An idea has been rattling around my brain for awhile (sort of like a dried pea in an empty jar): an infuser that’s as large as the interior of my cup will let the tea leaves have exposure to the water the same as if they were loose in that same cup. I even jotted it down because, well, at my age it’s essential to write things down. Then, my hubby jogged my memory about the note.
I know, it’s really sad to have to be reminded about a note I wrote to remind myself. (The “Why do I have a string tied around my finger?” syndrome.)
Such cup-sized infusers abound, but are they the solution for people who want to steep loose teas without having to deal with a strainer? Time for another tea experiment (maybe I’m a scientist at heart).
I have the infuser (it came with my Little Japanese Teapot) and found a cup that it fits into fairly closely. Now, to select a tea. One of my absolute favorite teas is a Ceylon tea. It’s full leaf and one that I would not normally subject to the indignity of an infuser. However, it is also one that can serve well in this experiment. If the full leaves are unable to unfold completely and therefore get complete exposure to the water (my whole objection to infusers), the experiment will clearly reveal that.
Normally, I would put a tea like this Ceylon through several infusions, one after the other, avoiding letting the tea leaves dry out in between (although some tea experts prefer to let the leaves sit and dry before trying another infusion). That way, I get the most bang for my tea dollars, making tea the affordable indulgence. To do that in this experiment, however, I would need a second cup so the infuser could be transferred directly from one cup to the other cup waiting with hot water in it. Unfortunately, I didn’t have another cup the right size, so had to forego this. Ah, the sacrifices one makes for science!
What I did do, though, was have a “control group,” that is, a small container where I infused roughly the same amount of tea (floating loose and free) in the same amount and temperature of water for the same length of time. This allows me to compare the infusions and the after-steeping tea leaves.
Steeping hint: When steeping in a cup, I like to cover it to keep the steam inside (sort of like keeping the oven door closed while the chicken is roasting). I took the lids off for a quick photo, though.
Since the infuser was about the same size as the vessel (a teacup) in which it sat, the tea leaves had about the same exposure to the water that they would have had if loose. The advantage of the infuser (being able to remove the tea leaves and drink the tea right away) is unmistakable. The taste of the tea was virtually the same in both the loose and infuser steepings.
As long as the infuser is close in size to the vessel in which you are steeping and as long as you are only steeping a small amount of tea, you will not lose much flavor using the infuser vs. steeping loose tea. You will also have the advantage of the infuser, i.e., you won’t have to strain the tea “liquor” into another vessel (teacup, etc.). This confines you to steeping a cupful at a time, since an infuser that fits the interior of a teapot is unusual.
On a personal note, if I am home, I still prefer to steep loose in a teapot. It’s easy to strain into another teapot and get another infusion out of the tea leaves in the first teapot. More tea bang for my buck. What you do, however, is up to you. Ah, the joy of choices!
A.C. makes regular posts on the mad science of living the tea life over on her blog, Tea Time with A.C. Cargill!