The regal history (or not) of the Tetsubin teapot

My cast iron nailhead teapot

Some guys hang fake metal balls of the back hitch of their pickup trucks. I have a cast-iron nailhead teapot.

On a Saturday with nothing planned all morning, I got it out to use for the first time in several months today. I don’t use it regularly because you can’t leave the tea in it for hours on end (it rusts) — my “everyday” teapot is a brown ceramic thing that probably came from Christmas Tree Shoppe. It’s big and I don’t care what happens to it.

But sometimes when I’m in the mood to use the iron “Tetsubin” pot, I think it’s probably got some history going back thousands of years in Japan of which I can be a small part from my Somerville apartment in 2011. But today when I looked up the history of it, I found no such history. It’s basically a status symbol that gain in popularity somewhere around the 17th century in China, as more and more middle-class Chinese people started drinking Sencha (a popular green loose leaf tea), according to an Ezine article by someone named Jenna R. Campbell.

To be honest, my Tetsubin is more of a pain in the ass than it’s worth. It’s heavy. Despite being metal, it’s fragile — the handle on the lid keeps breaking off and I keep gluing it back with superglue. If you don’t dry out the inside after each use it gets a thin coating of rust on the inside. I originally thought that I could use this kind of teapot to actually put on the stove and heat water inside, then steep the tea in the same pot. That would have been cool. But when I got it, there was a note that said not to put it on the stove. So that’s out.

In the end, it’s basically a showpiece. My version of the male peacock’s feathers or the middle-aged man’s Corvette. But everybody’s allowed a few items for which form vastly outweighs function, right?

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About Don Seiffert

I'm a reporter and writer in the Boston area.
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