While in Fukuoka Japan on business I took a stroll through an old market. Taking in the lazy afternoon scenes of the people and places around me when I spotted a few different stalls selling all assortments of tea leaves. From whole leaves, to thin needle-like styles to the little dark clumped balls of Oolong. It was here where I first saw the striking image of the kyusu or the “side-handled teapot”.
The History of Kyusu Teapot
To begin, the origins of the kyusu style teaware have their origins in Chinese and Korean tea culture before being adapted to Japanese styles and tastes. The kyusu in particular was most likely based on the Chinese chashu style pot. The first few specimens of this style may have been brought back to Japan by one of the envoy missions to Tang dynasty China. It was during the cultured time of the Tang and Song when many distinct aspects of modern tea culture began to emerge.
Related Article: The History of Tea in Japan. Who Introduced Tea to Japan?
The Different Styles of Kyusu
In addition to the unique side-handle style there are three other styles of kyusu. Each one bearing a distinction based on where the handle is placed on the teapot’s body. The yokode kyusu, or the “right-handled teapot” is one of my personal favorites but some of the other equally superb types are the ushirode kyusu or atode kyusu, the “back handled teapot”. The uwade kyusu which is made of cast iron rather than clay and is the “top handled teapot”. And the very exotic, hohin kyusu, “no-handle teapot”.
Related Article: The Ultimate Guide to Choosing the Best Japanese Teapot
The Yokode Kyusu Style
Today I would like to focus on the yokode kyusu style. This style is one of my personal favorites for various reasons. The smooth clay body is soft and pleasant to the touch, the material is quite light and can easily be utilized with one hand. This comes in handy with solo use while multitasking. Like doing such important things as changing the television channel or scrolling through ones phone! That is to say this is a great item for rest and relaxation.
But that shouldn’t belie the yokode kyusu’s dynamism. On more occasions that I’d like to admit, the one sided handle of the tenacious little pot helped me grab a pre-work cup of full leaf Jeju Island green tea while running far later than I should have been, or to fill up a thermose of spritely Boseong green tea as I rushed out for late night shifts. Whether one is straightening their tie or grabbing some important work documents, the one handed capability of the pot allows more flexibility in more stressful situations as well and less risk of accidental spilling.
The size and general style of the yokode kyusu can vary widely, from a clayware to ceramic body. My pot is of a medium sized body and has a deep mahogany color. The pots themselves are handsome and striking on a coffee table, study or kitchen. The earthy color combinations of the varying shades of green from the tea, and the mahogany color of the pot creates a harmonious and pleasant visual. This is all while not being too forceful in appearance and thus usurping too much attention from the tea itself. As for the particular tea that is suggested for use in a yokode kyusu, are of course green teas. When using a yokode with a ceramic mesh, wider leaves are suggested. While a stainless steel mesh can allow one to use thinner style leaves such as sencha or gyokuro as well as some wider loose leaf styles. Just make sure there is enough room in the pot for the larger leaf varieties to expand and fully unveil their aroma and taste.
Perhaps a bit of a cardinal sin but I admit to using my kyusu to brew various types of tea outside of the strictly “green” variety. In addition to various types of greens I have also used mine to brew heartier Jasmine and even Oolong as well. Mixing various types of tea will not cause any damage to the pot itself and it will still retain the same brewing properties, but the clay interior may absorb some of the flavors and aromas from other teas. Thus it is often suggested to use a clay pot for only one or one general type of tea. This does not necessarily discount the use of teabags for those who prefer to stick to this method of tea brewing.
When it comes to usage, make sure to grasp the handle in your palm and four fingers and to hold the top down with your thumb. From here the pour is a simple turn of the wrist, this technique developing from the Japanese practice of sitting on straw tatami mats. When one is done brewing tea, remove the leaves and rinse the interior with boiling water. Leave the body of the pot upside down so that it may air dry. It may also be advised to boil some water before placing in leaves to remove any residue from a past brew. Using the kyusu for a long period of time and allowing some of the flavor and character of the tea to build up can also help bring out a striking and unique presence in your pot and in your tea.
As for the real reason my clayware yokode kyusu is my personal favorite teapot, this brings me back to Fukuoka. Lazily wandering through the street market and being taken by this superb piece of craftsmanship. Coming from the United States I had not seen a teapot of this nature before. When I went inside to look the piece over I was surprised at how light but sturdy it was in my hand. The smooth and soothing feel of the humble mahogany exterior. The stainless steel mesh shining brightly under the fluorescent lights of the shop. The owner approached me and, in a very limited conversation gave me the item at a (slightly) reduced price.
I wandered back towards my hotel and visited a Daiso store to grab a small bag of sencha. I boiled some water in the little kettle in the room. Poured in (probably far too much) of the sencha leaves and inhaled the pleasant aroma that arose when I poured in (probably too little) water. I waited for a while (probably far too short of a time) and poured in a generous amount of the still steaming verdant liquid. I sat looking out the window at the early evening sky and the city below. Flipped on the tv to a station I did not understand and took a deep inhale and then a long sip of the tea. The vibrant and traditional taste and experience gave the tea, just a simple bag I got from a pharmacy chain store, a unique fullness and character I had not tasted before.
And such an experience is possible with any of our great pots, and especially with the exquisite kyusu style pots offered here. Whether one is a seasoned master of tea or a curious neophyte wanting a unique way to enjoy a tea bag, these pots will enhance your tea experience for sure.
As for my kyusu, which I glanced at from time to time while writing this, it has grown and developed from brew after brew. I have the same joy and excitement as when I purchased it a few years ago. Each day I use it, I appreciate each cup I brew. My appreciation and experience of tea stemmed from this extraordinary pot and the extraordinary way that it is used. I believe that my appreciation of tea in all its forms will continue to develop and grow in the same way that a good kyusu can develop and grow into something beautiful each day. Please enjoy any of the 4 styles of kyusu. They may change your experience of tea and possibly your life for the better too!