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A good-quality infuser can mean the difference between a full-bodied brew and a cup of dishwater.
Tea infusers are great for making a single cup of loose-leaf tea. They come in several styles: sticks, balls, and baskets made of perforated metal or wire mesh. With each, you simply insert the amount of tea you want to use into the infuser, stick the infuser into a cup, and pour hot water over it. We wanted to know which tea infuser was best, so we bought nine models, priced from $5.96 to $16.95, and used them to brew herbal, white, green, and black teas.
The size of the infuser proved critical. The smaller the strainer, the harder it was to brew good, full-flavored tea. Some of the ball- and stick-style infusers weren’t big enough to hold a full 2- to 3-gram serving of tea leaves, particularly with the large-leafed white tea and fine, voluminous herbal tea. Even when we did manage to fit in most of these tea leaves, the smaller strainers let us down. Tea leaves need plenty of room to circulate in order to infuse the hot water properly. When they’re crammed into a small strainer, they don’t always get full exposure to the water and thus can’t expand and unfurl. In some of the smaller infusers, the leaves toward the center were packed so tightly that they didn’t even get wet, especially when brewing for shorter periods of time. The result in all these cases: wan, weak tea.
Smaller strainers were also fussier to fill and harder to clean. Accordingly, we liked larger strainers. To measure their volumes, we lined each with plastic wrap and filled it with water; we found that we strongly preferred models that held 10 tablespoons or more. In practice, this meant that we liked basket-style infusers, which had a number of other advantages in addition to their size. They had large openings of 2 inches or more in diameter, which facilitated filling and cleaning. And they had no fussy moving parts—some of the tea balls and sticks had tricky clasps or tops that were difficult to put on. Finally, they generally had more and smaller perforations than ball- and stick-style models, allowing water to enter and exit easily while preventing all but the tiniest particles of fine herbal tea from filtering out. (It wasn’t a deal breaker to have a few leaves of tea floating at the bottom of the cup, but most tasters preferred not to encounter detritus.)
Our winning tea infuser, the Finum Brewing Basket L ($9.95), is constructed of very tightly woven mesh that kept even the finest leaves out of the tea. It had the biggest capacity in our testing, equivalent to 13.5 tablespoons. And with a 2.5-inch opening, it was easy to fill and clean. As a bonus, it comes with a top that can also be used as a saucer, holding the basket and catching any drips after or between infusions.
We tested nine tea infusers of different styles, priced from $5.96 to $16.95, using them to make herbal, white, green, and black teas and rating them on their ease of use and their performance. All models were purchased online, and they appear in order of preference.
EASE OF USE: We evaluated the infusers on how easy they were to open, close, fill, and clean and on how easily they held different volumes and sizes of tea leaves.
PERFORMANCE: We evaluated the infusers on how well they made tea, looking for full-flavored infusions with few or no tea leaves floating in them.
This basket-style tea strainer had the biggest capacity in our testing, equivalent to 13.5 tablespoons—more than enough for good water circulation. With a 2.5-inch opening, it was easy to fill and clean. And its tightly woven mesh basket kept even the finest leaves out of the finished tea. As a bonus, it has a top that can also be used as a saucer, holding the basket and catching any drips after or between infusions.
With a large capacity and a wide opening, this perforated steel basket-style tea strainer was easy to fill and clean and had plenty of room for good water circulation. Its many tiny holes did an excellent job of filtering out all but the tiniest tea leaves. This model was almost as well-liked as our winner, which was just 2 tablespoons larger. And like our winner, it had a top that doubled as a handy saucer.
This perforated steel basket-style strainer had a large capacity (just a few tablespoons smaller than our winning model), allowing for good water circulation. It also had a wide opening that facilitated filling and cleaning, and its many tiny holes did a very good job of filtering out all but the finest tea leaves.
Despite being significantly smaller than our winning model, this tea ball had a decent capacity that allowed for relatively good water circulation and thus made acceptable tea. With a wide opening, it was fairly easy to fill, but it was tricky to close; if we didn’t align the hemispheres just right and attach the tiny clasp tightly, tea leaves slipped out. And while the sphere’s coarse mesh facilitated water flow, tea leaves sometimes got stuck in it or filtered out into the water.
A relatively wide opening made this tea ball easy to fill. We just didn’t like much else about it. It had a fair number of perforations, but because they were a bit larger than was ideal, some small tea leaves escaped into the tea while others got stuck in the holes themselves. Its capacity was small, limiting water circulation and producing weak tea. And its plastic “leaf” handle popped off from time to time, forcing us to pry the infuser open with a knife to fill or clean it.
This tea ball’s small capacity meant that it simply wouldn’t hold a full serving of our large-leafed white tea. Even when we did manage to get all the leaves in, it was often a tight fit, inhibiting water circulation and producing wan tea. The large perforations also let out quite a few leaves, particularly with the fine herbal tea. Worse, a small opening made it tricky to fill in the first place, and we could never remember which way to rotate the handle to close the top without the leaves spilling out.
With a small capacity and few and sparsely distributed perforations, this buoy-shaped tea ball didn’t make very good tea even when we could fit in all the leaves—which wasn’t always the case, particularly with the herbal and large-leafed white teas. And because the infuser was small, sometimes the leaves were so tightly crammed in that those at the center of the ball didn’t even get wet after a 3-minute infusion. In addition, its small opening made it hard to fill.
This tiny tea ball couldn’t fit a full serving of either the fine herbal or large-leafed white teas. And it was hard to fill even with smaller volumes of tea: To open the ball for filling or cleaning, you have to squeeze the handle continuously. Relax your grip for a moment, and the tea falls out. A pain to use, it generally made faintly scented tea.
Filling this diminutive tea stick was a real undertaking: The opening was large enough, but because of its half-pipe design, tea leaves often fell out as we struggled to close the stick’s fussy top. And that’s when we actually managed to pack in all the leaves—the minuscule capacity made it impossible to get in large white or voluminous herbal tea, and black and green teas were a tight fit. The result: lackluster tea that retained just the faintest hint of contact with the leaves.