A Comprehensive Guide To Kyusu Japanese Teapot

The kyūsu (急須), a traditional Japanese teapot, holds a special place in tea brewing, particularly for green tea enthusiasts. Interestingly, it is also found in the Nizhny Novgorod area of Russia, where it is known as Kisyushka, a term borrowed from the Japanese.

There is a common misconception that all kyūsu teapots have a side handle. However, it’s important to note that the term “kyūsu” simply refers to a teapot, although in everyday usage, it typically indicates a teapot with a side handle.

There are two primary types of kyūsu: the yokode kyūsu, which features a side handle and is more commonly encountered, and the ushirode kyūsu, which has a rear handle similar to teapots found in other parts of the world. Additionally, there are uwade kyūsu, which have a top handle.

Kyūsu teapots crafted in Tokoname ware are particularly renowned. In smaller variations, some lids are designed to stay securely in place due to water adhesion. Furthermore, the spout is carefully angled to prevent any drips from escaping while pouring.

History of Kyusu

The kyusu, a unique teapot with a side handle, has an intriguing history that spans from its origins in China to its adoption and evolution in Japan. Originally, a pot called kifus in China, used for warming alcohol, and kibusho, a side-handled pot for warming water, laid the foundation for the kyusu. Interestingly, in certain regions of Nagasaki, Fukuoka, and Saitama Prefectures, the kyusu is still referred to as gibisho, which comes from the Chinese word kibusho, particularly among the older generations.

During the Edo Period in Japan (1603-1867), when steaming Japanese tea gained popularity, the multi-functional teapots from China found their way to Japan. While these teapots served various purposes such as heating water, alcohol, and even preparing food, they perfectly aligned with the emerging preference for steeping tea in hot water. At that time, larger vessels like clay pots (dobin) and kettles (yakan) with back handles were available for boiling water, but they were unnecessary for making tea. As a result, the kyusu naturally became the most suitable tool for brewing Japanese tea.

The widespread use of the side-handled kyusu in Japan can be attributed to Baisao, an influential figure known as the “old tea seller.” Baisao, who traveled around Kyoto during the 1730s, introduced loose-leaf tea preparation in the sencha style. Carrying his tea utensils on a bamboo stick, Baisao utilized the side-handled kyusu and combined his tea-selling endeavors with spreading Buddhist teachings. He played a pivotal role in popularizing the kyusu and is regarded as a central figure in its adoption in Japan.

Interestingly, the tea tools used by Baisao were imported from China, as domestic teaware production was not yet established due to the high cost of Chinese tea ceremony tools. The introduction of tea strainers also facilitated easier tea brewing. This marked the beginning of the adaptation of the kyusu to suit Japanese tea culture.

Today, the history of the side-handled kyusu is relatively straightforward. However, it’s worth noting that while side-handled teapots are rare in China today, the Japanese kyusu has gained recognition and has been reverse-imported into China due to its unique form. In Japan, the yoko de no kyusu has become a household item, cherished for its role in cultivating the art and social experience of tea known as “Cha no Ma.” However, the younger generation’s shift towards more convenient tea consumption methods like plastic bottles has led to concerns about the gradual decline of the kyusu in Japanese culture. The future evolution of the kyusu remains uncertain as tea consumption habits continue to evolve.

Types of Kyusu teapot

Japanese teapots kyusus, come in three main shapes, each distinguished by its unique handle style, adding a new dimension to the art of brewing and pouring tea. These teapots are predominantly crafted in the Mie, Gifu, Aichi, and Niigata prefectures, with renowned creators like Iwachu and Tokoname hailing from these regions.

Yokode Kyusu (Side-Handle Teapot)

The Yokode kyusu (横手の急須) showcases a handle that extends directly from the side of the teapot. Its slender handle starts at the rim of the rounded pot and gradually widens towards the end. The spout is positioned at a 90-degree angle from the handle. This design enables tea enthusiasts to hold the handle and use their thumb to control the lid while pouring, all with one hand.

Uwade kyusu (上手の急須) also known as Dobin teapot
Image: Uwade Kyusu

Uwade Kyusu (Top-Handle Teapot)

The Uwade kyusu (上手の急須) also known as Dobin teapot, stands out with its handle positioned right at the top of the teapot. The material of the handle often differs from that of the pot itself, such as bamboo, plastic, or rattan for porcelain pots. Metal hooks secure the handle to the teapot, allowing it to stay cool during use. This teapot style is particularly suitable for left-handed individuals. Similar to the Yokode kyusu, the Uwade kyusu boasts a round and stout shape.

