Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Heating water on charcoal- part two: Stoves and Kettles

Promised for ages, here it is: The post about stoves and kettles for boiling water for our tea. Since The Part one I was using and testing different stoves with different kettles. We were trying new clays, shapes and glazes and we had some succesful combinations as well as failures. The first part of this story was focused on charcoal itself and on how to use it. But as I have few new findnings about things which I have already spoken of there, I will start with those.

So some quick notes first:

- Even if you are not washing your charcoal, make sure it is dry enough. I find out that even opened bag of charcoal may absorb some air moisture. The charcoal will work but with much more smoke and smell, especially during lighting. So, if you would like to have smokeless time - dry your charcoal and keep it closed in dry place.

- If you are making tea outside, the heating water will, most likely, take more time. Especially cold, windy day (which can call for nice outdoor tea session) can be tricky. Moving air is cooling the stove, kettle and moves the heat all directions. It may seems to be marginal but lets try it and you will see. The putting the stove on sheltered place and using more of well lighted coal can fix that.

- Another combination which can slow your heating down is too big kettle or with wide bottom on small stove. Some stoves work with wide range of kettles, from big tetsubins to small glass boilling teapots. But usually there is certain size of the kettle which works best. Shortly: If you close the top of the stove with the kettle, there will be no draft and the fire will be inefficiant.

 There are many stoves or heaters around the world. I have experinces mainly with our own and I am going to talk about those. Our stoves are, basically, of two kinds. I call them "with the sieve grate" and the second one "with the flat grate" Those with sieves are Mirka's original invention and I am glad to admid that those works, in most cases, better. On other hand the stand or flat grate system allows shapes, which are not easy to make with sieve. To understand more, please take a look at picutres.

In first case there is kind of sieve, which works both as grate and as a place where the kettle sits. Great thing about this kind of stoves is that you can use charcoal of almost all sizes and shapes. You can put there big pieces (as far as they can fit there) as well as fragments from the bottom of your bag. Just if you are using your stove for more then one and half hour, still feeding it with new charcoal, you will need to clean holes in the sieve. I use old chopstick and it works just fine.

The flat grate is made as a stand and sit on the bottom of the stove. Or there is just grate which sit, thanks to shape of the stove, on walls of the stove. I like this style, but the burning of the charcoal is more tricky. You have to have rather bigger pieces of the charcoal and you need pay more attention how you set it up. Those simly needs more care.

To make sieves and grates more thermal shock resistant, Mirka mixes her own mixture of clay, silica, grog and sawdust. The main body of the stoves are usually made of clays manufactured for cooking. When you go through my pictures you can see several clays, with few glazes or slips which works for low temperature. We actually fire our stoves to two different temperatures. To thermal shock safe, but more fragile 850°C and to 1250°C in woodkiln. Those from 1250°C are much harder, but it is more risky for cracking with charcoal fire. So far, it did not happen with the clay we use now.


With kettles, there are many choices out there. And thruth is that for quality of your tea water is the kettle even more important then the stove. Your kettle can be made from silver, stainless steel, iron testsubin, ceramic, glass. Every material will impact the water its own way. All can be in different qualities, sizes, designes and, of course, price ranges. My experiences are limited to few testsubins, glass and many (mostly my own) ceramic kettles.

Glass is hard, clear, cold - they say that it leaves water how it is. Glass boiling teapots are pretty cheap and practical. I like to watch boiling water in glass with live fire under it. I think, it is good starting point, when you learn how to work with charcoal and stove. When there is not much going on it terms of improoving water it does not make it poorer either (as some stainless electric kettles do).

Iron kettles - Tetsubins, are incredible things. I am not an expert on those so just few words here. Good tetsubin ad to water some iron and makes water more live. If you had a chance to drink tea made with water from good iron cast teapot you know. Unfortunately there are many inferior as well as really bad ones. Even good testubin can get rusty and you will get more iron then you may like. I have very nice testsubin (spoussedly fifty years old), which isquite rusty inside. I dont use it on daily basies, which could help to clean it. The water taste nice, but for most teas is too irony. People ask me just for the water and nobody wants to drink tea.

Especially if your water is poor for minerals then good tetsubin can make you happy. But as good tetsubin is real  investment, in both money and what we expect from it, dont buy it in rush. Make sure you know what are you looking for, make some research first. One of MarchalN's posts can be helpful too.

Ceramic kettles are, as you can expect, my love. Again, there are many kinds and origins out there. When we put aside the size and dezigne what counts is material and firing. If your kettle is glazed, then it is closer to glass teapot. Unglazed clay impact water and the lower firing tempretaure usually means more porous clay and the stronger impact. I saw Jappanese teapots (boffura), which were fired so low that that water leaks through and whole body was covered by small drops of water. The water taste from lime (calcite) and clay. If your tea water is too soft (poor in calcium, Ca(HCO3)2) then it can be what you need. You can find kettles, which go from this porouse, underfired clay to hard and waterproof stoneware. For now, I use manufactured clay, which is sold for cooking ware. It works when we fire it around 1230°C and most teapots do not leak. The clay makes water more rounded, with nice mouthfeel. It is clean and live.

With ceramic kettles or boiling teapots, there is always issue of cracking over the fire and thermal shocks. For our kettles we give some qurantie, all kettles are tested, but basic rules have to be kept.

-our quranties aplly, when our kettles are used on charcoal fire, not gas or electric. Some of them will works even on gas or electric burners and for very long time (I use mine) But, if I had some of them cracked then it was on electric and ges fire - never on charcoal. .

-don't put empty or almost empty kettle on the fire

-never pour cold water in to hot, empty kettle

-do not put hot kettle on very cold place (floor, stone table), fabric or wooden pad is good choice

-ceramic is generally fragile. So please, do use common sence when using them.

As I have already said, boiling water over the charcoal fire takes my tea experience on new level. And it is not "just" about taste of the water. It is about paying atention to what is going on your tea table. Live energy of fire. It is about being in The Rhythm during your tea time.

For those who are interested, here you can see our available stoves and kettles.

Thank you for the reading!