I'm a sucker for stories of how older, well-used teaware contribute something special to a tea session. I can't say for sure if this is really quantifiably true, but certainly for me it has an affect on awareness. Knowing I'm using something that was either made during a time when mass-production was small scale compared to today's standards, or was well-used by a previous tea lover, somehow assures me. But the case of this particular tetsubin has been a real test of my preferences. It's one thing to sip tea from an old porcelain teacup, and quite another to use water from a rusty old kettle! I don't know how old it is. The guy who sold it to me said it was made pre-1900 but I take that with a very big grain of salt. Regardless of it's true age though, it's clearly been well-used as evidenced by the very thick layer of mineral deposits on the interior.
this one from The Leaf that got me curious about crusty old tetsubin, but ultimately the proof is in the pudding. No way to tell if this is a good or bad thing until I try it out.
But let me tell you, it wasn't just the crusted interior that set me back, but even more so the smell coming from inside. It smelled like an old railway station from the industrial age. Off-putting to say the least. There was no way I was going to drink anything from it smelling like that. Thus began several weeks of just boiling water in it, again and again. Fill with water, boil, pour down the drain, repeat-repeat-repeat. Before pouring the water down the drain I'd pour it into a large white ceramic bowl so I could see the color of the water and also check for what kinds of bits and pieces might be coming out.
After a full week of just boiling water in it, it still had an unpleasant old train station smell. I was starting to think this would be one of those tetsubin that either needs to be seriously scrubbed out, reconditioned or just plain tossed, but went looking online for ideas. I found a Japanese website that suggested boiling a piece of ginger in the tetsubin to get rid of off-smells. It worked like a charm! The railway smell disappeared. Happily, it didn't smell like ginger either. It just smelled like what you'd expect an iron kettle to smell like. I did a second boiling with a piece of ginger a few days later just to make sure, but really didn't need to. One of the interesting effects of boiling the ginger was that when the water was poured out it was a brownish yellow color (versus colorless water every other time I boiled in it). I don't know if the color was just from the ginger, or if it was evidence that the ginger was somehow pulling dirt and impurities from the walls of the tetsubin. Perhaps a little of both.
I finally decided to give this tetsubin a go this morning and brew some tea with it. Being the first time I've used a tetsubin I also boiled water in my stand-by electric stainless steel kettle so I could do a side-by-side comparison. I chose one of my daily-drinker puers that I know well so I could concentrate more on the effects on the water. But first I just tasted the water from each kettle. No tea. Side by side the SS water was definitely brighter and "ping-ier" with a slightly metallic taste to it. The water from the tetsubin was sweet in comparison with a bit more smoothness in the mouth. When I say it was sweet, I don't mean it had an obviously sweet taste. If I hadn't tasted the two waters side by side I probably wouldn't have described the tetsubin water as sweet. But tasting them one after the other, the water from the tetsubin clearly had a softer, pleasant, sweet-in-comparison taste to it. Best of all, I didn't taste anything yukky or 'off' in the tetsubin water. No hint of any 'old train station' in the taste.
|SS tea on the top, tetsubin on the bottom, very slight color difference|
hmmmm maybe I should have titled this post "Scary tetsubin adventures?" :) I'll keep you posted if I end up in the hospital with high levels of strange and dangerous minerals in my body..