Ushirode Kyusu teapot
Image: Ushirode Kyusu

Ushirode Kyusu (Back-Handle Teapot)

The Ushirode kyusu (後手の急須) draws inspiration from traditional Chinese teapots. It features a handle situated opposite the tea spout. These teapots typically come with a lid that helps seal in flavor and retain moisture during the steeping process. The Ushirode kyusu is commonly employed for brewing Chinese and British teas.

What are Kyusu teapots made off?

Kyusu (急須) refers to the traditional Japanese teapots that are predominantly made from high-quality fired volcanic clay. These teapots are cherished for their unique qualities and are often crafted by hand using mineral-rich clay sourced from volcanic regions. While some kyusu teapots may come with a higher price tag, tea enthusiasts vouch for the exquisite flavor they impart to the tea. Over time, a kyusu develops a patina that enhances the quality of the brewed tea. Consequently, these teapots have gained immense popularity among green tea connoisseurs for their subtle yet positive impact on the tea’s flavor.

The clay used in kyusu production is highly mineralized, which interacts with the minerals present in hot water during the brewing process. Each type of clay contains varying levels of minerals such as iron, zinc, copper, chromium, manganese, and more. Moreover, the manufacturing process itself influences the taste of the green tea. For instance, black clay, abundant in manganese, reveals its distinctive characteristics during the firing of the kyusu. Factors such as the iron content of the clay, firing temperature, and oxygen saturation levels during firing play significant roles in activating the iron. Consequently, two teapots with a similar appearance can yield different effects on the taste and properties of green tea. Furthermore, the shape of the teapot directly impacts how the tea leaves unfurl and how the water cools down during brewing.

How Kyusu Teapots are made

Highly skilled craftsmen, often hailing from a lineage of master potters spanning generations, meticulously craft various types of kyusu teapots using different clay varieties. Some renowned Japanese earthenware for kyusu production includes Banko-yaki from Yokkaichi, Mie Prefecture, and Tokoname-yaki from Tokoname, Aichi Prefecture. It is worth noting that these locations lie along the Japan Median Tectonic Line, which contributes to the exceptional mineralization of the soil. If you’re curious to explore more about these locales, you can discover the 6 Best Japanese Ceramic Towns You Should Visit. Additionally, you can even try your hand at pottery by joining the 8 Best Ceramic Classes in Japan for English Speakers.

The esteemed Yamada family, particularly Yamada Jozan III (1924-2005), is a prominent lineage of master potters from Tokoname, known for their exceptional contributions to the art of kyusu-making. In Tokoname-yaki and Banko-yaki traditions, the potters are referred to as kyusu-shokunin, denoting their expertise in crafting kyusu teapots. The creation of kyusu is a highly specialized and challenging field within pottery craftsmanship, demanding great skill and dedication.

How are Kyusu Teapots Made?

The side-handle is a distinguishing characteristic of kyusu teapots, setting them apart from their Western counterparts. This handle offers several advantages over the handles commonly found on Western teapots. It provides greater agility when handling the teapot and imposes less strain on the wrists, which is particularly beneficial when the teapot is heavy.

Typically, the side-handle is positioned at a 90˚ angle from the spout. However, there are various handle variations, including the back-handle kyusu (ushirode kyusu), top-handle kyusu (uwade kyusu), and even handle-less options (hohin kyusu).

Kyusu teapots can be crafted using either a potter’s wheel or moulds. In the mould technique, known as ikomi, each component of the teapot (body, filter, handle, lid, spout) is created separately and later assembled, smoothed, and finished, similar to the process for hand-turned teapots.

Regardless of whether a kyusu is hand-turned or mould-made, special attention is given to the lid. Each teapot is fired with the lid in place. If, unfortunately, the lid of your teapot breaks, it is not possible to order a replacement. However, the Japanese practice of kintsugi repair offers a solution, providing the lid with a second chance through the art of mending and embracing imperfections.

