The story of steel, teapot kettle

Rahmi (left) and Hakkı Korkmaz of the Korkmaz Steel Factory pose with steel tea kettles

March 07, 2012, Wednesday/ 17:07:00

The story of the steel teapot kettle, which is among the indispensables of a kitchen, is really as adventure-filled as a detective film.

The founders of Korkmaz Çelik (Korkmaz Steel Factory), Hakkı Korkmaz and his nephew Rahmi Korkmaz, worked secretly at night and came up with a secret technique for making steel kettles. Some of their competitors even tried to sneak into their factory to learn the new technique.

In the past, there were copper kettles. You would heat the kettle on the stove, and tea would boil in it. There was such dense steam around the teapot that you would think it would never cool down. However, when you took the teapot kettle off the stove for only two minutes, it would quickly cool down. On the outside of the copper kettle were stains due to heat exposure. Although it did not keep the tea warm long after being taken off the stove and even though the inside was tea-stained and the outside was stained by heat, copper teapots remained indispensable. Tea brewed in copper teapot kettles just tasted better.

The ancestor of the copper teapot kettle was the samovar (tea urn). Samovars originated in Russia. At the bottom of a samovar is a built-in coal stove. On top of this coal stove is a container with a copper top, where the water boils. In time, aluminum and enamel kettles were introduced. Afterward, we became familiar with various kinds of kettles and teas that helped overthrow the popularity of coffee. Later, stainless steel teapot kettles were released. I will now let Rahmi Korkmaz and his memories explain. He is one of the two people who produced the first steel teapot kettle in Turkey. The other is his uncle, Hakkı Korkmaz. Although they now comfortably manufacture half a million steel teapot kettles a year, in the past, they kept their manufacturing of steel teapot kettles a secret.

We experimented day and night for two years

Rahmi and Hakkı Korkmaz began their journey in the 1960s by making and selling copper Turkish bath bowls in their little store in İstanbul’s Mercan neighborhood. By 1982, their business was expanding; they had a 50-square-meter store in Bayrampaşa with 20 employees. There had been a general transition from household goods made of copper to ones made of stainless steel, and they had started producing kitchen items such as coffeepots, cooking pots and trays. As they were manufacturing other goods out of stainless steel, they wondered whether they could manufacture a stainless steel teapot kettle. They knew that a stainless steel teapot kettle would be more practical and hygienic. And so the story of the steel teapot kettle began. Without consulting anyone about their idea, the uncle and his nephew start working secretly. They experimented at night after everyone had left. As they continued their experiments, their knowledge deepened. Their trials took two years. The morning after each trial, they thought they had successfully made a steel kettle, but then they would see that the teapot shapes they had neatly formed the night before had collapsed into something resembling a tulip.

We thought teapot kettle business would be over by 1990, but…

At the end of two years, in 1984, they finally produced their first steel teapot. Yet, there was still a problem with it. This kettle was not able to deliver heat at every point of the teapot, as it did not have a base like a samovar. The brainstorming started again. They agreed that they should add an aluminum base to the bottom. They stopped producing baseless teapot kettles. On their first try, they witnessed that the water inside the teapot kept boiling on its own for 15 minutes after being taken off the heat. The teapot kettle had been successfully made.

Korkmaz, celebrating its 40th year, was awarded the world famous Red Dot design award for its latest teapot, Esta. Did Rahmi Korkmaz ever think he would achieve this level of success? He surely could not have guessed. When they succeeded in producing the first steel teapot kettle, they began their calculations; there were 10 million families in Turkey. If eight or nine more companies started making teapot kettles like they did, the teapot kettle business would have been over in 1990. Today he says: “After us, maybe 50 people made steel teapot kettles. Today, it is 2012, and the teapot kettle sector is still growing. At the time I didn’t think it would be like this, but sometimes it is the system that paves the way for the person…”

This vocation was secret in past

The Korkmaz family tried to hide the way they produced the steel teapot kettle, but some attempted to sneak into the factory to learn their technique. Hakkı Korkmaz tells the story: “We had a machine for sale. My brother was working in the sales office in the Süleymaniye neighborhood. He called me and told me that a customer from Gaziantep was going to come and buy the machine. While waiting for this customer, another customer that I knew from before called me and said: ‘A man is on his way to you. Don’t take him into the factory. His actual purpose has nothing to do with the machine.’ Upon hearing this, I put two chairs outside the factory door and started to wait for the customer. When he arrived, I offered him a glass of tea. But he insisted on entering the factory. I read him like an open book and told him that I had sold the machine. Naturally, he was offended. When he said to me: ‘What kind of an İstanbulite are you? Why did you sell the machine before I arrived?’ I responded: ‘Such a person from Gaziantep deserves such an İstanbulite’.” This story sounds interesting to us because we are living in a period where information is always available. Rahmi Korkmaz sums up the issue: “At that time, how to practice a craft was secret. But today, it is different. You can learn everything in detail via the Internet.”

The first example of a teapot is found in China

When we look at the history of teapot kettles, we see it began as a one-piece only teapot. However, in time, it started to be produced in two pieces, as a teapot with an attached kettle. The first example of a teapot was discovered in China. The oldest teapot, made of Yixing clay, is now exhibited at the Flagstaff House Museum of Tea Ware in China. The introduction of the teapot in Europe is courtesy of China. In the late 17th century, porcelain teapots were imported to Europe from China along with tea. These were luxury consumer goods. Most of these teapots had white and blue glaze on them.

Keywords: story , stove , factory , tea , copper , kettles , korkmaz , steel , kettle , teapot