MAKING THE MOST OF YOUR LOOSE LEAF TEA WITH AN INFUSER
Nothing beats the convenience of a tea bag, especially when you’re dashing out the door in the early morning. But when you have a moment to really savour your cuppa, a loose leaf tea can open up whole new possibilities in flavour.
WHAT IS A TEA INFUSER?
To brew loose leaf tea, we often rely on a tea infuser. Dry tea leaves are put into the infuser, which is then placed directly into your cup or teapot. Infusers have holes large enough to let the hot water interact with the leaves, but small enough to stop most of those leaves from escaping. They essentially do the job of a tea bag.
A strainer, meanwhile, is used after the tea in your pot has already brewed. It catches the leaves in the liquid as it is poured from the spout into the cup.
Both infusers and strainers tend to be reusable, and might come in the form of a basket, ball or built-in filter.
DO I NEED A TEA INFUSER?
In some cultures, tea leaves are regularly chewed or eaten. In fact, it’s rumoured that when tea first arrived in the UK, some Brits ate tea between two slices of bread - like a sandwich!
These days, many people prefer the smoother liquid that a tea infuser will produce. Keeping your leaves in the cup or teapot as you drink also risks a bitter, over-brewed tea. 3.5 minutes is a good rule of thumb for brewing most loose leaf teas.
However, the larger the leaf, the less bitter it will become. Oolong drinkers, for example, might leave the longer, more mellow strands to swirl around their cup without an infuser. Some will use their teeth and lips to filter out the leaves as they sip instead, allowing them to steep the leaves up to 4 times.
Click here for more ideas on how to brew your loose leaf tea without an infuser.
WHAT IS THE BEST KIND OF TEA INFUSER?
The shape, size and material of an infuser can all impact your final brew.
If you’re brewing enough for a large party, you might opt for an infuser that fits your teapot, and can hold the recommended 1tsp of dry leaves per person. Some smart teapots even include a French press, ‘coffee-style’ infuser in their design. These push the tea leaves down after brewing, limiting their contact with the water and thus preventing your tea from becoming too strong.
A strainer might work for you if you’re serving your tea immediately after brewing, or plan to reuse the leaves in the teapot.
For single servings, there are plenty of individual infusers available. Compact ‘tea eggs’ can be handy if you want to enjoy loose leaf tea on the go, or have limited cupboard space. Ideally though, we want to give our leaves room to ‘breathe’. Tea leaves naturally begin to expand and unfurl in hot water. By squashing them into tight tea infusers, we can miss out on the beautiful depths of flavour within.
At the Twinings Tea Bar on the Strand, we love ‘bucket-style’ stainless steel infusers. As well as being spacious, these are much less fiddly to clean! Simply tap the waste leaves into your bin, rinse, and clean by hand, or pop straight into the dishwasher.
Finally, plastic mesh infusers are a lighter and often more affordable option. However, they can be less durable, more easily stained, and sometimes leave a detectable aftertaste. Click here to learn about how the materials of your equipment affects the flavour of your tea.