Buying tetsubins is a treacherous business. There are all kinds of problems that can arise in the process. I’ve probably bought about a dozen of them now, over the past few years, so have a reasonable sample size to talk about. The first issue, when buying them used anyway, is that the pictures are not always clear, so you are taking a gamble, and the size of your gamble depends largely on the quality of the pictures.
The first tetsubin I ever bought was a cheap little hobnail thing that I bought off eBay for about $20. It was cheap, it was small, but it was a tester, so to speak. At that point I didn’t own a tetsubin, and wasn’t sure of its usefulness in tea brewing. When it came, it had issues – specifically, the water tasted funny. It was sweet and yellow, and I think it was tea residue. The previous owner used it as a teapot (or something similar) and the water therefore was infused with whatever leftover flavours in the tetsubin. I eventually treated it by baking it in the oven – all the volatiles got burned out. I also discovered, while baking it, that the surface was covered in some kind of gunk – a layer of substance that I’m not sure what it is, to this day. Some of it might have been the paint/coating on the surface to keep it from rusting, but something else was there too – something that melts a little at low heat and was sticky when touched. It all got baked away, which was a good thing. Still, it was too small to be practical, but as a proof-of-concept, it worked, so I resold it on eBay for the same price I bought it for, and moved on.
The second was also an eBay purchase, the one right next to the hobnail one in the above-linked post, in fact. That one had a major problem – a tiny little hole, to be exact, that was right in the center of the bottom of the tetsubin. It was tiny, so not visible in any pictures, and it wasn’t pointed out in the listing, but it was there, and it rendered the pot unuseable. That was a pain, and another way that a purchase can go wrong.
I’ve had a number of good purchases since then, and in fact, the third tetsubin I ever bought is also the one I still use most days. It works – it’s lighter, relatively rust free (although more rusty now than when I bought it) and it’s good to look at. Still, there have been issues in the ones I’ve bought since. Sometimes, they’re so rusty as to make the tetsubin hard to use – it’s a real pain to clean, and an investment of time. Sometimes, the sizes are not clearly marked, so when they show up, it’s a real surprise – not always a pleasant one. Other times, there have been repairs done that wasn’t mentioned, and while it might still be usable, it’s good to know if your tetsubin has been fixed or not.
A recent acquisition was a bit of a gamble – the interior shots were iffy, and so I wasn’t sure what to expect. Thankfully, it turned out all right.
A bit rusty inside, but that’s solvable.
Which gets to the other major problem with these things these days – price. Whereas a few years ago, tetsubins were relatively cheap affair, that’s no longer the case. These days anything half decent is at least a few hundred dollars, and anything with any amount of decoration will set you back way more. Trying to find those bargains are hard now, and trying to find bargains in good condition, more difficult still. This is mostly driven, like everything else, by Chinese demand – a tetsubin like this can easily sell for 10,000 RMB in China, advertised as an antique of some sort. It is indeed good for boiling water in, but those prices are ridiculous. Alas, that’s the reality we live in these days, just like the prices for tea.