A few years ago I attended a dinner party given by a reputable cookware manufacturer’s dealer, who didn’t like to be called a consultant. In addition to tasting simple dishes prepared in pots and pans made of surgical-instrument quality titanium stainless steel, guests underwent the controversial baking soda test: baking soda and water were brought to boil in both a commoner’s skillet and the supposedly extraordinary product. Each attendee was then spoon fed the two brews. I was not converted that day, but was so repulsed by one brew’s metallic flavor that accompanying me home in the passenger seat that day, and still resting in my kitchen cabinet today, is a petite roaster made of surgical-instrument-quality titanium stainless steel.
I grew up with the convenience of Zojirushi and Tiger products and could count the few times Mom had used kettle anywhere. We nicknamed our water boiler “zo,” which means “elephant” in Japanese and whose caricature embellishes Zojirushi’s kawaii logo. Like anything tangible, these electric appliances are far from impeccable, especially when some of the interiors are coated with notorious non-stick material. Convenience and speed, however, reign supreme for those of us who dread spending time near microwave, ranges, burners. Moreover, both common sense and that baking soda test suggest that repeatedly heating up metal, like a kettle, induces chemical reactions that not only do not please the palate but also have dubious effects on human health.
So I was quite intrigued by a magazine’s short write-up on the boon of cast iron teapots, said to enjoy a comeback in recent years. Most likely you have seen shelves full of them at BBBY and World Market? Can you imagine heating one directly on a stove? I can’t. These teapots, with their fanciful colors and irregular shapes, seem more decorative than functional. Intentionally the manufacturers have amplified the look and feel of antiquity in their designs, bearing clear resemblance to ancient Chinese vessels such as tzun and ting, many of which were made of bronze, not iron.
Perhaps a $500 Japanese tetsu bin (鉄瓶), or iron kettle in English, will bring peace of mind? The ads highlight the products’ durability, heat retention capability, thermal conductivity, lack of enamel coating, and of course enhancement in the boiled water’s flavor and scent – briefly noted are alleviation in chlorine smell, sweetening, even infusion of iron in the brew. Some coffee drinkers have joined the bandwagon. I am yet to visit a specialty store and sample. The ads’ photos showcase simple designs without any outlandish artificial coloring, and not at all similar to some of yesteryears’ more elaborate tetsu bin.
In the archaeological three-age system, the Stone Age and the Bronze Age preceded the Iron Age, the earliest of which occurred in 1200 BC in Ancient Near East.
Images courtesy of the contributor.