Which tea strainers are best, out of all the options available to us these days and even more being designed every day, is a question those of us who steep our tea loose consider of some importance. Time to do a bit of comparing.

Tea strainers have been a part of tea time since Anna, Duchess of Bedford, began her late afternoon tea time, staving off hunger since dinner was served fashionably late. It was probably around even before that. As tea was only available in loose leaf form and in either whole or broken leaf form, strainers were pretty simple. Over the years, teas have become more complex with smaller forms (dust and fannings) available and thus different strainers are needed. Much of this tea is bagged, but many of us still prefer to steep even these finer ground teas loose. So, which strainer is good for which tea style? Time to see.

As an aside, we’re only talking about strainers that are placed over a teacup to catch loose tea leaves, not about infusing baskets that go inside the teapot or cup and hold the tea leaves while they infuse. Some designs, however, combine the features so they can be used for both straining and infusing.

Bone China, Porcelain, Ceramic Strainers

Fine Bone China Tea Strainer - Violets (ETS image)

Fine Bone China Tea Strainer – Violets (ETS image)

These are show pieces that can also be used. I have one that is bone china. Hubby bought it for me for Christmas. It doesn’t match my bone china teapot (a birthday present from my hubby) since he bought the strainer in a different shop that didn’t have the same pattern. None of my teacups and saucer sets match either, so it all works in a very eclectic manner. Strainers like this need to be used with teas that are broken or whole leaf. Dust and fannings sized pieces will slip right through the holes.

Stainless Steel Strainers

These come in a variety of styles. Some have a big handle. Some have a small side handle. Some come with a cup to sit the strainer in. Others have the cup attached so that it can swing to strain and then the cup sits over it to catch drips. Some don’t have any cup – you have to provide something for them to sit on yourself or suffer with drips all over. I have a couple of the stainless steel kind. The mesh is much finer and can catch those dust and fanning sized tea leaf pieces. Most of them, that is. Some bits always tend to slip through.

Mesh strainers

Strainer/Infuser Combo

Great for those who don’t want a bunch of tea accessories filling up the cupboards/drawers/shelves in the kitchen. This type of strainer can do double duty. You steep loose in the pot and then pour through the strainer. You put loose tea in it and steep in a cup (great for teas that you can infuse several times). No cup to sit the strainer in, though.

Mesh strainers2

Of course, reading tea leaves is greatly impaired by these devices. But you don’t end up with tea leaf pieces stuck between your teeth (they can be worse than spinach that way and just as embarrassing). Which of these you choose to use will depend on the type of tea you are steeping. Larger pieces will be caught by the top style. Tiny pieces will be caught by the mesh ones. Happy shopping!

See more of A.C. Cargill’s articles here.

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