A Tea Addict's Journal

The Demon Revealing Mirror

June 30, 2009 · 12 Comments

The Demon Revealing Mirror is one of those somewhat mythical and fantastical items in Chinese lore that supposedly will show who (or what) is a demon and who is really a human.  You just shine the mirror on the object, and you’ll get your answer.

A friend of mine in China who presses his own cakes has likened a good silver kettle to one of these mirrors, and I must say I agree.  I’ve been experimenting with my kettle the past few days with different teas, and comparing to what I think of the teas using the tetsubin, and I think one thing is clear, and that is how different they taste with the two kettles.

The two teas I’ve tried recently are both 2006 Yiwu, one being a fall tea that this friend pressed, and another being the 2006 spring Douji Yiwu.  When I drank them with the tetsubin, the fall Yiwu tastes a bit flat and boring — rather unremarkable, in fact.  The Douji, on the other hand, was quite nice.

All changed, however, with the silver kettle.  The fall tea was very fragrant and strong.  The Douji, on the other hand, turned out a little bitter and rough.

What to make of this?

Well, I think the silver kettle does a good job of telling you what the tea is like and highlighting the fragrant notes, while tetsubins are often softening — they round out the rough edges of the teas, and adding to the body of the tea.  In this case, I think that’s exactly what happened — the Douji was rounded out by the tetsubin so that the bitterness and the roughness were subdued, leading to a rather pleasant drink, while the fall tea gets a little more subdued.  Since it has few low notes to speak of, it doesn’t get much benefit from the tetsubin.

I’d hesitate to say that the silver kettle is more honest — highlighting the fragrant notes is not any more honest than smoothing out rough edges — but it does present a very different side of the tea.  Here are some spent leaves for you to look at.

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12 responses so far ↓

  • Anonymous // July 1, 2009 at 7:02 am | Reply

    Hello MarshalN,

    Since a year or two I read a lot of silver kettles. I wonder if the difference would be still obvious if the teas were compared under blinded condition? There are a lot of examples out there showing that fancy or pricy stuff or make-up will lead to a better judgement of the good (price of wine for instance).

    Different kettles but same tea, same water, similar brewing vessels (maybe gaiwan? two similar pots may be difficult or at least expensive to obtain) and similar cups. The best way would be, if the teas would get prepared by two persons simultaneously in the same (previously trained) way so there would be few difference in preparation and serving temperature.
    Then a group of blindfolded tasters guessing.

    Would be interesting.

    Best wishes,

  • MarshalN // July 1, 2009 at 10:25 am | Reply

    Hello Robert,

    Good point and extremely valid worry. I thought the same as well, but I’m now fairly convinced that this is more than placebo.

    While I have yet to conduct such a blind test, the evidence is in the colour of the liquor itself — silver kettles brew up a lighter coloured tea compared to tetsubin water, and this is not just a tiny shade difference — it’s quite distinct. So whatever it is, something’s different.

    I don’t think silver is the answer to everything — I think it will make some teas perform worse, for example an older, wetter stored puerh. For some other teas it’s the other way around.

  • Anonymous // July 1, 2009 at 11:13 am | Reply

    Hi there,

    sadly I have too less knowledge of chemical processes for doing research about the part what could make the difference on that level. I don’t doubt there might be an effect of silver vs. cast iron. I am just surprised that the difference is often described as that big and wonder about the part expectation plays in this, because silver has a lot of sociocultural attribution.

    Does the cooked and cooled down water taste differently in comparison?

    Sunny greetings from Leipzig,

  • MarshalN // July 1, 2009 at 11:28 am | Reply

    A friend of mine has suggested that it is not so much the silver adding to something, but rather, that the silver doesn’t really add anything to the water — whereas the other vessels all do. Now, I wonder, if the same effect can be achieved through glass kettles…. too bad my glass kettle broke 🙁

    The water do taste different. The first time I tried the different water I had no idea what is what, so at least in that instance, I was “blind”, so to speak

  • Anonymous // July 1, 2009 at 11:53 am | Reply

    Good idea with the silver as non-adding. Sorry to read about your glass kettle.

    I could try using a glass kettle, for lacking one with silver.

  • MarshalN // July 1, 2009 at 11:54 am | Reply

    Until I regain my glass kettle, I’d have to wait on that experiment 🙁

  • Anonymous // July 2, 2009 at 12:50 am | Reply

    I will second that silver changes the water.
    I’ve tried blind tests with other people, and it’s not that subtle.
    At Christmas time, I was cleaning a silver bell, and decided to see if it would change a cup of water. I took two cups of tap water, and put the bell in one over night, and tried it the next day. I’ve repeated this quite a few times with silver coins, and other silver things in a glass cup to make sure nothing else was changing it, and tried having other people try them blind. Every time, they’ve picked the “silver” as softer, brighter, and better tasting.
    It’s kinda like how fiji water tastes different than dasani.
    If you’re curious, you can try it at home with something that has high silver content. The water doesn’t tarnish the silver if you’re concerned. I don’t know what the silver does, but there is a pretty clear difference.

  • MarshalN // July 2, 2009 at 1:24 am | Reply

    With that I think we can toss the “silver doesn’t add anything to the water” theory into the garbage bin. Thanks Walt!

  • Anonymous // July 2, 2009 at 9:07 am | Reply

    Like I said, I don’t know what the silver does.
    For all I know, it might be taking something out.
    I don’t know what it does, but I’m pretty sure it’s not placebo.

  • jasonwitt // July 14, 2009 at 6:59 pm | Reply

    This is a very informative article! I’ve never heard anyone before talk about how tea really tastes in a silver teapot. I’ve even heard it’s bad for tea but that wasn’t from a connoisseur and was just secondhand. Now I’m interested in finding a silver teapot of my own or perhaps some silver cups to see how they bring out the flavors of the teas. If there are demons, let them be revealed! –Jason Witt

  • Jane // June 30, 2016 at 10:35 am | Reply

    Where do you get a pure silver tea kettle nowadays? Do you still stand by them for lighter teas? Do they rust? Can they be heated directly on the stovetop? This is so interesting. I was searching for non toxic tea kettles and came upon your site. Silver never occurred to me. I thought only of ceramic or iron tea kettles. Unfortunately, I can’t find a single glass kettle that doesn’t also contain trace amounts of lead. So that’s out. Have you had any luck locating a source for silver kettles, or is it all luck and chance hunting on ebay?

    Thank you! You have given me another alternative to consider.

    • MarshalN // July 18, 2016 at 3:44 am | Reply

      You get them … well they sell them new in Japan, where the best ones are made. That will cost you a pretty penny though, not to mention language barrier. I don’t think anyone online sells them.

      You can try your luck on eBay. I bought one of them that way. Won’t be cheap though, as there will be others who will want to fight you for it. I would say silver kettles are not the most practical option for boiling water – they take forever and is a bit of a pain to take care of.

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