The Black Belt Chazutsu Masters
- Holly Helt
Maturity, proficiency, dedication, accuracy, determination, sweat, skill, reward: this is what a black belt in martial arts signifies. I’ve seen these same characteristics in a tea caddy maker in Kyoto.
Kaikado in Kyoto is a remarkable company. They specialize in crafting chazutsu or what we call in the west, a tea caddy. And they’ve been hand-making them in the same family for over 130 years spanning six generations. Each one is made by hand either in copper, brass, or tin. Kaikado rules the world of chazutsu with their double-walled airtight seal. The lid glides so smoothly that you will find yourself trying it numerous times when first encountering this masterpiece of tea utility. These canisters are known to last more than a century – longer I’m sure! The hallmark of a Kaikado chazutsu is the patina that unfolds. Like a great Pu’erh tea from China, these canisters age over time with copper showing the first signs of wabi-sabiness to tin which gracefully ages the slowest.
But like martial arts, there’s not just one black belt chazutsu star: Samurai kick some chazutsu booty too!
Samurai out in Kakunodate in Akita Prefecture first started crafting glorious sakura wood canisters when they were bored between battles. The art has been passed down through the generations even though samurai ceased to exist. When I say one of these little beauties can be rather special, that’s an understatement. Some are on the market for ¥100,000. That’s around $1,000 for one tea caddy! The mere standard ones for ¥10,000 won’t be crafted by the grand master of Japanese tea caddies but are still exceptional. As with the metal Kaikado chazutsu, Sakura canisters gain wabi-sabiness with daily use. So don’t let the price tag stop you from using it.
Sakura bark chazutsu are something spectacular but beware the origin. You can find sakura bark chazutsu from China that have a ferocious smell from artificial glue and should be used for display purposes only. Don’t store your tea in them or fear getting woozy when you least expect it.
Luckily for us normal folks, there is an in-between that won’t cost your arm or leg. Priced around $50, these generally incorporate sakura bark “paper” wrapped around a tin. Some have flourishes on them in the shape of leaves or decorations, but most are plain to display the recognizable sakura pattern in the wood.
It’s funny but having one of these chazutsu seems to make the tea taste better… but that could be due to the mind wandering back to the day when samurai were meditatively chipping away at their artwork sipping some of the best tea in Japan.
About Holly Helt
Holly is American and grew up in Japan drinking Japanese tea from age-three. She has studied two methods of tea ceremony, Urasenke and the lesser-known Yabunouchi, which has a direct lineage to Sen-no Rikyu (known as the father of the tea ceremony) ; it's also the school of practice for samurai. In 2012 she founded Chiki Tea - an online retailer of Japanese green teas, all sourced directly from small farms in Japan. Splitting her time between Japan and her home in Texas, Holly strives to bring the best teas from Japan to as many people as she can find to share in her life's passion.