enamelized tetsubins - actually useful for something? maybe?

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Fri Sep 25, 2020 9:40 am

Wwhile looking for pots or kettles and tetsubins or even just when poking around in thrift stores these mass-manufactured enamel lined tetsubins come up over and over again all over the place, particularly from European vendors. Of course they aren't made for stovetop use with the enamel lining, but they do bring up some ideas or questions for me...

biggest thing I guess being how or why they came about. I feel like they typically seem more like decorative items or made for those who don't drink the type of tea we do. were unlined small iron tetsubin actually used for brewing and at some point not so long ago and the lining came about because people can't be asked to dry out their teapot? or was the entire thing developed by or marketed to Europeans looking for some sort of asian-inspired thingy to have look nice on their cabinet? I suppose if it has an infuser one can just pull the basket out but because of the heat retention I always found them especially odd since I think it would be really prone to overcooking and making teas like sencha super bitter.

I always wonder how hard it would be if it were possible to remove the lining on some of these to make for a rather cheap smaller tetsubin. I suppose the issue there even after that is done is if the purity of the iron is good enough, as well as that the newly exposed iron would probably need some sort of seasoning or protection. Its funny that in many cases when you see warnings not to use them on the stove its because if the enamel cracks the iron will affect the tea which is what we are actually after- I'm much more worried about what might leach out of a cracked low grade enamel lining. while good cast iron tetsubins seem to run in the $250-infinity range (and I think are completely justified given the process/materials and intensity) I imagine there is also a market for mass-produced less crafty tetsubins out there, but its funny to see them being made but always having this stupid liner being put in them.

Has anyone actually used these for slow brewing? Is the enamel that delicate or is it just a thermal shock thing? If it can't handle direct stovetop heat, or at least maybe not for consistent boiling, I'm wonder if placing them (pre-warmed) on an alcohol burner or over even just a candle would also be a bad idea? I've seen many that do come with little tea light trays. Since they tend to come pretty cheap second hand and in a variety of smaller sizes I could see having it over a small flame being a pretty handy way of extracting the last bits from a spent tea, or just having a pot of shu slowly cooking away all day. A lot of heat resistant glass pots I find tend to run on the bigger side, plus the iron is a little less fragile and prone to breaking.
Last edited by wave_code on Sat Sep 26, 2020 4:52 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Fri Sep 25, 2020 11:50 am

They were invented by Mariage Frères in collaboration with the Japanese tetsubin maker Iwachu for use as teapots. The quality tumbled as they became popular and developed Chinese copycats.

Alain Stella wrote a book that mentions this:
like Art Deco items, cast-iron accessories could overcome the effete image of that world, and might appeal to younger, more masculine customers. Hence the idea of making teapots — rather than kettles, which would have a hard time finding a niche in French kitchens — of cast-iron. So Bueno wanted to find out whether Japanese craftsmen actually made teapots in that metal...

There were plenty of kettles and various decorative objects, but no teapots in sight. After several encounters, Bueno finally found a craftsman willing to listen to his crazy idea: Bueno wanted a teapot of cast-iron in a Western size (the Japanese themselves make tea in tiny recipients) and he wanted the inside lined with enamel to avoid altering the taste of the tea...

Several months and several trials later, Mariage Frères publicly presented the first cast-iron teapots at its Festival of Japanese Tea.
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Sat Sep 26, 2020 5:05 am

thanks- very interesting. would your recommend picking up that book?

It makes a lot of sense, I can see how it fits into the whole art deco scheme. The Iwachu ironware pots and other things are super nice looking- I wouldn't be mad if I woke up and found some of those pots and pans in my kitchen. Good to know which ones to look at if one wants something higher quality. I'm kind of tempted to pick one of these up to see how it fares for all day slow heating, and I definitely wouldn't want something that would either get the tea all oily or leach something nasty into it.
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Fri Oct 30, 2020 9:37 pm

Due to long heat retention, they're good for some herbal teas, e.g. rooibos and camomile, but many others as well.
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Fri Aug 04, 2023 10:03 am

It seems to me that this is an extra precaution and not an actual limitation.

Enamel is an extremely strong material and it can withstand extremely high temperatures. It is used for coating a lot of cookware, e.g. Dutch ovens, and I never heard of any problem heating a Dutch oven on a stove top or even putting it inside a stove. In fact, it was the French who brought the technique of coating cast iron cookware with enamel to perfection, and Le Creuset and Staub, both French companies. are considered to be the best in the industry. It was also a Frenchman who brought this technique to Japan.

If I may guess, the problem with heating the tetsubin on a stovetop is that if you expose the enameled tetsubin to extreme temperature changes, such as pour cold water on the enamel or leave the teapot to heat on the stove without any water in it, the enamel may crack. So in order to avoid this unpleasantness, the manufacturer said it is best not to heat it at all.
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