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I am looking for a good system to make loose leaf tea at my workplace. The main requirements are that the tea tastes good and it is easy to clean in the toilet sink without much equipment. Bonus points if it's microwaveable, since I find that slightly more practical than an electric kettle.

I have considered:

  • cup with a ceramic or glass strainer. Doubts: is the mesh fine enough, or would it let the smaller leaves through?

  • steel strainers. Doubts: do they affect the water taste? Can they be closed tightly, or would they let the smaller leaves through? Is the steel mesh microwavreable?

  • cotton strainers. Doubts: do they dry in a reasonable time? Do they get dark and dirty after a few uses?

  • fillable disposable tea bags. Doubts: are they viable for a single person? They look quite expensive

  • French press, ingenuitea, or other similar contraptions. Doubts: they don't look easy to clean at all. Are they microwaveable?

What is your experience? Do you recommend (or suggest to avoid) one of these methods, or a new one?

Related questions: What's the best option for water for tea in the office?, Best Office Coffee Solution

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You ask whether smaller leaves would be a problem, but you don't specify the type of tea. As the larger leaves of e.g. typical English breakfast tea are smaller than the smaller leaves of e.g. oolong, it would be useful to be more specific. –  Peter Taylor Dec 12 '12 at 17:33
    
Ingenuiteas are fairly easy to clean if you don't mind scooping the leaves with your hand (the filters pop out which makes the small bits wasy to clean) and are entirely microwaveable –  Emily Anne Dec 13 '12 at 5:15
    
@PeterTaylor After I get the infuser/strainer/whatever, I'd like to buy leaves of several kinds of tea, black and green mainly. Probably only "common" types though, I wasn't considering Oolong. –  Federico Poloni Dec 13 '12 at 8:31

7 Answers 7

up vote 9 down vote accepted

I've been drinking loose-leaf tea at work for many years now, and have gone through most of these.

  • cup with a ceramic or glass strainer.

I've tried both the ceramic type with holes and the glass type with slots. The mesh is never fine enough for me. In addition the holes or slots invariably get packed with leaves and are a pain to clean.

ceramic strainer glass strainer

  • steel strainers.

If you mean the tea-ball type, I can't comment. But a steel mesh strainer is my absolute favorite. I've been using the same one (pictured below) for years now and have never noticed any off flavors. Easy to clean: just dump out the leaves and give a good rinse, picking or sponging out the occasional stuck leaf.

Not microwaveable, but you don't want to microwave the leaves, anyway. Microwave the cup with water in it (put a stirrer in to avoid superheating the water. Yes, it can happen, and has happened to me), then put the strainer in when it's the right temperature.

steel strainer

  • cotton strainers.

I have never used one, so I can't comment authoritatively, but it seems like at the least they'd be harder to clean.

  • fillable disposable tea bags.

I hate disposable anything. I tried the type of bag pictured below and they were a pain. They tend to wick tea out of the cup and onto your table.

tea bags

As for the other gizmos, I think for tea, simpler is better. The above are the only methods I've used, and I find the mesh basket is far and away the most convenient and best solution.

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I have a cotton filter. It colored brown after the first few uses, just the way porcelain cups stain, but unwashable. I don't consider this state to be "dirty" for a tea filter, just like I don't consider the burnt places on my kitchen towels "dirty", it is stained but perfectly usable. –  rumtscho Dec 12 '12 at 19:18
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@rumtscho I'm curious about your stained cotten filter, if you steep it (without any tea inside) in a cup of boiling water for ~5m or so, does it impart any taste to the water? –  derobert Dec 13 '12 at 16:17

I'd go for a ceramic cup with a steel strainer. The ceramic is microwavable and a good steel strainer/tea bell does a good job at tea.

The glass/plastic part of a french press is microwavable, the top won't be because of the metal. You can get single cup versions that would be easy to clean. Ether solution would work fine in your circumstances.

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I've been making lose tea at my office for a while, and this is how I do it:

I started using the microwave. But the microwave has problems. First, carrying a cup full of boiling liquid from the kitchen back to my office. Be careful, splashes hurt! Second, its hard to get a consistent temperature (other than boiling), because at least here the cold water temperature varies year-round a fair bit.

