I borrowed the term throatiness from Lew, who was the first person I remember using this particular term. What it is supposed to mean is a sort of feeling in the throat when you drink a tea — some sort of coolness or tingly sensation. This is the kind of thing that usually only puerh has, but some other teas sometimes will have them too. Generally speaking, only good tea will have it and the longer and stronger it is, the better the tea is.
That is until I got my tetsubin. Now, oddly enough, almost all teas give off this sensation. Mind you, better teas still do better with longer/stronger feeling, but instead of just having that feeling once in a while, now I get it all the time, or at least most of the time. Of course, it might have to do with the fact that I’ve upgraded my tea drinking. I didn’t use to imbibe 20 years old oolongs regularly. In Beijing, and to a lesser extent Taipei, I was often drinking stuff that is no good for the sake of learning or experimenting. So obviously there is a bit of a sampling bias there. On the other hand, I have found that with teas that I know well, using the tetsubin will give me a stronger sensation of throatiness.
Is it some sort of chemical reaction, or the extraction/release of certain compounds through the addition of whatever it is that the tetsubin adds? I have no idea what it is, but it’s further proof that one can’t use only one or two criteria to judge a tea’s quality. So much depends on what you use to brew that tea, it is almost impossible to tell for certain what is causing the tea to taste a particular way.
On this recent trip to Boston I made tea twice at somebody else’s place, and at both places I am reminded of how tied I am to my own tea setup, how my habits of tea making are determined by the teaware I use. It’s not the yixing pots or the cups or even the tea that really determined my tea making. It’s one specific thing of my kettle — the spout.
This might sound a little silly, but the spout of a kettle really determines how it pours, and that in turn greatly affects how I make tea. At the first tea meeting, I kept overshooting my pot (easily portable) when I tried to pour water into it. The spout on the water kettle there makes sure the water comes out at an angle that is not the same as the kettles I use, and thus I kept misjudging the first few times I poured. At the second place there was no such problem, although I am still reminded of how much I miss my kettle and my whole setup at home.
Kettle spouts come in all shapes and sizes. These are the ones I have at home
The one on my current tetsubin is the second, and not surprisingly, it gives me the most control in the speed of pouring. The last one is my electric kettle. It looks a little too wide, although it doesn’t drip at all, even though it seems like it might. It actually can pour a very fine pour, but it takes quite a bit of practice. The first is a spout on a simple stainless steel kettle. It does the job, but very hard to pour a fine pour of just a little water. The third is the flat tetsubin that I now have as a spare. It pours fine, except that it does drip a little (shorter spout and less tapering) and also is quirky because of the level of water vis-a-vis the level of the spout. Over time, I tihnk I am used to the higher levels of control that my kettles’ spout affords me, and also the perculiar ways they are shaped. The comforts of home, in this case, includes a familiarity with my teaware when I make my tea, and coming back to it makes me very happy.
I got some new stuff yesterday through the mail, one of which is this
A new (for me) tetsubin that I bought a little while ago from Japan. The one I’ve been using, after much cleaning and what not, is still not entirely satisfactory. It’s basically too small, and the kettle is a little quirky to get right. This one, on the other hand, exhibits none of the problems I’ve had with the old one. It’s made by Sato Seiko about 30 years ago. The craftsmanship on it is much better than my more mass produced predecessor. The pouring is much more controlled, and the whole thing is easier to use, basically… not to mention bigger, thus less trips to heat up water fresh. I like it. The only problem, if there is one, is that it has absorbed the smell of the wooden box a little, but I’d imagine with some use it will clear up sooner or later.
The tea I drank today is the 2005 Xizihao Lao Banzhang, something that is long sold out at Hou De. I remember I had this tea almost two years ago when I first started blogging, and the tea tasted a bit green to me — I remarked something along the lines of how it reminded me of longjing or something, and that it had gone to my head. Mindful of the potential power of this tea, I went a little easy on myself. The result is a sweetish brew — the tea has aged a bit, methinks, and I with it as a tea drinker. The tea no longer tastes green, and the liquor is a bit orangy, rather than yellow. The tea, overall, is subdued…. not terribly powerful, but I never thought it was in terms of taste. I did feel some of that qi coming from the tea, but even that seems a little mellower. Enjoyable, but not mind blowing.
I don’t know if it’s just me, or if the tea did change that way. It’s hard to tell with just a sample. Also, since I’m using all new teaware, compared to my gaiwan, electric kettle, etc that I used last time, not to mention different water and two more years of drinking experiences, maybe all comparison is moot.
So I’ve been using the tetsubin to make water that I then use to brew tea. How has it turned out?
Pretty well, actually.
The tetsubin does make the water seem a little softer, instead of having that sharp edge that a stainless steel water kettle will provide. It also makes the water a little heavier. I’ve found that for my aged oolongs, which are my tea of choice these days, it means the tea comes out a little more flavourful. The iron ions or whatever are drawing stuff out of the tea. Today I had my aged tieguanyin from my candy store, and it came out particularly strongly in a way that wasn’t really true when I had this tea a week or two ago.
That said, it might interfere with certain types of tea, especially green teas, if the water is used for that. It will make the colour of the tea darker, and the flavour will be also darker accordingly. That might not be ideal in the case of, say, a good longjing where all you want is that light and crisp bean taste. You won’t get that with this kind of water.
