The Demon Revealing Mirror is one of those somewhat mythical and fantastical items in Chinese lore that supposedly will show who (or what) is a demon and who is really a human. You just shine the mirror on the object, and you’ll get your answer.
A friend of mine in China who presses his own cakes has likened a good silver kettle to one of these mirrors, and I must say I agree. I’ve been experimenting with my kettle the past few days with different teas, and comparing to what I think of the teas using the tetsubin, and I think one thing is clear, and that is how different they taste with the two kettles.
The two teas I’ve tried recently are both 2006 Yiwu, one being a fall tea that this friend pressed, and another being the 2006 spring Douji Yiwu. When I drank them with the tetsubin, the fall Yiwu tastes a bit flat and boring — rather unremarkable, in fact. The Douji, on the other hand, was quite nice.
All changed, however, with the silver kettle. The fall tea was very fragrant and strong. The Douji, on the other hand, turned out a little bitter and rough.
What to make of this?
Well, I think the silver kettle does a good job of telling you what the tea is like and highlighting the fragrant notes, while tetsubins are often softening — they round out the rough edges of the teas, and adding to the body of the tea. In this case, I think that’s exactly what happened — the Douji was rounded out by the tetsubin so that the bitterness and the roughness were subdued, leading to a rather pleasant drink, while the fall tea gets a little more subdued. Since it has few low notes to speak of, it doesn’t get much benefit from the tetsubin.
I’d hesitate to say that the silver kettle is more honest — highlighting the fragrant notes is not any more honest than smoothing out rough edges — but it does present a very different side of the tea. Here are some spent leaves for you to look at.