A Tea Addict's Journal

Buying tetsubins

November 4, 2012 · 19 Comments

Buying tetsubins is a treacherous business. There are all kinds of problems that can arise in the process. I’ve probably bought about a dozen of them now, over the past few years, so have a reasonable sample size to talk about. The first issue, when buying them used anyway, is that the pictures are not always clear, so you are taking a gamble, and the size of your gamble depends largely on the quality of the pictures.

The first tetsubin I ever bought was a cheap little hobnail thing that I bought off eBay for about $20. It was cheap, it was small, but it was a tester, so to speak. At that point I didn’t own a tetsubin, and wasn’t sure of its usefulness in tea brewing. When it came, it had issues – specifically, the water tasted funny. It was sweet and yellow, and I think it was tea residue. The previous owner used it as a teapot (or something similar) and the water therefore was infused with whatever leftover flavours in the tetsubin. I eventually treated it by baking it in the oven – all the volatiles got burned out. I also discovered, while baking it, that the surface was covered in some kind of gunk – a layer of substance that I’m not sure what it is, to this day. Some of it might have been the paint/coating on the surface to keep it from rusting, but something else was there too – something that melts a little at low heat and was sticky when touched. It all got baked away, which was a good thing. Still, it was too small to be practical, but as a proof-of-concept, it worked, so I resold it on eBay for the same price I bought it for, and moved on.

The second was also an eBay purchase, the one right next to the hobnail one in the above-linked post, in fact. That one had a major problem – a tiny little hole, to be exact, that was right in the center of the bottom of the tetsubin. It was tiny, so not visible in any pictures, and it wasn’t pointed out in the listing, but it was there, and it rendered the pot unuseable. That was a pain, and another way that a purchase can go wrong.

I’ve had a number of good purchases since then, and in fact, the third tetsubin I ever bought is also the one I still use most days. It works – it’s lighter, relatively rust free (although more rusty now than when I bought it) and it’s good to look at. Still, there have been issues in the ones I’ve bought since. Sometimes, they’re so rusty as to make the tetsubin hard to use – it’s a real pain to clean, and an investment of time. Sometimes, the sizes are not clearly marked, so when they show up, it’s a real surprise – not always a pleasant one. Other times, there have been repairs done that wasn’t mentioned, and while it might still be usable, it’s good to know if your tetsubin has been fixed or not.

A recent acquisition was a bit of a gamble – the interior shots were iffy, and so I wasn’t sure what to expect. Thankfully, it turned out all right.

A bit rusty inside, but that’s solvable.

Which gets to the other major problem with these things these days – price. Whereas a few years ago, tetsubins were relatively cheap affair, that’s no longer the case. These days anything half decent is at least a few hundred dollars, and anything with any amount of decoration will set you back way more. Trying to find those bargains are hard now, and trying to find bargains in good condition, more difficult still. This is mostly driven, like everything else, by Chinese demand – a tetsubin like this can easily sell for 10,000 RMB in China, advertised as an antique of some sort. It is indeed good for boiling water in, but those prices are ridiculous. Alas, that’s the reality we live in these days, just like the prices for tea.

Categories: Objects
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19 responses so far ↓

  • Phyll Sheng // November 4, 2012 at 11:00 am | Reply

    Great post. Wish you could post a pic of your tetsubin collection side by side like you did with your Yixing pots 🙂

    Question: how do you solve the problem of rusty interior/exterior?


    • MarshalN // November 5, 2012 at 3:06 am | Reply

      Rusty exterior is a pain. Rusty interior – there are the non-invasive ways of just using water to keep boiling, to things like scrubbing to vinegar to any number of solutions. I try to be minimally invasive if possible, if for no other reason than to not muck it up too much.

      As for a family portriat… nah

  • Kim // November 4, 2012 at 11:05 am | Reply

    Do you have some tips how to “re-black” the outside of a tetsubin ?

    • walt // November 4, 2012 at 2:54 pm | Reply

      You can cover it with lard and bake it in the oven for 2 hours. google cast iron seasoning. I wouldn’t do it on the inside though, or you lose the metal to water contact. otherwise, you’d need to enamel it, which would require a kiln.