One practical problem has been the size of this little thing — it’s a bit on the small side. Three infusions, and I need a new pot of water. That is a slight problem, and since boiling water on the alcohol burner takes forever, I need to go to the stove, heat the water up, and let the alcohol burner do the last bit of boiling. It’s not an ideal situation, but it’s the most sensible one. Curiously, the lid is actually very air tight. It’s fine when it’s on the alcohol burner, but when heated on the stove, it seems like the thing was never designed for such a high level of heat and water can start spewing out because of the lack of a vent on the lid (mostly because it’s such a flat thing so the spout is only slightly higher than the body). Pretty interesting.
Still kinda busy….
I conducted a taste test just now with my cleaned tetsubin and my regular stainless steel electric kettle… the electric kettle water is, relatively speaking, a little sharper, whereas the tetsubin water is a little softer.
I find tasting waters to be almost as much fun as tasting different teas. Lining up four or five cups of water, unmarked if possible, and drink them one by one — swirling around the mouth a bit, feel the body, the taste, etc, and one really gets an appreciation of the way different water tastes. Then, use the same waters to brew the same tea — preferably a tea that you know very well already. The differences are going to be quite obvious and remarkable.
Now I need to try my tetsubin on the teas I’ve been making the teas I’ve been making…. let’s see if I can tell any difference. Either way though, I am happy, finally, that I can wean myself off the electric kettle…. it’s convenient, but having a fire under my kettle making tea is just somehow more convenient. It makes me happy.
After I mentioned my problems with the tetsubin, Dogma suggested to me that I should bake it to get rid of the funny smell. I did…. and it worked. I could smell the chamomile or whatever it was that was lodged in the pot, and now, when I boil it, no more nasty smell. I tried the water today…. tasted fine!
There’s some rust in there, and the shape of the tetsubin is such that scraping them all out is not easy. I’m still wondering if there’s something I can use to get rid of it without harming the metal too much — maybe some sort of acid (vinegar, say?). Then again, it will probably rust again. The piece, though, looks much nicer now than when I first got it, when it was covered in some sort of gunk. The downside to the baking is that much of the paint that was on the bottom was probably baked off — a lot flaked off, exposing the bare metal. I have a feeling it’s going to be a little more susceptible to rust from now on, so I jus thave to keep it dry as much as possible and hopefully slow the process of rusting.
Next step is to see if it works well as a tea making device. I still need to heat water first using something else, or put this tetsubin on the stove to heat up the water. The alcohol burner works well keeping the water hot, but really isn’t enough to boil – takes far, far too long.
Sorry folks, been rather busy the past few days and haven’t had a chance to drink real tea. Instead, it’s been teabags of some sort or another… such as Bigelow Darjeeling (which tastes nothing like Darjeeling) and that kind of thing. Things should go back to normal tomorrow as I return home.
In the meantime, though, I found this site about Yixing pots. It’s a very comprehensive site — probably more info and pictures than any other place online regarding antique (or at least allegedly antique) pots. It’s in Japanese, so probably not too many of you can read it, but click on any of the links in the bottom — you should find pictures that are worth your time just staring at.
Some of you may remember my Ebay misadventure post. Well, here are the kettles in question
The right hand one is the leaky one. The left hand one is the dirt cheap one that I bought in a hunch, somehow feeling that the first (i.e. right) one might be problematic. The right hand one is still leaky — I tested it. I’m going to try to get it fixed somehow, although, thankfully, the guy who sold it to me agreed to refund every penny of the cost and did so, including shipping. Gotta give it to him for being straight.
The reason I bought any at all was because my glass kettle broke on the way from Taiwan to here. Everything else was ok in my luggage, including the cups that Aaron gave me — in that case, a bit of a miracle because the wooden box they were stored in was totally smashed, but somehow the cups were ok. The glass kettle, however, was in a box that didn’t look damaged at all, but when I opened it, it was shattered. So I needed a replacement.
The left handed kettle works, in so far as one can boil water in it. However, it has some rust in it. That’s not the real problem. The real problem is that even after a number of tries boiling water and what not, water boiled using this kettle still comes out yellowish with a smell that most reminds me of chamomile. Anybody with a suggestion on how to get rid of such a smell? I’m thinking using some sort of chelation agent to get rid of the rust and see where that takes me…. suggestions welcomed.
So the hunt for a replacement kettle continues.
I think almost anybody who’s tried buying stuff from Ebay or other auction sites have had bad experiences with inaccurate descriptions, false advertising, etc. I am just reminded how sometimes things don’t work out on these things.
I bought a tetsubin through Ebay from a Japanese vendor. It looks nice, the price’s reasonable, and I have been wanting to get my hands on one to play with. So far, so good. It arrived…. and it looks good. Except one thing — there’s a small hole in the bottom of the tetsubin that the seller didn’t mention. Since there was no shot of the bottom of the pot, it was not possible for me to look at it either. So… I got a pot that will leak water right through the center. Since my name’s not Moses, I can’t part the water in the middle to keep it from dropping through the hole.
So now I’m dealing with the seller through paypal. Has anybody tried using the conflict resolution thing? How did it go?
Oddly enough, I felt somewhat uneasy when I purchased the first one, and I stumbled upon a second one, obviously inferior, but still a tetsubin… and very cheap (cheaper than one of those small enamel-lined tetsubin teapots you normally see). So, I ended up buying that one too, and that has arrived at the same time. It works — although I don’t know what the previous owner has used it for, because water that’s been through it smells like chamomile, and the outer surface of the pot was covered in some sort of grime. Now I’m trying to boil out the nasty sweetish chamomile smell from it… hopefully it’ll be usable after some treatment.
But tomorrow, I’m back on the road…. this time to Portland OR. Fun.