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Camellias tea house blog

Philosophy of Tea Infusers

There are many ways to make a decent cup of tea, but all of them involve infusing leaves in hot water. Most tea today in Britain is made using tea bags, which were invented in America a little over 100 years ago. There is nothing wrong with using a tea bag if all you want is a cup of strong, milky black tea, but for any tea with a flavour that has any depth or delicacy to it, tea bags are usually a mistake - it is rare to find them made with really good quality tea, they don't always give the tea enough space to infuse, and poor-quality bags can interfere with the flavour of the tea. A close cousin of the tea bag is the dedicated paper filter, made to brew loose-leaf tea, which overcomes these disadvantages while retaining most of the convenience of the tea bag.

The tea pot is the main traditional vessel for tea-making wherever tea is made, coming in wildly different shapes and sizes around the globe (and around our shop). Some tea pots have built-in filters or infusers (which may also work in cups), while others rely on the use of a separate strainer - or the hope that enough of the tea will have settled at the bottom of the pot by the time you come to pour it out. If any leaves do end up in the cup, of course, you could always use them to practice tasseomancy, the traditional art of tea-leaf reading.

The simpler alternative is to brew the tea in the cup, but then you face the question of how to keep the leaves from going into your mouth along with the brew - not everybody is happy just filtering the leaves out with their teeth! For this reason several styles of in-cup infusers exist, each with advantages and disadvantages. One very neat and convenient solution is the tea-ball, either free-floating or with a handle; this allows you to take the tea out when it's brewed, and put it aside without any danger of spilling any loose wet tea. Try to make sure to get one with enough space to get a decent brew out of your favourite teas - many tea leaves unfurl and expand greatly in hot water, and if they don't have enough room to move while they are infusing, the tea will suffer slightly.

Silver infuser smallAnother approach is an open-topped infuser that sits in your cup while it brews. These tend to give the tea a bit more space to move, and have the added advantage that if you ever want to make a pot, they can double as tea-strainers. The down sides are that no one infuser in this style will fit every possible cup, and you need to be a bit careful about where you put it down afterwards to avoid spilling leaves anywhere. For this reason my very favourite tea infuser (pictured) is one that combines a wide brim with a fairly narrow mesh, and comes with its own little dish to place it on once it's brewed.  This is especially welcome if you drink a lot of tea that gets infused multiple times - any decent white, green or oolong tea will stand up to several brews, and it is very nice to have somewhere handy to keep the leaves between one brew and the next!

by Fergus Ray Murray.