The Four Types of Kyusu: Part II

Ceramic Atode no Kyusu

Atode no Kyusu with rear handle.

In Part I, we talked about two of the most common type of Japanese kyusu, or teapot. Kyusu have evolved over many centuries to best suit the needs of the diverse range of Japanese green teas. The two kyusu we introduced last week – yokode kyusu and houhin – trace their origins back to Chinese teapots adopted by the Japanese in the mid-Edo period. The other main types of kyusu, atode and uwade, are likewise the result of years of adaptation and evolution.

Atode no Kyusu

Just like the yokode kyusu, the word “atode” (後手の急須), meaning “on the back”, refers to this teapot’s structural design. Modeled to resemble western-style teapots, this teapot is especially suitable for Chinese and western-style black teas with a high water temperature and longer steep time.

Decorative Uwade Kyusu

Uwade Kysu or Dobin

Uwade Kyusu

“Uwade” (上手の急須), which translates to “on the top”, is also known as a dobin (土瓶) in Japanese tea ceremony terminology. Shaped like a western tea kettle with a long, curving handle over the top of the pot, uwade kyusu are larger than any other type of kyusu and intended for serving many guests at once. The placement of the handle is designed to accommodate the heavy main body of the pot, which would be difficult to pour with a side or back handle. When these teapots are made of cast iron and intended to be hung over the hearth, they are called tetsubin (鉄瓶).

Kyusu can be a fun way to experience Japanese culture and traditional tea preparation. If you are a fan of Japanese green teas, why not experiment with a kyusu of your own?

By: Jennifer Coate

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The Four Types of Kyusu: Part I

We’ve written before about the kyusu before – a small, traditional Japanese teapot perfectly designed for brewing up sencha, konacha, gyokuro, and many other types of green tea. Kyusu have been around for centuries, having evolved from the Chinese Yixing teapot when Buddhist monks first brought tea into the country during the early Heian Period (794-1185 C.E.). As Japanese tea is hugely diverse in style and steeping requirements, the form of the kyusu has changed and adapted over time into several different subtypes: yokode kyusu, ushirode kyusu, uwade kyusu, or houhin. Although there may be some variation in the appearance of the kyusu depending on artisan or manufacturer, the word kyusu itself is still an umbrella term for any Japanese teapot of these four basic shapes. In this post, we’ll explore two of the most frequently seen kyusu in Japan: yokode and houhin.

Yokode no Kyusu

The simplicity of the Japanese Tea Ceremony has inspired other accessories.

Japanese Yokode Kyusu

Yokode kyusu are the most common type of kyusu used in Japanese tea preparation. Its name reflects its appearance – “yokode” (横手の急須), meaning “on the side”, refers to the large, conical handle protruding from the right-hand side of the pot. This design allows the tea to be poured quickly and easily from a kneeling position, and is especially efficient when pouring small amounts into multiple cups. Yokode kyusu are suitable for most types of Japanese green teas, especially sencha. In fact, it was the rising popularity of sencha in the mid-Edo period (1603-1868 C.E.), that brought about a need for teaware specifically for brewing leaf, rather than powdered tea. Inspired by the leaf teas currently popular with Chinese Ming dynasty officials, early yokode kyusu were likely modeled after China’s purple clay Yixing teapots.

Houhin

Japanese Teapot with No Handles

Houhin ‘Treasure Chest’ Kyusu

Houhin (宝瓶), meaning “treasure chest”, is a small kyusu with a wide spout and no handle. It is usually used for steeping gyokuro and high-grade sencha, like shincha, as its shape and size allow for very quick, highly controlled steeping and pour times. Although these kyusu do not have handles, the low temperature at which these teas are steeped means that the pourer does not have to worry about burning their hands. Like yokode kyusu, houhin usage began in earnest during the mid-Edo period, as tea merchant and monk Baisao began to promote and popularize sencha and other whole leaf tea traditions. The houhin vessels we see today are likely a modified offshoot of the Chinese gaiwan. This is the type of kyusu that we here at Dominion Tea prefer to use when steeping our gyokuro, konacha, and shincha, as the fine filter and rapid pour allow us to brew these teas perfectly every time.

In our next post, we’ll take a look at the two other types of Japanese kyusu: atode and uwade kyusu.

By: Jennifer Coate

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Shincha – 1st Flush Sencha

Shincha -- a first flush sencha.

First Flush Shincha

Within the world of Japanese teas, sencha and shincha are two terms that can easily be confused, especially by English speakers. But while sencha is a broad category of popular Japanese green tea, shincha refers to a specific harvest of sencha that is highly prized among tea connoisseurs.

