Chances are if you want a cup of tea, you’re dunking a Lipton or Bigelow tea bag into a mug and not thinking too much more about it. But if you’re looking for an upgrade, it’s time to go from the generally lower quality stuff found in those bags, to loose leaf.
Generally tea bags tend to use small bits of the leaf and even broken twigs known as tea dust. Brands like making them because they’re easier to sell on a mass scale and they steep quickly. But switch over to loose leaf tea, and you’ll notice there are more options and richer flavor, as the longer brew time brings out nuances in the drink.
That said, you’re going to need a steeper to properly infuse the leaves with water so that they expand fully. And not all of them are created equal. As tempting as it might be to get a cute little infuser ball, you actually want to avoid anything on the smaller side as they don’t offer enough room for the leaves to unfurl and you’ll lose out in flavor. Mesh/hole size is also important, so you don’t wind up with the dredges in the cup. And of course, you want something that’s easy to use. Read on for our favorites, that satisfy all of these requirements.
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An Easy, Mess-Free Option
Ball infusers usually come dangling on some keychain and the entire thing turns into a mess to dig out of a cup. This one features a long handle, so you can toss it into any sized mug. All you have to do is twist the hand, scoop in your tea, close it up, and you’re good to go. This one also has slightly larger holes, so you’ll get a faster steep time, but it’s not so big that you’ll have tea bits in your drink.
A Strainer Straight Out Of Bridgerton
One the pricier options on this list, this Bridgerton-worthy strainer would even impress Lady Whistledown, or at least you a non-scathing mention in her scandal sheet. The 22-kara gold-lined strainer features a delicate peony design and is meant for an extravagant high tea experience. Place your loose leaf in, pour over some hot water, and you’ll have the fanciest cup of homemade tea possible. And despite its expensive price tag, it’s not so precious that you can’t toss it in the dishwasher. Just don’t try to microwave it.
If Tea Time Is Also Chill Time
Imagine a French press, but without needing to plunge the strainer. With this tea steeper set, you flip the strainer upside-down and let gravity do the work with this unique hourglass-shaped steeper. The design is intended to help you unwind and make the experience a self care ritual. Even if you don’t fully buy into that, at the very least you can use the drips as a timer for some deep, relaxing breaths.
An Inexpensive Safe Bet, That Works For Coffee Too
Not only does an ultra-fine mesh keep your mug free of any loose leaves, but the tissue-like thinness allows everything to flow more freely and speed up the steep time. Finum’s infuser has a seal on top which maintains heat, and the whole thing is dishwasher safe. Should you decide you’re over tea, it also can brew coffee too.
A Teapot Alternative
This transparent steeper is basically a simplified teapot that goes over your mug. You add water and leaves, watch it steep. And then when you’re ready, put it on top of your mug and let it drain. The entire thing is lightweight, dishwasher safe, and takes up much less room than a traditional ceramic or metal teapot.
An Aesthetically Pleasing Teapot
Hario’s Cha Kyusu Maru teapot is not only beautiful but its wide basket allows leaves to expand fully while steeping and release their full flavor profile. Certain full-flower teas (like chrysanthemum) work great with this steeper. Also, the glass is heat-resistant, thereby maintaining the perfect temperature, for longer.
An Eco-Conscious Tea Bag
If you want something that’s single use but also want to choose your own loose leaf tea, Art of Tea makes a quality disposable tea bag that’s biodegradable, unbleached, and holds about 1 teaspoon of loose leaf tea. They won’t leave a papery flavor when you let them steep and each box comes with 100.
A 21st Century Samovar
For something a little different, the samovar is a great alternative tea brewer. Popular in Russia and down into parts of the Middle East and Central Asia, it consists of two parts. The top has a concentrated pot of tea that sits atop a separate container of hot water, meant to dilute it to the right consistency. This SAKI electric samovar is an updated version that has a setting to keep the water warm longer, and a ‘smoke-stack’ to heat the top teapot.
The Status Thermos That Also Steeps Tea
Zojirushi, the status thermos everyone loves for everything from hot coffee to chilled wine can also make a delicious cup of tea as well. Put some of your favorite loose leaf tea, add water, and you’re good to go. There’s a filter in the lid, which keeps the leaves from getting into your mouth and the entire thing is vacuum-insulated, keeping its temperature for up to six hours.
The Compact Option
This thin metal steeper is compact enough to work both dunked into mugs or perched on the lip of a thermos. With a little hook, so it can sit on the edge and not get lost into the dredges of your container, it’s easy and mess-free. The only downside is that its slim design means you won’t get full tea leaf expansion and a few bits might fall out of the holes. But if you’re in need of something to stash at your desk (whenever we’re all back in the office full time, this is the best option.
The Punny Steeper
It’s a “tea rex”, not to be confused with our text rex and we love both equally. It’s a little silly but they’re a cute stocking stuffer. The only downside is that the holes are a little large, so expect some stray leaves in your mug, but the overall quality makes it a solid choice.
The French Press Method
Think the French Press is just for coffee? Think again. The mesh strainer works to keep your tea leaves out as well. TeaForte’s glass press looks beautiful, and steeps about 3 cups worth.