Loose leaf tea steeping reigns supreme with us and many other tea lovers we know. Despite the convenience of bagged teas, the delights of loose leaf tea steeped loose is coming back into wider practice. That means loose in the pot or gaiwan. No teaball or other infusing device. Just leaves floating free in that hot water.
Why Loose Steeping Is Better
Obviously, there are times and situations when steeping your tea leaves loose in your pot, gaiwan, etc., is impractical. We understand. That office break or lunch room is one example. If you work in retail or a non-office job, things can be even trickier. But at home, you can manage it even with small children and others around. The rewards are worth it.
1 Avoid Preparation Fuss
You want tea. You look for the tea ball. Then one of these two scenarios happens:
- Oh darn, it’s still dirty from the last steeping and the leaves are still in it and dry on the outside with a disturbingly musty moldy odor coming from the inside. Sigh! That’s if you’re the type who doesn’t clean up right away (see number 3 below).
- Ah, here it is. What tea should I have? This one sounds good. Time to stuff some in the tea ball. Oh wait, the tea ball doesn’t fit into my teapot opening (or teacup/mug if you’re only doing a cupful). Where’s the smaller tea ball? Dang, the cat chased it across the room again! (Well, I might be exaggerating a little…but just a little!)
Basically, you need to locate the right size of tea ball (see number 4 below), fill it with loose tea, close it securely, and let the ball part sink into the water but being careful to attach the chain to the side of the teapot/cup/mug in which you’re steeping. Just thinking about it makes me want to shrug and have a cup of warm water instead.
2 Get Superior Steeping
Test after test in my kitchen has shown inferior steeping from tea leaves when they are crammed inside a tea ball or other infuser. The specific teas you are steeping will make a big difference in your success rate. (See the list of 7 Tea Types That Steep Poorly in a Tea Ball below.) Also, tea balls range from fine mesh ones to metal ones with big holes drilled in them, so of course the tea issue you have with one style may not be the case with the other style. Finally, tea balls have been known to come open during steeping or when you go to remove them from the water, especially if you jerk the tea ball out too fast, and sometimes the chain secured to the side of the teapot/cup/mug comes loose and falls into the vessel so now you need a spoon to get the tea ball out. Sigh!
Steeping loose in the pot avoids them all. The leaves can expand fully, you don’t have to have several tea ball styles on hand in various sizes, and you don’t have to dig in the teapot or cup to remove the tea ball when the chain slips in.
3 Make Clean-up Easier
The tea ball will drip everywhere, and you can’t squeeze it like you can squeeze a tea bag to get out the excess moisture. (We would keep a small bowl nearby to drop the tea ball in when pulling it out of the teapot. Even so, a spattering of drops landed on the teapot, cozy, and counter.) Then the tea leaf pieces need to be dumped out and the tea ball thoroughly rinsed. In fairness, we have to wash our strainer, so it’s pretty even-steven there. However, the tea ball can be a bit trickier to handle since there are two parts (some are hinged together, making things a bit awkward, and others aren’t so you have to be careful not to lose one of the parts).
Total items to clean: tea ball, bowl, exterior of teapot, teapot cozy, counter. All avoided when steeping the tea leaves loose.
4 Avoid Storage Fuss
You could end up with a whole drawer in your kitchen devoted just to your collection of tea balls. Do you have an extra drawer in your kitchen? If so, great, you have a place to store those tea balls. My kitchen drawers are full of things like spatulas, basters, pizza cutters, cookie cutters, and most importantly my collection of tea towels. No room for tea balls!
Tea is very individual, so I would never deign to issue such a command. However, if the voice of experience has any merit here, my strong recommendation would be to ditch at tea ball. Of course, you can always resort to things like T-sacs and drawstring tea filters. But you will still miss out on that full tea flavor.
7 Tea Leaf Styles That Steep Poorly in a Tea Ball
Some tea leaf styles that don’t do too well in a tea ball (and, quite frankly, I don’t think there is any kind that does do well).
Here are the basic issues per tea leaf style:
Seven good reasons to keep things loose at tea time.
The choice here is all yours.