Like many people immersing themselves in aspects of tea cultures and traditions I go through a process of learning better ways of brewing particular teas and learning about the traditional best types of teaware to use with them. My pattern has often been to make smallish initial investments into one specific type of teaware and then, after refining my processes and honing in on what is acknowledged by experts to work better, investing in higher quality, more appropriate teaware. When it came time to purchase a teapot for brewing higher grades of Japanese green teas I skipped over the compromised cheapware stage and went straight to purchasing a mogake-glazed tokoname yokode kyuusu from Artistic Nippon. I looked at mass-produced and mid-range kyuusu online and in person and knew that I would not be satisfied by purchasing one of them. In this case I substituted experience with a lot of reading. Before I go any further, a clarification of terms:
- mogake = A glaze produced by application of seaweed prior to the firing of the clay. The oxidation of salt results in interesting raised patterns on the surface. I have not found references to this glaze technique used for items other than teaware.
- tokoname = One of the six famous ceramic-producing regions in Japan. Tokoname kilns dating back several centuries are still in production and the ceramics produced in the region range from mass-produced factory ceramics to individually crafted artisan pieces.
- kyuusu (sometimes spelled kyusu) = teapot (used most often to refer to ceramic teapots)
- yokode kyusu = side-handle teapot. Designed to insure smooth and complete pouring, with hand around the handle and the thumb on the lid. (Left-handed models are sometimes made, but rare.)
- ushirode kyusu = back-handle teapot.
Here is more detail on Tokoname teapots, excerpted from Artistic Nippon:
Amongst Japan’s six ancient kilns (Seto, Shigaraki, Echizen, Tanba, Bizen and Tokoname), Tokoname is said to be the largest and oldest. Today, whereas many teapots are made using molds, these hand-crafted teapots are prime examples of skillful craftsmanship. Tokoname teapots are made from clay rich in ferric oxide. This reacts with tea tanin, removing traces of bitterness and giving the tea a mellow taste. This is one of the reasons why Japanese green tea lovers favour Tokoname teapots. Tokoname teapots are recognized as the best of their kind in Japan, just as Yixing teapots are recognized in China.
One of the things that makes ordering certain special products from Japan so enjoyable is the packaging that they arrive in. My new teapot arrived within a week in a beautiful wooden box tied with a ribbon in a beautifully artistic knot that I have been unable to retie it into. The box contained the teapot, safely nestled in foam concealed beneath a bright yellow wiping cloth. Both the box and the cloth are hand-signed by the artist, at least that is my non-Japanese-reading presumption regarding the calligraphy.
This lovely piece of art was handmade by Hokujo (Mr. Shimizu Genji) and bears the seal of his craftsmanship under the spout. Please note the black furry neko feet in the photograph above. They were not included in the shipment from Japan. The volume of the teapot is approx. 340cc (10.7 oz), perfect for gyokuro and high-grade sencha. It is very lightweight and feels very nice in the hand. The image below shows the mogake glazing. It is slightly raised from the surface of the clay and shinier than the surrounding ceramic. This effect can be seen fairly well in the photo below.
This photo of the open teapot below shows the sasame, the built-in ceramic infuser, which was one, among several, of my requirements when I was shopping for a kyuusu, as opposed to the internal metal screen infusers. Brewing tea in this pot has been a joy. I have only begun to sing its praises.