Kyusu Teapot Colors

Red Kyusu Teapots

The vibrant orange-red hue of these kyusu teapots is achieved using unoxidized clay. The most coveted clay for crafting these teapots originates from Tokoname, a small town in Japan. This particular clay is thick and has excellent liquid-holding capacity, even without glazing. Additionally, its low porosity ensures that the clay itself does not absorb the tea’s flavor, resulting in a milder taste. The tokoname kyusu teapots, known for their exceptional quality, are highly sought after by tea enthusiasts.

Black Kyusu Teapot

In contrast, black kyusu teapots are created by firing red clay in an oxygen-rich environment. The clay undergoes oxidation during this process, resulting in its sleek black appearance. Crafting black teapots requires additional effort in the production process, including an extra firing in the kiln. Consequently, black kyusu teapots tend to be more expensive compared to their red counterparts, assuming other factors remain equal.

Choosing the Right Size Kyusu Teapot

Kyusu teapots are typically smaller in size compared to their western counterparts, reflecting the Japanese tradition of serving tea in smaller quantities and allowing for multiple infusions. The standard size for a kyusu ranges from 200-300ml, making it suitable for serving 2-3 people or accommodating larger western-style mugs.

However, it’s worth noting that many tea enthusiasts, particularly those who enjoy solo brewing or high-ratio brewing, prefer smaller teapots in the range of 100-150ml. These sizes are popular among Chinese tea enthusiasts due to their similarity to Chinese gaiwans and teapots. It’s important to mention that while smaller teapots offer certain advantages, they might have limitations for beginners.

To ensure optimal brewing conditions and prevent clogging, it’s recommended to fill a kyusu to only 80-90% of its total volume. Alternatively, if you desire a smaller quantity of tea, underfilling the kyusu is a viable option. Considering these factors, it is generally advisable for newcomers to start with a 200-300ml kyusu size, which strikes a balance between versatility and ease of use.

What Tea to Use With Kyusu Teapot?

The kyusu teapot is a specialized vessel crafted specifically for brewing green tea, particularly Japanese green teas renowned for their distinct flavors and aromas. With its clay construction, the kyusu ensures a consistent and gentle heat, allowing the tea to reveal its truest taste. These teapots embody a harmonious blend of artistic expression, practical functionality, and skilled craftsmanship. Notably, they are not only user-friendly but also require minimal effort when it comes to maintenance and care.

Brewing Instructions for a Traditional Kyusu Teapot

To achieve the perfect cup of tea, it is crucial to find the right balance of water temperature, infusion time, and tea quantity. Here’s a step-by-step guide:

  1. Measure tea & add to teapot: Measure approximately 1 tablespoon or 10g of tea and add it to your kyusu teapot.
  2. Boil water then cool to 170°F : Bring water to a boil, then transfer it to an empty teacup and allow it to cool down to around 170°F. Boiling the water beforehand helps purify it and eliminates any unwanted flavors like chlorine.
  3. Pour water into teapot: Carefully pour the heated water over the tea leaves, leaving about 1/4 inch of space below the rim of the teapot.
  4. Infuse: Allow the tea to infuse for approximately 45 seconds during the first infusion. This time may vary depending on personal preference and the specific tea being brewed.
  5. Pour: Gently rock the teapot to ensure a uniform infusion, promoting a consistent flavor profile, and pour the tea into cups. It is customary to show the cup on all four sides before serving, presenting its best side forward.
  6. Serve & Enjoy: Serve the tea with grace, appreciating the artistry of the tea ceremony, and savor the flavors of the brewed tea.
  7. Repeat for second infusion: For subsequent infusions, follow the same steps, but reduce the infusion time to around 15 seconds. This allows you to enjoy multiple flavorful brews from the same tea leaves.

By following these instructions, you can make the most of your kyusu teapot and experience the rich and nuanced flavors of Japanese green tea.

Proper Care for Your Teapot

To ensure the longevity and optimal performance of your teapot, we recommend a simple cleaning routine using water. After you’ve finished brewing tea, promptly discard the used tea leaves and rinse the pot thoroughly until no traces of leaves remain. Gently wipe it dry with a clean cloth and allow it to air dry until your next use.

Over time, your kyusu will naturally develop tea stains, typically appearing as brown discolorations. These stains are normal and expected, and they do not affect the essence of your tea. It’s important to note that kyusu teapots are designed exclusively for brewing tea. However, if you use your kyusu to steep other types of tea, such as fragrant teas or herbal infusions that aren’t derived from tea leaves, it may absorb the aroma of those teas over time.

