Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Tetsubin Adventures - Part I: The Beginning

Today a bit of tea-kit I've been eyeing for quite some time came in the mail: a bona-fide tetsubin. According to the asian antiques dealer I bought it from (online for a very reasonable sum), this bronze-lidded lump of cast iron dates back to pre-1930. Also according to the seller, the inscriptions on either side of the kettle are a poem and a pine tree, respectively. The inside of the lid is inscribed with the make and what are reportedly congratulations for reaching old age.

While unboxing it I gave the kettle a thorough once-over to check for any rusted out or weakened areas (the seller guaranteed that it would hold water for 24 hours without leaking, but was reticent to say whether it could actually be used as a kettle, and I didn't want it dumping hot water all over my kitchen during a preliminary field trial, as it were) and, in addition to finding no weak spots, discovered a few interesting things. For instance, the little brass knob on the lid, while bent, still spins and can in this manner be cooled when boiling water. A seam all the way down the inside of the wrought iron handle as well as a suspicious lightness seem to indicate that the handle might be hollow as well for extra pouring comfort.

By far the most intriguing part of the tetsubin, however, is the rusty lump that can be seen in the bottom left of the photograph opposite. From the photos on the online item listing, I assumed it was the somewhat misshapen inside portion of the kettle's bellybutton, but in person this seems unlikely. The bellybutton is only about a centimeter wide on the outside of the kettle, but the inside lump is over an inch in diameter. In boiling and reboiling the tetsubin to clean it out and make it ready to drink from (as well as a bit of chipping at flaking surface rust), four radial seams became visible with a hollow area underneath. The odd structure and lack of any leaks so far, as well as the odd and surprisingly loud noises this pot makes as it boils lead me to believe this kettle may be fitted with a singer!

I first stumbled across singers in this article in issue eight of The Leaf and, if memory serves, haven't since. Whether or not that's what this lump actually is remains to be seen, in the meantime I'll keep poking away at it to see if I can deduce anything. In any case, the most important test is yet to come: taste. Having been unable to resist trying some of the plain water, I'll let on that it is indeed delicious, but more detailed notes will have to wait until it's subjected to the acid test of brewing a cup of tea. Until we meet again in Part II, dear reader.