Confession about this week’s weekly tea: I don’t actually know that it's genmaicha; I’m guessing based on the taste. Also, the place I got it from doesn't sell tea; they sell tea kettles. (Not tea pots, tea kettles).
Are you confused? Let me back up about four weeks ago, when I got a delightful email from an even more delightful person asking if I wanted a ticket to Stars on Ice in Iwate, Japan, where Yuzuru Hanyu was skating. I thought about this long and hard. On the irrational side of things, Yuzuru Hanyu. Yuzuru Hanyu! I haven’t seen him skate in person since just before everything shut down in early February of 2020.
On the rational side of things, taking a trip to Japan on short notice made absolutely no sense, my friend from high school was getting married two days before, so I’d basically have to leave her wedding, get on a plane, land in a state of jet lagged confusion at 5 AM, and somehow make my way about 500 kilometers to the north before 2:30 PM. This didn’t leave a lot of time for flight delays, customs and immigration, and getting lost (my perpetual frenemy, even in countries where my literacy level involves more than carefully sounding out characters).
Anyway, not being an huge fan of fully rational decisions, obviously I went.
Back to tea. Before this trip, I had been reading about using a tetsubin to make tea. It is almost impossible to buy tetsubin in the United States because there are so many fakes. A tetsubin (two characters, 鉄瓶) is a specific form of cast iron tea kettle, made for boiling hot water. When treated properly, the kettle starts to develop white scaling called yuaka (湯垢: literally, hot water dirt, the white limescale scaling that is familiar and generally unwanted). But what most people think of as imperfection makes tea particularly delicious.
Most of the things sold in the US that call themselves tetsubin are not in fact tetsubin. They have enameled interiors. They are cheap replicas that don't hold heat properly, or don't develop yuaka, or aren't heavy enough. Actual foundries that produce tetsubin in Japan have 900 year histories annd techniques are passed down, generation to generation. So where are some of these foundries largely located?
Well, Oshu, it turns out. In Iwate prefecture.
Imagine my delight when I showed up at the stadium in Oshu, having only been lost once (my train went to Yokohama instead of Shinagawa! I was in a rush! I did not get on the right one! This is a mistake that anyone could make, but particularly me!) to discover that there were booths outside of the Stars on Ice venue and one of them contained a display of tetsubin.
Better than that: they had tea samples made with a tetsubin! offered in little paper cups!
I was jet lagged, I'd been traveling for almost 24 hours straight at this point, there are people dancing a deer dance with drums and sasara to my right and surrounded by a crowd. And someone was like “hi, have some tea! You've been reading about this method of heating water for months, see if you like it!” (Note: this is not in fact what was said to me.)
Left: deer dancers in red with antlers and huge, white bamboo sasara.
Right: a huge tetsubin replica on a plinth
I took a sip, and I was immediately transported.
I am not sure how to describe what using a tetsubin adds, so imagine tasting a soup you are making just before you add salt, then adding salt, stirring, and tasting it again. If you're lucky and you didn’t impatiently dump in too much, you don’t actually taste the salt. Instead, every flavor feels like it’s been turned up a notch.That was what drinking tea heated in a tetsubin added: after a life of drinking unseasoned tea, for the first time, I experienced tea with every flavor tuned up two notches.Wow.
a little experiment
This last week in Japan, I did something I have not done in years: I left my iPad at home.
I was testing a hypothesis, which is that my iPad is actually too easy to use, and therefore, makes me too easily distracted. I wanted to see if I would be more present without it.
It turns out, I did not miss my iPad, and I was more present. What is this going to mean for the future? I do not know, but I am writing this on my iPad. 😂
speaking of experiments…
It has actually been more than a decade since this little novella was published, and it changed my life.
At the time, I had three full-length books out, and a lot of good reviews and press… and a smaller number of readers. It felt to me like my career had two parts: the part that everyone saw (praise and fanfare) and the part that was real (characterized by rapidly decreasing print runs and claims that my career would be over if I kept writing about weird characters).
At that point, I made a decision to bet on myself, and to believe that people actually wanted to read about my weird characters, and I wrote this novella as proof that I could market myself better than a publisher who seemed to believe that it was impossible to market characters who were not Dukes who Fuck a Lot.
This novella convinced me that people wanted to buy my books, and that I could quit my day job and make enough money to live on, and I’ll always remember it with fondness.
This has been Courtney's Weekly Tea, a weekly newsletter about tea, books, and everything else. If you don't want to receive this email, or do want to receive additional emails about Courtney's books/book events/etc, please use the links below to unsubscribe from this list or to manage your mailing list preferences.