One of the first books I bought when I began to take tea seriously was “The Tea Enthusiast’s Handbook“, by Mary Lou Heiss and Robert J. Heiss.
In a section named “Ban The Ball” they advise that metal tea balls and similar small objects that screw or clip together in order to hold tea leaves during infusion are not the best way to go, as they do not allow adequate space for the leaves to open up and water to circulate through them.
For Asian style infusion in a gaiwan, I would normally have a Chinese tea strainer sat in the top of a tea serving pitcher to remove dust and stray leaves from the finished tea, but what about Western style infusion?
It’s vital to remove the leaves from the tea after an appropriate period of time has passed in order to avoid over steeping the tea.
There is of course the option of buying a teapot with a removable filter insert, or a “French Press” type of pot, where after the steeping time is up you press down a plunger pushing the tea leaves down into the part of the steeping insert with no circulation holes, therefore stopping the infusion.
All well and good. I have several pots of both types in fact, but in this post I want to discuss steeping alternatives that allow you to use the cup, pot, glass, etc., of your choice, rather than a dedicated pot.
The options available include reusable nylon filters, or large stainless steel filters that sit in the top of the steeping vessel.
I think the nylon filters are a bit fiddly to clean, and this may be my imagination but I always think I can detect a subtle plasticky aftertaste in the tea.
The stainless filters are also in my experience awkward to clean, but I also think they have 2 other disadvantages.
Firstly, each individual filter will only fit a pot with a certain sized opening. Secondly, they tend to reach only so far down into the tea water, which in my experience affects the strength and quality of the tea.
For quite a while now I’ve been using disposable paper filters from Cilia. These are effectively an open ended “fill your own” tea bag, combining the ease of use of the tea bag with the use of higher quality tea to the desired amount per infusing of your own choice.
These are labelled “M” for medium size, and are approximately 14 cm. x 10 cm. This gives more than enough room inside the bag for the amount of tea one would normally use in a medium sized teapot to expand during infusion. The bags also come in “small” (individual cups), and “large” (larger pots) sizes.
Having compared the same tea steeped both in a gaiwan and using these bags I can honestly say that I’ve never been able to taste any alteration in the taste of the tea made using the bag.
Furthermore, I’ve steeped them up to three times, and the bags have never split open or fallen apart.
Sadly, these particular filters only seem to be available in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Russia, Sweden, and Belgium, according to the website.
However, alternatives do exist, so shop around! Your local tea emporium should be able to come up with the goods, and if not the internet is your friend…
It will be worth the trouble to track them down.
You will be rewarded with the quality and value for money of loose leaf tea, and still retain the ease of use of the tea bag.