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The Tetsubin (pronounced “tet-SUE-bin”) teapot is a Japanese teapot made of cast iron. A typical Tetsubin teapot has a geometric, organic or animal pattern decoration on the side where its spout faces your right. This is because the pot is held in the left hand in Chanoyu, the Japanese tea ceremony. Its design is thought to have been influenced by the kettles of the common Japanese households of the 17th and 18th centuries. These kettles were simple in design and undecorated. They were typically hung on the fireplace hearth to provide hot water, warmth and humidity to a household; they were extremely practical pieces of kitchenware. 

During this time period in Japan, tea drinking was not popular with the common citizen. Only the wealthy could afford Matcha, a type of powder used to brew tea. When the Chinese method of tea brewing called Sencha (brewing with whole leaves instead of the powder) was introduced to Japan, tea drinking became affordable and more accessible to common people. Despite Sencha, Chinese teapot styles were expensive, and the Japanese people adopted their hearth kettles to brew their tea. Thus, the Tetsubin teapot was created. 

The Tetsubin teapot remained largely unmodified and simple until the 19th century, when Japanese art, which was gradually being influenced by the Chinese mainland as well, exploded in a cultural revolution. Over time, the Tetsubin style and design became more elaborate. Soon, a wide range of Tetsubin teapots were available, from the simple, hearth kettle style, to garishly designed works of art. The Tetsubin teapot gradually evolved into a cultural status symbol for its owner. The more elaborate the teapot one owned, the more prestigious one was (or wanted to be) in social status. 

The Tetsubin teapot was also adopted to play a small role in Japanese tea ceremonies despite its common roots. In Ryakubon, a small ceremonial setting requiring a limited amount of tea ware, the Tetsubin is used for preparing tea. In Kaiseki, another setting where a small meal is served before the formal ceremony, the Tetsubin is used with the meal. Also, in outdoor ceremonies, the Tetsubin sometimes replaces the Cha-Gama, due to the fact it is smaller and has a spout. The Cha-Gama is slightly awkward outdoors, because it is much larger, has no spout and requires its water to be ladled into the tea cups. 

Today, the Tetsubin teapot is a reflection of an important aspect of Japanese culture and history. Its design and shape is simple and beautiful, and its use is extremely practical. Many tea enthusiasts claim the tea brewed in the cast iron Tetsubin teapot tastes better than tea brewed in any other type of material. Highly collectable, Tetsubin teapots are hand-cast by master artists to this day, and have undergone a marvelous evolution from their early days as common household items into elaborate works of art and true reflections of the Japanese art culture.


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