Sometimes forgotten, often underrated, the infuser mug is a teaware item that I feel does not get its due. It is often compared unfavourably to the illustrious teapot, being considered an inferior way to steep tea by many devoted tea drinkers. But while there is some truth to the claim that teapots will steep tea leaves better, this does not render the infuser mug completely unworthy.
First, let me clarify what I mean by “infuser mug.” An infuser mug is a mug that comes with an infuser that sits inside of the mug’s rim. Unlike the mesh baskets found in many teapots, the infuser often is made from the same ceramic as the mug itself, creating a nicer aesthetic. In addition, most infuser mugs come with lids.
It is this feature of the infuser mug that I find most useful as this lid has a dual function. Firstly, it keeps the water from evaporating when the tea is steeping and helps keep your tea hot for longer (in this way it functions much like the lid on a teapot). Secondly, the lid can also act as a rest for the infuser when the tea is finished steeping, depending on the design of the lid. This prevents any tea water from dripping onto your table and is a little more convenient than having to find a saucer or bowl to hold your infuser.
The infuser mug should also be celebrated for its ability to camouflage itself among your other, run-of-the-mill mugs. This can be useful in terms of storage space, but also in terms of convenience; if you keep your teapots in a different spot than your mugs for display purposes, it means you have a means of making tea within easy reach at all times (this can be helpful in preventing tea emergencies).
But the question remains: does the infuser mug steep the tea well enough? Although teapot advocates may disagree, my opinion is yes. A large teapot will allow the leaves more room to open up, thereby steeping them better, but this is not necessarily true for small teapots. And there are large infuser mugs out there, if this is a concern for you.
Finally, the humble infuser mug gets my vote because it can be a useful tool for introducing people to loose leaf tea drinking. It is a familiar apparatus—it is just like their mugs that they know and love…but with a built in “teabag.” My experience is that people are more likely to explore using an infuser mug than a fancy (read: scary) looking teapot, or any of the other unfamiliar looking tea gizmos that are out there.
So, if you tend to consign your infuser mug to the back of your cupboard, maybe reconsider this decision—perhaps you’ll find that the humble infuser mug does have its merits.
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