tea. Enjoy!
See more of A.C. Cargill’s articles here.
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