Friday, January 7, 2011

Unnecessary Tea Accessories

For those who are new to the wonderful world of tea and just starting a tea and tea ware collection, the vast array of options can be a bit overwhelming. Please allow me to spare you some terrible headaches. The following items are things that I deem rather unnecessary as far as tea accessories. Of course, you always have the final say on what gets added to your list of must have tea items.

First on my black list is the variety of “infusers.” It has become a reflex to automatically cringe when I see or hear that word. There are tea ball infusers, spoon infusers, stick infusers, etc. What it all comes down to is relentlessly shoving and over packing poor, innocent tea leaves into a stainless steel cage and plunging them into hot water. While you are at it, you might as well let out an evil laugh and shout “there are ways of making you talk!” A better solution is to not even spend the money on these sadistic contraptions. Remember, if you are going to use whole leaf tea, then the leaves need a whole lot of room (in order to expand and steep to their full potential). Most infusers are two small to provide the space needed for large leaves. Therefore, simply put the leaves into a teapot - minus any infuser baskets that might have come with the teapot - pour hot water over the leaves, steep, and then pour the tea through a strainer and into your teacup. If you think about it, it does not take any more or less time to clean out an infuser than it does a teapot. It would actually take longer to stop what you are doing and pack the leaves into the infuser just to have to clean them out later. Not only does this accessory not save you time, but it now gives you a weak cup of tea.

The same concept goes for “T-Sac’s” or filter bags in which to put loose tea. That is logic I have yet to understand. You break out of the normal bagged tea routine and buy loose leaf tea - awesome - then you scoop out some loose leaves and put them… into a bag. Uh… ok… moving on.

As long as we are on the subject on bags, I will mention tea bag squeezers and tea bag rests. Don’t use tea bags and you won’t have a use for these items. It really is that simple.

Finally, the last thing on the list is the tea cozy. Maybe it is because I’m not really a girly girl. Maybe it is because I am not stylish. Maybe it is because I am not the type of person who tries to make her dog wear clothes. Whatever the reason, I think tea cozies are absolutely laughable when it comes to tea accessories. Tea cozies are nothing more than clothes for your teapot. But it keeps the tea warm… oh, really? Really?? What I have found is that keeping tea warm and not letting it naturally cool makes the tea continue to cook. Even if you strain your tea with a fine, mesh strainer small particles are still going to find their way through. As a result, if you keep the water hot, it is going to continue steeping the tea which will result in a bitter brew. This is also the reason why I quit using my vacuum seal travel mug – it kept the tea so hot that it changed the flavor profile by the time I had removed the lid to let it cool enough to drink. I hate the fact that there is a small window in which tea is at the perfect temperature to drink. However, letting the tea cool naturally does not allow it to continue to steep as much, making it taste a heck of a lot better. Some have also said that they use tea cozies for storing their teapots. I say, why would you store them? Display them proudly! When I am not using my teapots, they have their own special spots on shelves to be viewed by all.

Image Reference Links: Tea Ball, Tea Stick, T-Sac, Tea Cozy


Tony said...

I couldn't agree with you more. A few times I've walked into the shop of a respected member of the tea industry and they are selling those stupid tea sticks. What gimmickery.

stizzz said...

Hey- nice entry... but I don't think those tea ball infusers aren't that bad.. usually they allow for enough room for the leaves to expand. I don't use them as much because (I agree) they are a pain in the butt to clean.

My favorite tea cup/infuser assembly is this ( I like it because the mesh size is so small that even the finest particles don't go through the infuser, it's not so painful to clean, and there is more than enough room for the leaves to expand.

Alex Zorach said...

I am actually not quite as down on tea balls and other infusers that don't give the leaves much room to expand. First of all, there are plenty of teas for which, especially if brewing only a single serving, a tea ball has more than enough room in it.

But if you do a lot of gong fu brewing, especially if you're generous with the quantity of leaf, you'll notice that a lot of teas are not really given the full space to expand in a typical yixing pot or even a gaiwan, as they are, say, brewing in a glass mug.

What this does is to slow down the infusion process, which enables you to use slightly longer steeping times while getting the same amount of infusions out of the tea. A tea ball can have a similar effect.

Especially if you use a generous quantity of leaf, this slowing down can work in your favor. If you brew in a vessel where the leaves have more room to expand, they'll infuse faster. This can make brewing trickier as what would be a difference of 15-20 seconds if the diffusion is hindered might become a difference of 5 or so seconds if the tea is infusing faster.

Sound crazy? I've noticed this effect myself, especially since I've started brewing in a large, open mug at the suggestion of Ginkgo from Life in Teacup. I suspect it's one reason yixing teapots are so popular in gongfu brewing!

Steph said...

:-) Well done. I have a very large stainless infuser that fills almost the entire basin of one teapot, and I like that. For the rest, I don't like them.

theuniverseinacup said...

Sing it from the rooftops! Tea isn't about accessories, it's about simplicity. Just looking at that stick infuser thing made me cringe. Horrible, who would buy that?

I recently got an accessory though that has changed my entire tea ritual. A large thermos. I am at my computer most of the day. I boil water in the morning, fill the thermos. I then have (near)boiling water to make fresh tea with at my desk the rest of the day. Seriously, it's amazing and I would recommend it to anyone.

LatteTeaDah said...

Agree with you on most except for the tea cozy continuing to steep strained tea. Not true. Just keeps the water from cooling off too soon in cold rooms. I'd never finish more than a cup at a time if I didn't have a cozy. Following your logic, we'd all be drinking bitter brew if we didn't immediately finish the pot. I'm not a girly girl either, but cozies work. That's why you use a filter and take the leaves out of the pot when the steep is done. The stick infusers - yes, gimmick city. No room for the leaves to open properly.

Kat said...

Hah! Agree on all accounts! The tea needs room to breathe and move. As long as you're selling something, someone will sell many, many, MANY accessories that they'll create a need for. The mere act of drinking tea calls for simplicity and yet they attack the ritual with toys to accessorize. :(

Susan Isaacs said...

I quite agree with you regarding tea balls and infusers failing to allow leaves to circulate. But tea cozies have served a good purpose. They KEEP the tea warm to drink over a period of time. Even with a trusted Brown Betty, the heat comes out of the ceramic and eventually becomes lukewarm. Historically people did not have heat in their houses, or microwaves to blast tea warm again, or disposable income to merely pitch out the tea that got too cold and start with a fresh pot. Tea may be quite affordable to you and me today, but that's not historically the case. Even now we may have these luxuries I mentioned, but a good, solid wool covering keeps the tea warm, so you can sit and have a good conversation and not get up to nuke the pot (which is a bad idea anyway) or start over.