For the longest time, having tea at the office or away from home has involved compromise. In most cases, the compromise came in the form of a teabag. Even when teabags have high quality tea, it rarely compares to a well-steeped cup of quality loose leaf.
This compromise on quality often comes at greater convenience. Or at least that is the prevailing logic.
But the Finum Brewing Basket offers a middle path that comes closer to achieving Tea-At-Work-Nirvana.
A good, convenient cup of tea in a work or school setting needs several elements.
1. Simple Equipment. It is no good having to carry bulky, fragile, or multi-piece equipment with you, or having them strewn around a work space. It needs to be easy to carry and easy to store.
2. Versatile. The idea tool needs to be able to work with most any basic mug, cup, or (in a pinch) a drinking glass.
3. Compatible With The Hot Water Supply. While a microwave oven may not be the most ideal way to heat water, it one of the most ubiquitous in workplaces. The steeping equipment needs to be able to conveniently integrate with whatever vessel is used to heat the water. The simplest would be heating water in the drinking cup, then dropping something into the hot water. Ball infusers and other infuser gadgets ARE NOT the best option, for reasons I will explain below.
4. Easy To Clean. Dish washing equipment at the office tends to be minimal, so the tool needs to be easy to clean. A quick rinse type of cleaning is most desirable.
5. It Must Actually Work Well. The key to successful steeping or brewing is making sure water and tea leaves have the chance to interact properly. There must be enough space for water to easily flow in/out to reach the tea leaves. Secondly, tea leaves swell when they get wet. There must also be room to allow leaves to expand. This is where most ball infusers and infuser gadgets fail. When the leaves swell, water cannot easily flow to and from the tea in the center of these infusers.
Brew baskets like those from Finum stand out as the best option in combining convenience and quality of steep produced.
1. It fits in most cups. My medium size Finum Brewing Basket is about 3″ tall with a diameter of about 3 inches. Counting the ears at the top that rest on the rim of the cup, the maximum diameter is about 3¾” wide. It will fit in most 6 – 8 oz cups.
2. It is simple. There is the basket, and there is the lid you can rest it on when you remove the basket from your cup.
3. It is easy to clean. Most of the time, you can simply rinse out the used leaves. If you frequently drink teas with fine particles (like some Japanese greens), you may need to periodically scrub the stainless steel mesh. If the discoloration of tea stains becomes bothersome, you can go after it with a mix of baking soda, dish detergent, and a toothbrush.
4. It gives space for leaves to expand. This is very important, especially for larger-leaf wulong teas that can be tightly rolled or twisted. Leaves can expand upward easily, and you have the option of dipping the brewing basket as you would raise and dip a teabag.
5. The brewing basket allows for controlled steeps. It is easy to control the duration of a steep, remove the brew basket, and be ready for subsequent steeps. In this sense, the brew basket challenges the conventional logic of the teabag as the most convenient. Most teabags are meant to be used only once. Good tea in a brew basket is ready to be re-steeped at a moment’s notice.
Despite these significant advantages, there are a few considerations:
1. A brew basket may not be suited for every kind of tea. It is very good for many greens, wulongs, blacks, whites, and dark teas. Teas with fine particles, like some Japanese senchas and gyokuros may clog the mesh.
2. The material of the steeping vessel enhances some teas. Yixing and other kinds of ceramic teapots are known to contribute beneficial elements or alter the taste/texture of teas. There are still certain benefits to the alchemy of combining leaf and teapot.
3. You still have to think about where to put the basket when not in use. You could use the lid, but I find the residual tea that drips into the lid can accumulate and overflow. Sometimes I pick up the basket, and the lid sticks to the bottom and then falls at the most inopportune time. One solution would be to keep an extra, empty cup nearby to hold the basket.
4. It absorbs little odor, but could still accumulate some smells. If you use scented or flavored teas, there is a chance the BPA-free plastic ribs of the basket could still absorb some of those odors. It will likely absorb less than many other plastic steeping devices.
Until a better alternative is found…