The Ultimate Guide to Japanese Teapots
For many tea lovers, drinking tea is a form of art. Traditional methods involve brewing loose leaves in special teacups and teapots with the ultimate goal of eliciting the most flavor and aroma while creating an exquisite tasting experience. The Japanese have mastered the art of tea making over centuries. Japanese teapots have been designed particularly for enjoying the delicious flavors of green tea.
This ultimate guide to Japanese teapots is designed to help you decide which teapot suits your tea-making style. Find out 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 known as kyusus. The teapot handles make each style distinctive and add a new dimension to the art of brewing and pouring tea. The teapots are created mainly in the Mie, Gifu, Aichi, and Niigata prefectures. Within these prefectures, Iwachu and Tokoname are some of the most prolific teapot creators.
Famous teapots include the Banko teapot, Arita Yaki, Onko, Mumyoi Yaki, and Tokoname Yaki, which derive their names from the clay and regions where they are created. The type of clay used in their construction also distinguishes the teapots. For example, Banko teapots are typically made with purple clay while Tokoname varieties are made of red clay.
Yokode Kyusu (Side-Handle Teapot)
A Yokode kyusu features a handle that juts directly out from the side of the teapot. It sports a narrow handle at the edge of the rounded teapot and becomes more bulbous shaped towards the free end. The spout is located at a 90-degree angle from the handle. The teapot allows the tea drinker to hold the handle and place their thumb on the lid to pour using one hand.
Uwade Kyusu (Top-Handle Teapot)
An Uwade kyusu features a distinct handle located directly at the top of the pot. The handle is usually made of a different material from the rest of the pot. For example, if the pot is porcelain, the handle may be made of bamboo, plastic, or rattan. The handle stays cool since it is attached to the teapot using metal hooks. The handle style also makes this teapot a good choice for people who are left-handed. This teapot is round and stout like the Yokode kyusu.
Ushirode Kyusu (Back-Handle Teapot)
The Ushirode kyusu draws inspiration from classic Chinese teapots. It features a handle directly opposite of the tea spout. These teapots feature a lid that helps to seal in flavor and moisture during steeping. This type of Japanese teapot should be used to brew Chinese and British teas.
Other Japanese Teapot Styles (Tetsubin, Houbin, and Shiboridashi)
The Japanese tetsubin is a cast iron teapot. In Japan, the cast iron tetsubin teapot is traditionally used as a sencha teapot to heat water and brew sencha tea in teacups. The cast-iron construction heats tea quickly and keeps it hot for longer than porcelain or clay alternatives. The cast iron tea kettle may feature an enamel coating on the inside, which allows the teapot to brew multiple types of tea. Traditional varieties of the Japanese cast iron teapot don't contain the enamel coating and should only be used for one type of tea.
A Hôhin 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 there is no handle, this teapot should be used to brew lower temperature green teas such a gyokuro or high-grade sencha. This teapot is also ideal for brewing expensive high-quality teas since waste is minimized due to the small size of the teapot.
A shiboridashi is similar to the hôhin except that it features a squatter shape. The teapot features a shallow bowl and a handle directly opposite the crescent-moon shaped pour spout. This teapot does not come with a filter. A shiboridashi should be used to brew high-quality teas since the wide surface area design allows the tea leaves to expand and develop a deep flavor.
Japanese Teapot Materials
Most Japanese teapots are made of clay or porcelain.
Clay teapots are typically used to brew green teas since the porous clay absorbs the flavor of each brew. This creates a deeper and richer flavor with each new brew. This also means that the stoneware teapot can only be used to brew one type of tea.
Some of the most popular clay teapots include the Banko-yaki and the Tokoname-yaki. These two teapots contain clay iron that enhances the umami notes in green teas by interacting chemically with tannins. The clay teapots can also produce a more mellow and even flavor without the bitterness associated with some green tea brews.
Japanese porcelain teapots are generally used for other types of tea. Since the porcelain is not porous, it doesn't absorb flavor and can be used to brew different types of tea.
Glass and stainless steel are rare when it comes to Japanese tea consumption. There are no classic Japanese teapot styles that used glass. However, glass teacups are fairly common when drinking iced green tea.
Choosing A Filter
Most Japanese tea sets feature built-in tea infusers of filters. The most common materials are clay and porcelain. The material matches the construction of the kyusu or hôhin and keeps the leaves or tea dust from entering teacups when poured. Some Japanese style teapots contain metal filters. Most tea connoisseurs avoid metal since it may alter the flavor of certain types of tea. When choosing a Japanese teapot, clay and porcelain seem to be the clear winners.
Choosing A Japanese Teapot
Japanese teapots offer a stunning variety of ways to brew tea as a work of art. From Banko ware made of purple clay to the red clay Tokoname pots, there are dozens of options. Choosing the right Japanese teapot will depend on your tea brewing style.
If you prefer high-quality green teas or single-servings, a hôhin, Yokode kyusu, or a shiboridashi is the best choice. If you like to brew larger quantities, the uwade or ushirode kyusu is a better fit. If you're left-handed, the Yokode kyusu may be difficult to pour unless you get one custom made with the handle on the opposite side. The bamboo handle of the Uwade kyusu may be a better fit for left-handed individuals.
Once you know your brewing style, you can hone in on what type of material you prefer. If you like the Chinese style ceramic teapots, the Ushirode kyusu offers a similar look and feel with white porcelain tea set construction. Otherwise, choose a clay option depending on your regional and color preferences.
Antique Japanese teapots also make great gift sets for Christmas, weddings, and house-warmings. They're the perfect option for tea lovers who want to create their own version of the Japanese tea ceremony. Japanese teapot sets are also great for everyday brewing of loose tea. Simply add hot water, your favorite loose leaf tea and enjoy the artistry of tea making.