Although using tea bags may be convenient, many tea aficionados agree that quality loose-leaf tea tastes better. In addition to standard teapots, there are now several options for conveniently brewing loose-leaf tea, including teapots with infuser baskets and stand-alone infusers and also the tea press.
Loose-leaf tea often tastes better than bagged tea because the leaf is allowed to expand fully in the hot water, infusing a tea with a richer, more nuanced flavor. It is also more cost effective, as you are not paying for the materials (and labor) that go into producing tea bags.
The standard teapot allows tea leaves to unfurl completely and to move around the pot, which allows for maximum flavor infusion. The main disadvantage of a standard teapot is that, unless you are using a single cup teapot, you will need to decant the tea into a separate teapot to prevent over-steeping. Plus, unless the teapot has a built-in strainer on or in its spout, you will need a separate strainer to keep tea leaves out of your tea cup.
Teapot with Infuser Basket
Many teapots now come with a removable infuser basket that rests on the mouth of the teapot. You simply add tea leaves to the basket and pour hot water into the teapot. Teapots with infuser baskets do not require the use of a separate strainer for pouring out the tea, nor do they require decanting to prevent over-steeping (just remove the infuser basket when the tea is steeped). Their disadvantages are that the infuser may not allow full expansion of large tea leaves (such as oolong), and you will need to find a separate dish for a drippy basket.
Like teapot infusers, stand-alone teacup infusers sit on the rim of the teacup or mug. Just put your leaves in the infuser, pour hot water over the leaves, and steep. When the tea has infused, remove the basket and enjoy your tea. These teacup infusers are very portable, which makes them great for traveling. Their disadvantages are the same as those for teapot infuser baskets.
A tea press works like a French press coffeepot: Just put tea leaves in the pot, add hot water, place the lid on top, and steep. When it is time to decant the tea, push down on the press and pour out the tea. Take care not to “squeeze” the tea with the press, as this will release bitter compounds into the tea. Push the press to just above the tea leaves.
There are several advantages to using a tea press: You will not need a separate strainer for the tea, the mesh screen on a tea press is fine enough to strain out very small particles, you don’t have to remove a drippy infuser basket, and there is no concern about spout clogs. As tea presses are usually made out of glass, however, they do not travel well, and are best reserved for home use.
Incidentally, it is perfectly acceptable to use a regular French press instead of a tea press to make tea. It is important, however, to make sure that the French press has been cleaned of all coffee residue, as this will spoil the scent and flavor of the tea.
References and ResourcesHarney & Sons Guide to Tea, Michael Harney, 2008.
The Story of Tea, Mary Lou and Robert J. Heiss, 2007.