I would like to introduce the Japanese kyusu teapot. There are various types of Japanese teas such as sencha, gyokuro, deep-steamed sencha, hojicha, genmaicha, and bancha; but what type of kyusu is best for each tea? And what are the characteristics of each kyusu? Let’s take a look into the world of kyusu, along with its history.
The History of Kyusu
The kyusu was introduced to Japan from China in the mid-Edo period (Mid 1600s – 1700s).Originally, it was a container for heating liquor; but its use changed during the process of being introduced in Japan and it came to be used as a tool for making tea. Later, it was further improved as a dedicated tool for brewing green tea, and developed into its current form with a tea strainer inside. Unlike the teapots made in Europe and China, most Japanese kyusu have a side handle, which is its most distinctive feature. There are various legends as to why this is so, but one theory is that when it was brought over from China both back and side handles were introduced, but side handles became more popular in Japan and eventually became the standard.
This book, written by Seiichi Fukada in 1829, describes his views and arguments on sencha and has been preserved as a “guide to the art of sencha.” (For those who are not familiar with sencha, it is the most popular type of Japanese green tea.)
There is also a description of kyusu in the book, which shows that the kyusu of that time was already very close to the current form.
SENCHAKETSU, Seiichi Fukada (1829) National Diet Library, Japan (source)
Kyoto is the oldest place where kyusu are produced, and many master craftsmen appeared and competed to make kyusu using various techniques around 1860. In Tokoname (Aichi Prefecture), known for its famous Tokoname kyusu, production also began around 1860 with artisanal craftsmanship.
The Types of Japanese Kyusu
There are many different types of kyusu. The main factors that determine the difference are the shape, the way the tea strainer is equipped, and the material.
Shapes and Sizes
Hiragata (Flat) – It enhances the tea leaves to unfold nicely in hot water. It is recommended for sencha and gyokuro teas.
All-Purpose – This type has a larger capacity than the flat kyusu and can be used for a wide range of teas, including sencha, hojicha, and genmaicha.
Dobin – Used for brewing large quantities of hojicha, genmaicha, bancha, and low-grade sencha with boiling water. In the old days, they were used by large families to make tea to drink after dinner. Even today, these large dobin are still used in workplaces and restaurants.
Shibidashi – Has neither a handle nor a tea strainer. Instead of a tea strainer, there are grooves on the spout, and the tea is poured through the gaps. This gap holds the tea leaves inside the Japanese kyusu and only liquor flows out. It is recommended for teas such as gyokuro and sencha where you want to squeeze out every last drop of umami content.
Houhin – Like Shibidashi, this type does not have a handle or tea strainer. It has a deeper shape than the shibidashi. The hohin is also used mainly for gyokuro and sencha.
Embedded mesh strainer inside the spout – You can enjoy full-flavored infusions because the tea leaves are well soaked in hot water and can swim. On the other hand, teas with fine tea leaves, such as deep steamed teas, are not recommended because the tea leaves tend to clog or get into the teacup.
Fine mesh inside – The mesh is so fine that it is perfect for fine tea such as Fukamushi (Deep steamed) Sencha.
Far right – Deep steamed sencha. Since the tea leaves are steamed longer than regular sencha, they become finer.
Removable mesh infuser basket – Easy to dispose of the tea leaves, and the mesh can be removed and washed to keep it clean.
There are two main types of materials used to make kyusu: Pottery and porcelain. Since pottery is made of clay, the particles of the base material are coarse and absorb flavors and ingredients well. As a result, the tea has a mild taste with less bitterness and astringency. Meanwhile, porcelain kyusu is made of stone powder, which has a very fine structure. Also, the surface is fired at a very high temperature of 1,300 ℃ (2,372℉). As a result, the surface of the pottery is high density and hard, so it does not absorb scents and flavors, allowing the flavor of the tea to come out as it is.
In addition to ceramics, there are also cast iron and glass kyusu. Cast iron kyusu has the advantage of being extremely durable. The visual appearance of iron kyusu has made it very popular overseas, and it is often used as a gift. Glass kyusu is affordable and widely used in Japan for daily use.
Cast iron kyusu
It is often said that when you are addicted to tea, you are also addicted to tea ware. I’m sure this is true for everyone reading this article (haha). When choosing a kyusu, select one that matches your favorite type of tea so that you can enjoy the taste and aroma of the tea to the maximum. I hope this article helps you in your choice of kyusu!
All images other than Senchaketsu are provided and copyright held by author