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The beauty of the ‘kyusu’

The one-handled Japanese teapot ‘kyusu’ is perfect for brewing green and white tea in small quantities

The word 'kyusu' itself denotes a family of teapots, though it has become synonymous with the one with a side-handle.
The word 'kyusu' itself denotes a family of teapots, though it has become synonymous with the one with a side-handle. (istockphoto)

I catch myself missing my friend Peter Keen, a prolific writer on tea, yet again. He was the one I would turn to for any history or culture story. Peter loved history, literature and tea. And sometimes all three together.

Today, I wish I could ask him about the kyusu. The Japanese teapot. I have been thinking about building my teaware collection, creating a little corner for myself to retreat to every day, and I would like to begin with a kyusu. More specifically, the yokode kyusu, which has a side handle. It’s the side handle—an intuitive design—I can’t get enough of. What a difference it makes to pouring and holding.

The word kyusu itself denotes a family of teapots, though it has become synonymous with the side-handle one (available for left-handed and right-handed use). This is a pot for small quantities of tea (100-300ml), so it’s well suited for green tea that can be steeped many times over.

There are four broad types of kyusu. Besides the side-handle one, there’s the regular teapot, or ushirode no kyusu, a handleless teapot, or houhin and dobin, which has a top handle and is large enough to hold more tea than the yokode kyusu.

Like tea, the kyusu originated in China, where it was used for a variety of purposes, from heating water and cooking porridge to warming alcohol. However, it’s in Japan that it earned its popularity and place in tea culture. Its arrival there is credited to a Buddhist practitioner named Baisao, who earned the nickname “old tea seller” because he wandered around selling tea and teaching Buddhism. He also shed the more ceremonial style of tea with the matcha teapot, choosing the side-handled kyusu. He would steep some green tea, or sencha, in hot water—simple and unfussy. He popularised the sencha, and the kyusu with it.

In selecting a kyusu, keep in mind:

Size: It’s a pot well suited for solo tea moments, tea for two, and tends to be small. It works better for green or white tea.

Filter: Typically the filter is built in, either in stainless steel or ceramic, or as holes in the pot. So, the kyusu is perhaps best kept to brew whole leaves that won’t clog the filter. Some kyusu come with a detachable steel mesh that is easy to clean.

Material: Original and authentic kyusu are handmade and expensive. Like Yixing in China, Japan has Tokoname, south of Nagoya city, with a history in pottery dating back to the 12th century, and Banko in Yokkaichi (Mie prefecture). Tokoname, the site of ancient pottery kilns, is particularly famous for its kyusu today because the clay is thought to cut the bitterness of green tea, making it a choice of pot for green tea brewing . Search for Tokoname yaki and Banko yaki to find artists and brands offering these teapots. Some, like Yunomi, Ippodo Kettle, ship to India but shipping and duties double the prices.

Of course, kyusu is also made outside Japan now. In India, Mandala Pottery retails a handmade kyusu ( 1,650; with two cups) by Adil Writer and Teacupsfull offers a ceramic kyusu ( 890).

Tea Nanny is a fortnightly series steeped in the world of tea. Aravinda Anantharaman is a Bengaluru-based tea blogger and writer who reports on the tea industry. She posts @AravindaAnanth1 on Twitter. 

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