There will likely be a never-ending cycle of new concepts and devices for steeping tea at home. Walker Tea Review covered a few of these in a 2012 comparison. Now it is time to look at the realm of 2-stage tea infuser pots. Sometimes they are called gongfu pots or tea infuser pots.
Here is the good, the bad, and the ugly of infuser/strainer teapots.
1. The plastics used. While the larger body is often made of glass, the inner workings usually consist of metal and plastic. Keep in mind – the tea leaves and hot water interact in the plastic portion of the infuser teapot, then strain down to the glass pitcher for serving. There are several things to consider:
Is it food-grade plastic? Usually it is described as such. It helps when product descriptions clearly state the case.
Is it BPA free? This is not always stated. It is also not a safe assumption that the plastics are BPA free. For some tea drinkers, the presence of BPA is a serious consideration.
Will the plastic absorb odors? I have personally experienced food safe plastics that absorbed tea aromas and took months of daily use before the odor disappeared. This is especially an issue if you drink teas with added flavors or highly fragrant ingredients.
Will the plastic leach? Determining whether boiling water is causing chemicals to leach from the plastic is probably the most difficult. Some form of lab test is usually involved, but companies can do testing and publish those results.
Does the plastic become stained easily? Over time or accumulated usage, tea will leave a residue on glass, ceramic, and plastics. In most cases, this stain can be scrubbed off with the proper amount of elbow grease. Again, certain tea ingredients and added colors may stain plastics.
2. The glass used. Aside from some similar issues to plastic (e.g. staining), the glass portion of the tea infuser should handle temperature change and not break too easily.
Heat resistance: In most cases, infuser teapots are made from borosilicate glass. Borosilicate glass contracts less under thermal stress, meaning it can better tolerate sudden temperature changes.
3. The filter screen and moving parts. Infuser teapots include a system that contains water in the upper basket portion until a button opens a valve and the water passes through a strainer to the lower pitcher portion. These moving parts are the most likely cause of problems with infuser teapots. Usage and wear on moving parts will contribute to:
Screen failure, trapping leaf particles inside, or escaping into lower chamber: The screen system may separate or tear, allowing finer leaf portions to pass through to other parts of the mechanism. These leaf portions may pass through to the pitcher area below, or get stuck. If it gets stuck, you then have wet leaf particles that could potentially mold.
Staining and discoloration: When the plastic steeping basket gets stained, it is usually possible to clean them with a brush or sponge. So to with the inside of the glass pitcher. But the interior areas in the brew basket between the screen and the valve cannot usually be scrubbed. A solution of 1:1 white vinegar and water sitting in the brew basket may help remove staining of the filter screen and the drainage area below it. If stains don’t sufficiently dissolve after a few hours, the percentage of vinegar in the solution can be increased.
4. Overall capacity. The size of the glass pitcher can often be deceiving when it comes to how much tea can actually be produced from a steeping. It is the capacity of the upper brew basket that determines the size of the serving. When the tea is drained from the brew basket, pitchers can one one or more steepings.
Determining the quality of the infuser teapot’s materials, its lifespan, and its serving capacity is not always easy. Not every product description thoroughly covers these details, so product reviews and queries to customer service may be necessary. Of the infuser teapots I have used and asked others about, the Piao I pots get the highest ratings in terms of quality construction and durability.
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