      • Brandon // November 5, 2012 at 9:58 am | Reply

        You can do it on the stovetop by boiling some dark hojicha (you can do it inside the tetsubin if you want) and paint it on the hot outside. You’ll end up making a bit of a mess on the stovetop, but I think I prefer this to lard.

        • Eugenius // November 5, 2012 at 10:19 am | Reply

          I’ll second this, although I think pretty much any tea will work. Not sure whether it’s a result of the slight acidity, the antioxidants, staining, or a combination thereof, but it seems to do the trick quite nicely.

    • Susan // January 17, 2016 at 2:55 pm | Reply

      I just reblacked my tetsubin. This works well, is fast, leaves no sticky residue, makes the cast iron waterproof, and gives a nice sheen. Place your clean and dry tetsubin in a cold oven, then heat the oven to 450 to 500 degrees. Meanwhile place a pile of rags on your counter, have a small pad of lint free cotton cloth, tongs, oven mitts and flax oil. You can get flax oil at Whole Foods. Only use flax oil. When the pot is hot, remove from oven and coat with a very very thin layer of flax oil–outside only. DO NOT TREAT THE INTERIOR. Put back in the oven for 10 minutes. Repeat until you get the look you like.

  • walt // November 4, 2012 at 2:50 pm | Reply

    you can remove the rust electrically. in a nutshell you use a car battery charger, connecting one pole to the iron, and the other to an iron rod, bolt, or nail.then soak in a bucket of water and baking soda, and let it run overnight. the electrcity moves the exidation from the iron to the bolt/rod, leaving clean iron. you can google video of it in YouTube. people use it to restore vintage cast iron cookware, and antique car parts for powdercoating.

    works with silver without electricity, with just aluminum foil, hot water, and baking soda in a nonmetallic container.

  • tkellyd // November 4, 2012 at 5:33 pm | Reply

    Cool post! I’m (at this point) a collector of antique tetsubins and whereas I would like them to be hole-free, I have learned to take the good with the bad. I’m with Phyll Sheng above; I wouldn’t mind seeing your collection, either.

  • Luke // November 5, 2012 at 2:05 pm | Reply

    I don’t think, I have any big news about this but the best way to not get a rusty tetsubin is to avoid it from the beginning. My first tetsubin became very rusty because I made tea with it. Sometimes I just forgot to empty the tetsubin and there was tea-liquid inside over night. This way it didn’t take long to be so rusty that the water became orange after boiling.
    Even if I don’t use my current one often: until now it’s rust-free. You just have to dry the tetsubin after using it. I used it 20-30 times now and there is no rust yet. Hope it continues this way. Maybe this is a little help for anyone out there.

  • worldharmony // November 10, 2012 at 11:56 pm | Reply

    Wow, this makes me nervous about buying teaware from eBay- particular used items. However, used products are a good way to try something new. I don’t own and have never used a tetsubin, and I’m wondering what I’m missing. Thanks for the journal of your experience!

  • Hektor Konomi // November 13, 2012 at 2:45 pm | Reply

    Curious, are those cast iron teapots sold in a West just a gimick? Do people use them in Japan to actually brew tea?

  • Alain Gaskin // October 1, 2016 at 1:06 pm | Reply

    I have a problem with a kettle I recently bought, it looked ok in the pictures but when I brew water it tastes bad, metallic like hell. Ive tried lemon, milk, baking soda…nothing seems to do the trick. Recently I started to boil tap water in it and leave it to boil for one hour or so, that helps a bit but the metallic tastes always comes back. Any suggestions Marshal?

  • Ken // May 29, 2018 at 4:41 pm | Reply

    Hi, I just bought an old rusty tetsubin from a flea market in Japan. I’ve googled on how to remove rust, and I did the following: I boiled it with baking soda couple of time, then rinse, and boiled with tea leaves, left it overnight. Then boiled with fresh water. Water came out from orange to yellow, to now transparent. There is no smell of rust at all, though I can still see some rust on the pot. However, what concerns me is whenever I boil water with the tetsubin, I’d get some black debris in the water. Is it normal with vintage tetsubin? Do you know if it’s safe to drink?


    • MarshalN // July 12, 2018 at 4:22 am | Reply

      I think the black debris might just be old tea leaves… which you may or may not be comfortable with. It depends on what’s inside, really. Or is it one of those ones with enamel on the inside? If so, then it’s not so good

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