So, instead, I switched to a Pino Digital Kettle Pro electric kettle. Now I only have to carry a kettle full of cold water, and I get to select the temperature I want my water—great, because I'm not just making black tea.

I pour the kettle into a cup, and insert a Finum brewing basket with the tea. Then I start a tea timer on my computer. The mesh is very fine, no leaves escape, and the stainless steel doesn't impart an off flavor. The strainer can be rinsed out, and I have a couple so I can take them home and run them trough the dishwasher. I do the same with the cups—I take them home and run them through the dishwasher.

You really oughtn't wash dishes in the bathroom sink. At least not without scrubbing it down and sanitizing it first.

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Interesting thought about carrying the hot mug back from the microwave. I found that there are also travel mugs with infusers, like amazon.com/Aladdin-Tea-12-Ounce-Infuser-Blue/dp/B001Q3L9PA and retailshop.libretea.com - they would solve this problem at least, wouldn't they? –  Federico Poloni Dec 13 '12 at 8:35
    
@FedericoPoloni provided they're microwavable, it should (at least the Aladdin Tea one says it is). And also provided the outside (or at least the handle) stays cool. All bets are off if you trip, though. –  derobert Dec 13 '12 at 16:19

I know this answer doesn't literally answer the question with regards to making tea with loose tea leaves but seriously, you'd save yourself an awful lot of time, trouble and effort by making tea with tea bags. It's so simple and makes consistently good quality tea with the minimum of effort and fuss.

I do understand that if you're partial to a particular type of tea not easily available in tea bag form, which in fairness do tend to be a blend of various tea leaves, then tea bags probably isn't the answer you're looking for.

Then I'd suggest a tea ball/infuser as being the ideal solution -

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Infuser

And please, please, please don't make tea with microwaved hot water! Tea must have freshly drawn and freshly boiled water to be able to extract the best flavour from the tea leaves. Don't use pre-boiled water either, throw it away and draw fresh water and boil it. This is essential to good tea making.

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I'm not a fan of the tea balls/infusers, as they generally have too small a volume to allow loose tea to open up and get exposed to the hot water. –  JoeFish Dec 12 '12 at 22:05
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I'm also confused about the microwaved water part. If you draw fresh water and heat it in the microwave to boiling, it's no different from drawing fresh water and heating it in a kettle to boiling. It's the same water, at the same temperature. –  JoeFish Dec 12 '12 at 22:06
    
@JoeFish If you're 100% certain that the microwaved water has reached boiling point then I guess it's okay. Do we really know what affect the microwaves are having on the water quality? Perhaps I'm just old fashioned, I believe (and have been taught since a young age) that freshly drawn water boiled in a kettle is the best way to make tea. Perhaps that's anecdotal, but Britain is a long time nation of tea drinkers, we should know how to make a good cup of tea by now! –  spiceyokooko Dec 12 '12 at 23:08
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@JoeFish Regarding the tea ball/infuser - you're right it's not ideal, but then neither are any of the other suggested solutions. By far the best way of making loose leaf tea is in a (warmed first) tea pot! But the OP has to compromise, he probably doesn't have the facility to store a tea pot and strainer, so he's looking for the next best option isn't he? The question isn't 'what is the optimum way to make the best tasting tea'? It's what's the most convenient for my situation? –  spiceyokooko Dec 12 '12 at 23:13
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I find the contrast between "tea bags are fine" and "don't use the microwave", uh, um... interesting. –  Marti Dec 12 '12 at 23:40

Search for 'infuser' at marketspice.com. Not affiliated, just a happy customer. enter image description here

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Why would you recommend preciselly this one over other method for an office? –  J.A.I.L. Dec 13 '12 at 15:25
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Because it's cute. –  Les Dec 14 '12 at 14:22

In terms of cost, I'd go for a tea ball (personally, I like them). Otherwise, you can purchase tea pots (I got someone a really pretty Japanese one from theteatable.com, which also has a great assortment of herbal and caffeinated loose tea) with built-in infusers, which are nicer than tea balls. You can also find microwaveable water heaters to use with traditional teapots at many major retailers.

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I use something like this. It allows for plenty of room with water warmed via any method. The plus side is that you could use two--one to heat the water without the filter, and another with the leaves and filter, and no spilling.

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