Sencha, with its vast array of varieties, has long held sway over the Japanese tea market, accounting for more than 80 percent of the country’s overall tea consumption. Production styles vary tremendously depending on region and desired quality. Highest-graded sencha is typically harvested and processed from late April to mid-May. Like all Japanese teas, sencha is steamed shortly after picking to dehydrate the leaves and forestall oxidation, giving it a characteristic vegetal and grassy freshness.

When cultivating sencha, Japanese tea growers divide the growing year into four harvests – referred to in the industry as flushes – named for their order in the year: ichibancha, nibancha, sanbancha, and yonbancha. The first flush, ichibancha, is what produces shincha. Delicate buds and top leaves, harvested by hand and briefly steamed, are plucked when they are still small. By plucking these leaves early, growers capture the intense expression of the all the rich nutrients and flavors that have been cultivating in the soil during the plant’s winter dormancy.

Bright green infused liquor from shincha.

Shincha Fresh from a Kyusu

Shincha leaves are small, tender, and vibrant, with a scent that is both freshly herbaceous and faintly mineral in character. When infused, shincha leaf steeps into a smooth paste yielding a bright green-gold liquor. The flavor, as compared to standard sencha, is notably bolder, livelier, and complex. A strong oceanic minerality overlays undernotes of fresh vegetation, with a faintly bitter finish that gradually gives way to a lingering stonefruit sweetness. The mouthfeel is full and sharp, slightly less astringent than sencha but still decidedly pronounced.

Like other Japanese green teas, shincha is perfect for brewing in traditional kyusu, but is just as delightful steeped in a pot or an infuser. Steep three grams of tea at a low temperature, between 160°-185° Fahrenheit, for two to three minutes. Shincha can also be enjoyed for multiple short steepings.

By Jennifer Coate

 

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Gaiwans: A Tool for True Tea Appreciation

Many a loose leaf tea drinker will admit to having a cupboard full of strainers, tea pots and various mugs that assist them in consuming tea. In China, that cupboard would be full of gaiwans. This simple lidded bowl lends itself to truly appreciating the tea in many ways that a teapot just cannot accomplish.

A gaiwan can be used to drink just about any tea you would like. However, traditionally it is reserved for white, green and lighter oolong teas. There are some teas we would not dream of drinking in anything other than a gaiwan, like Bai Hao Silver Needle. This is due to how the gaiwan amplifies smell and mouthfeel when following the traditional Chinese method of using a gaiwan.

The first step of using a gaiwan is to warm it with hot water and to discard that water. This seems like a silly step. However, it gives you an opportunity to smell the dry leaves even better. If you put the tea in just after this, the warm ceramic allows the smell of the dry leaves to become stronger. It is expected in China that the drinker will take the time to bring the gaiwan to just under their nose to inhale this fragrance before adding water to the leave. This allows the drinker to better appreciate what they are about to consume.

While drinking the tea, it is expected that the drinker will stop before putting the tea in their mouth and smell the brew. The bowl shape of the gaiwan makes it easy to smell before drinking. There should be no expectation that the dry leaf and the brew will smell the same. Often they do, but in some cases they absolutely do not. There is a green tea in China called Mo Li Xiang, where the dry leaves smell like duck/chicken poop but the brewed tea has a sweet dry grass aroma.

So to appreciate tea the Chinese way, stop and smell both the tea leaves and the tea before you drink. These simple steps lead to a better appreciation of your tea.

Fascinated by the gaiwan, read about how to use it and its history in this blog post.

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Playing with Water Temperature: 3 Black Teas to Brew Below a Boil

Water temperature is a critical component to a good cup of tea. Brew tea too hot and you can burn it, leaving it tasting bitter. Brew tea too cold, and you don’t get any flavor. So playing with water temperature can get you very different cups of tea all from the same tea leaf. This holds true not just for green and oolongs, but for black teas as well. Here are 3 of our favorite black teas to brew at water temperatures well below a boil. We are still steeping the teas for 5 minutes, we are just using water at 190° F.

  • Darjeeling – This champagne of teas is traditionally brewed at a boil. Those complex fruity, floral and honey flavors that are common for this tea remain at colder temperatures. However, those floral notes become stronger and the astringent (drying) finish becomes much softer. The difference is most dramatic in a 1st flush, but is still noticeable in a 2nd Flush Darjeeling.
  • Yunnan Sunrise – This partially oxidized black tea from China is malty at a boil. Dropping the water temperature, even as far as 175° F, brings forward more honey and floral aromas.
  • Ceylon – Sri Lankan tea is often overlooked as an everyday tea. It is woody in flavor and has an astringent finish. However, this beautifully complex black tea becomes herbal in flavor at lower temperatures.

So play with your water temperatures and enjoy a whole new cup of tea. Share your experiences with us, we would love to hear about them.

Note: To drop water temperatures, pour that boiling water into a cold ceramic mug and wait. Water will lose approximately 5 degrees per minute, so 3 minutes after pouring you at a great temperature for what we recommended above.

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