Friday, April 03, 2009

Newbie's Guide to Teaware: The Lone Ranger

In the previous installment of Newbie's Guide to Teaware, The Spartan, I attempted to describe a simple, affordable, all-purpose set of teaware. However, for many of you, it can get even simpler and more affordable. Thus I present...

Hi ho!
The Lone Ranger

The Lone Ranger setup is as easy as it gets. All you need is a 1) Kettle, 2) Cup, and 3) Strainer (optional). No teapot required!

I would recommend this setup to the following types of people:

The Starving Artist/Student
Is still broke, but wants to be slightly less broke than with The Spartan setup.
The Casual Brewer
Likes making tea for one on a regular basis and doesn't want to deal with extra equipment.
The Prospective Tea-Head
Friends think he/she is weird and routinely deny his/her offers of tea. Forced to make good tea in solitude.
The Globetrotter
Packs light, but wants to make his/her own tea while away from home.
The Cube Monkey
Wants to make tea, but doesn't want to be teased by coworkers about his copious teaware collection. Probably doesn't have space for much else anyway.

1. Kettle

See here for the nitty gritty on kettles. For The Cube Monkey, if your office's water cooler has a hot water tap, you probably don't even need a kettle. Still, I would recommend getting one if you can manage it.

2. Cup and 3. Strainer

Infuser cups

The easiest, and probably the most appealing to The Prospective Tea-Head, is to buy an infuser cup. These things are great! You just plop your tea into the infuser, place the infuser in the cup, and steep. When done steeping, remove the strainer and rest it on the overturned lid. Try to find one with a well-perforated infuser; infusers with few/small holes don't work as quickly or allow as much water to circulate.

Infuser mug
Though the handle-less models look really cool (see photo), you will probably suffer buyer's remorse after using it a couple times. They just get too darn hot, particularly if you use boiling water. So, when buying an infuser cup, look for a handle, a lid that can be used as a plate for the infuser, and an infuser with more than a few holes.

[If you are comfortable with trying out a gaiwan, go for that. I'll discuss gaiwans in a future post. However, infuser cups are more approachable for those without any experience brewing gong fu style, and these first few posts are directed toward those who want to start off brewing western style.]

Recommended models:

Imperial Tea Court's Dragon Mug with Infuser (or something similar, ITC carries a few different ones)
Solid design, large-ish size, and reasonably well-perforated ceramic infuser.
Any of the infuser mugs (with handles!) here
I've heard favorable reviews about Hankook's wares, and most of these look pretty cool.
Hankook's Toogak Mug with Infuser
This one is essentially "double-walled," so it should stay relatively cool (thanks to Victoria from TeaChat for pointing this out). It is the only handle-less infuser mug I feel comfortable recommending, though it is a little pricey.
The Revolve Cup (or similar, like the Tea-zer Tumbler; thanks Joe!)
This is a more portable version of the classic infuser mug.

Cheaper options

Though infuser mugs are pretty cheap, there are even cheaper ways of accomplishing the same feat. I have written about glass brewing before (here and here), but this doesn't work for everybody.

Not my mug
Want something almost as easy as glass brewing? Repurpose that evil infuser basket from your teapot. (If you don't already have one, just google "infuser basket" and look for something similar to the one shown here. They're only a few bucks at most places.) Just plop it in a coffee mug or cup of similar size and you're good to go. In fact, this will probably work better than a real infuser mug; mesh basket strainers drain faster and allow much more water to circulate through them than ceramic infusers.

But didn't I say basket strainers were evil? Well, yes and no. Though they do not allow a large amount of leaf (say, two or three cups worth) to expand, the amount you of leaf you would use in brewing a single mug should have plenty of room. Also, if you pick a mug that is about the same size as the basket strainer, the leaves can pretty much move around the entire vessel as though there were no strainer present.

Try to avoid those little tea balls. They are convenient, yes, and better than a teabag, but not by much. There is almost zero room for your leaves to expand, which is a bad thing. Besides, they really aren't that much more convenient than a basket strainer.

Thanks for reading!

Stay tuned for the next installment, titled... The MacGyver


Anonymous said...

Great article!!! Even though I already have all of the teaware recommended the post was simply fun to read and provided information about retailers I was unfamiliar with.

Brent said...

Thanks teaescapade! I'm guessing most of my regular readers (not that there are very many, ha!) already know this stuff, but hopefully it helps those who happen upon my site looking for tea info.

All this has been written in other places too, but I like to think it hasn't been organized like this yet. :)


Zed said...

Nice reading...
you forgot this in your list of budget teaware:

I use it at work and for practicality it rocks.

Brent said...


Thanks for the heads up, I didn't know that existed. It looks a lot like that Revolve cup I mentioned. I'm glad it works well for you!


Green Tea said...

Couldn't agree more. I think the tea baskets that come with a lid/base are even more convenient that the infuser balls as they make multiple infusion easy and mess free.

DarkAon said...

Nice post. Another great product for the solo tea-head is the Perfect Tea Maker by Teavana. It works great and is pretty affordable.

Decadence Decay Debauchery said...

Oh my goodness, I am SO the Cube Jockey. I'm already worried about having a teapot sitting on my desk. LOL. But it's too late as I've already decided on this setup. Great blog.


Chamomile Tea Ware said...

I'm a huge fan of the infuser mesh things that you just stick in your favourite tea cup or mug. I swear by them as I love loose leaf tea and don't always need an entire pot. great post!

Kirk said...

Boden makes a few very nice infuser/cup setups including a nice double-walled clear cup and stainless infuser/lid, and also a combo travel mug/press setup. I have found Boden products at T*rget Stores at much more reasonable prices than at tea specialty shops, though it's great to support the local tea shop as much as possible.

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