Other types of Japanese teapot

Houhin Japanese Ceramic Teapot: Perfecting the Art of Green Tea

The Houhin teapot (宝瓶) is specifically designed for premium Japanese green tea. Unlike traditional teapots, it doesn’t have a side handle. Instead, it is meant to be held with three points of contact. When a tea master pours tea with a Houhin, they place one finger on each side of the teapot and one finger on top. This finger positioning, coupled with the porcelain design, bears similarities to the gaiwan, a lidded bowl used for Gongfu brewing. While Gongfu brewing is well-suited for Chinese green teas, it can be challenging with smaller-leaved Japanese green teas, as the leaves often end up in the cup. For those transitioning from Gongfu brewing to Japanese teapots, the Houhin offers a familiar preparation and pouring technique.

Shiboridashi Japanese Teapot: Unveiling the Essence of Gyokuro

The Shiboridashi teapot (絞り出し) is another specialized vessel for premium green teas, particularly gyokuro. Its key design feature is its flat shape, which increases the surface area at the base while reducing its capacity. This design caters to the preparation of gyokuro, known for its sweet and savory flavor profiles. To maximize the tea’s umami flavor, the tea master loads the teapot’s base with leaves and adds a minimal amount of water. This method produces a small quantity of concentrated gyokuro tea, allowing the texture and taste to harmonize on the palate.

Tetsubin Cast Iron Teapot: A Western Influence

The Tetsubin (鉄瓶) cast iron teapot embodies a design closer to its Western counterparts. However, it carries certain disadvantages. Firstly, the Tetsubin teapot is larger and heavier, making pouring less graceful compared to the kyusu teapot, which allows for a simple turn of the wrist. Graceful movements are integral to the preparation of Japanese green tea, contributing to a calming tea experience. Many Tetsubin teapots also come with detachable metal sifters, which is not ideal for tea brewing. Using such a teapot is akin to using a tea strainer and a cup for brewing tea.

Iwachu Cast Iron Teapot: Aesthetic Appeal versus Practicality

The Iwachu cast iron teapot is another type that we do not recommend for brewing tea. Although visually appealing, it is challenging to use and may result in a less flavorful tea. If you already have a Tetsubin or Iwachu cast iron teapot, it can be repurposed as a water heater on a stove, as traditionally intended, rather than for brewing loose leaf tea. Both the Iwachu and Tetsubin teapots exemplify cast iron teapots with infusers, a brewing method we discourage due to its limitations. When the infuser is removed, nothing prevents tea leaves from flowing into the cup.

Exploring the wide array of Japanese teapots allows tea enthusiasts to select the most suitable vessel for their preferred tea varieties and brewing methods.

Where to buy Kyusu teapot?

When it comes to purchasing a teapot, you have the option of local shops or online platforms. However, for those seeking an extraordinary shopping experience in the world’s premier market, offering an extensive range of products from countless retailers, these renowned tea markets are a must-visit:

  • Banko Yaki: Located in Mie Prefecture, the Banko Yaki kiln was established in 1736 in Yokkaichi city during Japan’s Edo period. This region specializes in zisha-style purple clay teapots made from the unique tuff loam soil.
  • Onko Yaki: Situated in Gifu Prefecture, Onko Yaki is renowned for its craftsmanship in teaware production.
  • Mino Yaki: Also found in Gifu Prefecture, Mino Yaki is a prominent area known for its distinctive ceramic creations.
  • Arita Yaki: Located in Saga Prefecture, Arita Yaki produces ceramic teaware items known for their glossy and durable quality.
  • Tokoname Yaki: Situated in Aichi Prefecture, Tokoname Yaki has a rich history dating back to the 8th or 9th century CE. This region specializes in red clay kyusu teapots, some of which feature innovative design elements such as lids that stay securely fastened due to water adhesion and specially crafted angled spouts to prevent leaks. Tokoname ware is also famous for producing a wide range of teaware and tableware, as well as the popular “manekineko” or “lucky-waving-cat” statuettes.
  • Mumyoi Yaki: Located in Niigata Prefecture, Mumyoi Yaki’s kiln is situated on Sado Island. This area specializes in red clay teaware and kyusu. The clay sourced from Sado Island’s gold mine is mineral-rich, adding unique qualities to the teaware produced there.

These key production areas offer a diverse selection of teapots to choose from, ensuring a remarkable shopping experience for tea enthusiasts.

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