A Tea Addict's Journal

I hate infuser baskets

August 31, 2008 · 7 Comments

especially the red ones that have a plastic lining.

What I’ve found over the years is that if you go out to a tea shop to drink some tea, in this country anyway, more likely than not they use an infuser basket to brew the tea for you. This makes sense to them — it’s easier to clean up and remove all the tea leaves that were used in the process, and so all they have to do is to rinse the pot and it’s ready to go again. All is well, is it not?

The problem, as I’ve mentioned before, is that these things are very good at soaking up smells and tastes, and that what actually happens is that they start to impart a taste to the tea that is made in them. Yesterday, I went to Tea Time in Palo Alto. It’s a nice little shop with lots of interesting English style teacup and saucer sets for sale. It also has a decent selection of tea, and aside from a few items that seem grossly overpriced, such as a $1 a gram Wuyi yancha of unknown provenance, it offers a nice variety and is not entirely filled by your typical “blackberry currant butterscotch mint vanilla tea”.

I ordered some cheaper Wuyi, as I found them to be generally fairly safe when going to a tea shop I’ve never been to before. I sat down and waited for my tea. When it came out, in an English style pot with a cozy, I figured that I am not going to see the leaves — and I was right. It was pre-brewed, which is ok, except that the tea has a slight hint of something else…. maybe vanilla? Peach? I couldn’t tell, and it can be a mix of both. What it almost certainly is though, is that it is the leftover smell from previous teas, usually flavoured teas, that were brewed in the infuser basket. The flavours that those teas have tend to seep into the infuser… which makes for bad tea for everybody else when it’s brewed weakly, which my Wuyi certainly was.

I wish there were more stores out there that will let you brew your own tea, instead of them brewing for you. I actually don’t really understand that, because it’s more work for them, and I’d imagine it’s easier to just let the customers make their own tea. Perhaps it’s a ploy to get us to buy more, because without giving us the leaves, we can’t refill? Or perhaps it’s a fear that the customers will mess it up? I don’t know, but please…. the infuser baskets have to go. There has to be a better way.

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7 responses so far ↓

  • djn7304 // August 31, 2008 at 9:53 am | Reply

    I’m sure it’s partly because most customers would have no idea how to properly brew their tea without instruction. The store manager probably feels it would be too time consuming and labor intensive to try and educate every customer that walks in on the various ways to enjoy their tea. It would also significantly affect service during a meal-time rush.

    But also, most casual tea drinkers in the US and most Americans in general are in such a rush all the time that when they walk into a shop to purchase food or drink that want it made for them, made fast and made easy to drink.

  • lewperin // August 31, 2008 at 4:44 pm | Reply

    I suspect tea shop owners lie awake at night worrying about lawsuits from customers who scald their own laps. This kind of proprietor would be terrified to think about you and me brewing tea on the premises of Ye Old Tea Shoppe.

  • mulcahyfeldman // August 31, 2008 at 5:51 pm | Reply

    There’s a small French tea shop in Bal Harbor, Fla., that serves loose tea in a small French press so the customer can control the steeping. If the press is cleaned properly, no residue is noticeable and at least it’s nice loose tea. Travel certainly can put a damper on brewing and drinking tea properly.

  • Phyllo // August 31, 2008 at 7:21 pm | Reply

    Maybe infuser baskets should be dedicated to one type of tea, like Yixing pots.

  • MarshalN // September 1, 2008 at 2:15 am | Reply

    It doesn’t save them any time — nor mine, and if I’m buying a pot of tea, chances are I’m going to stay for a while.

    I think the one type of tea per infuser thing works — but they’re not likely to do it 🙁

  • Anonymous // September 1, 2008 at 6:15 pm | Reply

    Welcome to the bay area 🙂

    If you were here a year ago, you could have tried Neotte, on University Ave across from Borders. They had a small selection of pretty good quality Chinese teas. They brewed them for you, but used yixing or glass teapots. It’s possible that they’d let you brew some yourself if you asked, but I never did. (I did ask for a second brew with the same leaves and that seemed to fluster them enough that I didn’t try again.)

    Unfortunately, they changed ownership several months ago and I’ve heard they’ve become much more generic, but I haven’t been there since (I don’t live in PA anymore).

  • Anonymous // September 2, 2008 at 12:09 pm | Reply

    Well.. I think with tea, there’s a problem.

    Tea shops are run like “coffee shop alternatives”.

    Of course tea is not coffee. But new drinkers expect a coffee shop experience. You order, and they give you want you want, in a cup, ready to go.

    The other problem with giving everyone their own infuser, is that you need a lot more infusers.

    The local asian style tea house has gotten around it by using the mug infusers. They used to have glass infusers which was nice because the slits were the only place old tea could stick, so leftovers was minimized. But those broke alot, and their sourceing moved to metal strainer baskets. Personally I dont like the metal baskets since I think I can taste the metal in the tea.

    In the last 6 months though, they’ve changed their strategy. They give you different teaware depending on what tea you ordered. Their choice of teaware isn’t always the most logical, but they seem to be fairly consistent. Like, keemun/yunnans, they put in red kyusu’s. Bao zhongs come in gaiwans. And something I haven’t figured out comes in a korean teapot. They also started carrying alot of teaw are, with the idea I think being that people will try something and like it, buy some tea, and tea ware etc. Seems like an interesting idea.

    Problem is, the people that work there dont really know how to use the tea ware.

    I think there are solutions to this problem, and I think that’s a bit of education. But I dont think the american public is really ready to be given a gaiwan and a pot of water. And the sand timers… gah!!

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