Recently, I listed why a cast iron teapot, popular in Japan, is a good tea steeping option. Time to look at another teapot style also popular in Japan: the kyusu.
The word “kyusu” means “teapot.” Many have the handle set at a 90-degree angle to the spout. These are yokode kyūsu (横手急須, side hand(le) teapot) and have a side handle and which is the more common type. Some, though, have the spout and handle on opposite sides of the teapot. These are ushirode kyūsu (後手急須, back hand(le) teapot), and are just like teapots in other parts of the world. A third type is uwade kyūsu (上手急須, top hand(le) teapot), where the handle is on top, like it is on the cast-iron teapots.
This ceramic teapot style is specially designed to brew green tea, and more specifically Japanese green teas which have their own unique flavor profiles. The lid is very tight-fitting and thereby assures the best steep of the leaves; it has to have an air hole to allow air in when pouring. Also, the clay of the pot retains heat well, assuring a truer flavor from the tea. You will be able to steep your most delicate green teas quickly and still draw out the flavors you crave.
Your success will be evident within the cup. For example, a nice sencha will have a rich, green liquid, an earthy-grassy flavor and mouthfeel, and a little sediment gathering at the bottom. Subsequent infusions will have less fine, particulate matter coming through the filter, but will still retain a rich and developed flavor.
2 Cuteness and Artistry
Some of the best quality kyusus come from the famed pottery city of Tokoname, a small city south of Nagoya in central Japan. They are a perfect combination of craft, artistry, and practicality. They come in a rainbow of colors including brown, red clay, and various glazes. Some are decorated with leaves, fruits, geometric patterns, and various glazing effects. The handles are usually hollow and can look like a little trumpet or be more bulbous. Some teapots are more squat while others are a little taller, and some are spherical. The side handle variety were meant to be held and poured with one hand in a graceful gesture (it takes a bit of practice to master). To pour, hold the lid in place with your finger, so it does not fall off the pot and possibly chip or break but do not cover the air hole. One potter that has taken the kyusu to a higher plain of artistry is Yamada Emu, interviewed here in 2001.
These teapots have a metal mesh screen inside the spout that keeps the leaves out of your cup. This means no teabags are needed. You can let your tea leaves float freely in the water. Kyusus are available in all and sizes, ranging from a tiny one-cup pot to a gigantic pot that hold enough tea for 12 or more people!
4 Easy to Use and Care for
- Use as you would use porcelain teapots.
- Preheat to the water temperature you will be using.
- Use about one gram of tea leaves per ounce of water.
- Set your steeping time a little shorter than usual, since the leaves will be steeping even as you pour the liquid.
- Repeated infusions are possible: a hotter and much shorter (30 seconds or less) infusion the second time, and a longer (up to twice as long as the first) infusion for the last one.
- Never place the pot onto direct fire.
- Wash after each use to remove tea stains using only tepid water or mild chlorine-free dishwashing detergent.
- If necessary, you may occasionally use a chlorine detergent and then boil the teapot in water to remove the chlorine smell. [Personally, I would not, but experts advise it’s okay. Your choice here.]
- Wipe the outside with a soft cloth to give it a lustrous sheen.
- Do not wipe inside the teapot.
- Leave the pot to dry naturally, right side up with the lid off.
I put tradition last because there are several schools of thought here: those that hold to tradition to revere the past, those who feel a duty to tradition and so do not live their own lives, and those who follow tradition because it gives them a sense of connection with others around the world. When it comes right down to bold reality, tradition is another choice. You can use a kyusu to feel that connection, or not.
See more of A.C. Cargill’s articles here.
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