A tea infuser is a device made to facilitate the separation of tea leaves from the hot water they are brewed in. They come in various formats, some of which will be described below. In the conclusion, the write-up will discuss the importance of using tea infusers by showing the negative consequences of brewing tea without them.
A.) Infuser Basket:
An infuser basket type of infuser looks like a metal can. It's made of wire mesh, cylinder shaped, with a hole on top. It usually has a rim on the edge which allows to hang off the circular opening on top of a teapot. After placing tea leaves into the basket, you fit the basket into the teapot and pour the boiling water through it. After your tea finishes brewing and you pour the hot liquid through the snout into a cup, the basket is removed from the teapot and the tea leaves are disposed into the trash. Some leaves will inevitably stick to the bottom and the sides no matter how hard you try to shake them out. These will have to be rinsed out manually at the sink.
B.) Mesh Ball:
Some infusers are much simpler. There's a spherical mesh ball that opens up into two halves. You open it up, put some tea leaves
in it, close it, and then drop it into a cup of boiling water. Later, you open it up once again to dispose of the tea leaves. Usually you don't have to stick your hands into the boiling water to take the mesh ball it out. It comes with a metal chain that you can pull on to draw it out of the water. And that's a saving grace because hands have germs that you don't want to get into your tea water. Also, if you have a tall tea mug and you're wearing a shirt with sleeves that cover your arms right down to the palms, those sleeves will get wet.
C.) Mini Infuser Basket:D.) The most sophisticated tea infuser:
Another variation on the infuser that's a little less sophisticated is a mini-infuser basket. It's different from the regular infuser basket because it's made with a rim that attaches to the edges of a tea mug rather than a teapot. It's good for those who don't have much time to prepare their tea because it saves you time by letting you brew your tea directly in a cup rather than making your pour into a cup after brewing it in a teapot. Also, it makes a better tasting, more nutritious tea than the mesh ball. That's because the mesh ball tends to trap tea leaves in a small contained space that doesn't allow them to fully unfold. (Fully unfolded tea leaves give tea its healthy infusion of polyphenols, catechins, and other beneficial chemicals. Also since a higher quantity of the tea infuses into the hot water, making the drink more flavorful.) The mini-infuser basket is almost as roomy as the teacup itself, so no space constraints that result in shriveled, squeezed leaves.
Now, while it's essential to allow the tea leaves to fully unfold, if they unfold too much that may spoil the tea. Some teas, like Sencha
, become bitter when infused for too long. To take care of that problem, some tea manufacturers like Bodum
introduced a very sophisticated infuser that at a press of a lever can cut off the contact between the tea leaves and the water so that the tea stops brewing. The teapot they have made has a built in a steel infuser basket with a metal disk. While the tea is brewing, the metal disk is on top of the infuser basket. To stop the infusion process, the lever on top of the disk is pressed down so that the steel circle pushes down the tea leaves to the bottom of the basket. Once that is done, the leaves no longer infuse as they are separated from the water by a metal barrier. If anyone is familiar with a coffee press
, they will realize that this contraption functions quite similarly.
Why infusers are important.
Whichever tea infuser you ultimately use, having one simplifies the process of tea-making. If you brew your tea in a teapot without an infuser, the tea leaves will pour into your cup and continue to brew while you drink. This means that unless you drink your tea seconds after it's poured into your cup, it will continue to infuse and become more bitter. Of course, for people who like very strong and bitter tea, perhaps this is an advantage. But even if you don't mind the bitterness of tea, drinking with tea leaves in your cup can be unpleasant for other reasons. First, as you drink the tea leaves will float into your mouth and you'll have to either swallow them or spit them out on the table or back into the cup. And this will be an inconvenience, considering that most Americans and Europeans, unlike some Chinese, only want to drink their tea and not eat it.
Someone has mentioned to me that there are big mesh balls that have enough room to let the leaves unfold fully. While this is true, my experience tells me that such mesh-balls are too big to fit either into a regular sized mug or teapot. So I stick by recommendation that an infuser basket or a mini infuser basket is the right thing for those who live their tea leaves big.
Also it was brought to my attention that some teapots have a built in filter, located between the body of the pot and its snout, that automatically filters tea leaves out. While I personally use one of those, I am not about to recommend them for two reasons. One is that they are incredibly hard to find because specialty tea accessory stores don't usually carry them. Two is because that while they filter out the bigger leaves, smaller pieces still make it into the teacup.