Ban the Tea Ball

the dreaded mesh tea balls

This sounds like an old-peace, love and flowers mantra from the protest-laden 1970’s. No, it’s not a political statement but it is a direct attack of sorts against the old-fashioned, one-cup metal and mesh tea balls that dangle from a chain.

When we began our business 35 years ago, tea-balls were about the only thing that one could purchase to corral one’s tea leaves. Either that or it was necessary to use the British house-hold method of steeping tea by using two teapots: one pot to steep the tea ( and retain the tea leaves ) and the second one to decant the steeped tea into as soon as the tea was properly steeped.

Back then, tea-balls made sense with the way that tea was graded and cut: most tea was English-style black tea, very finely cut; noting much was available then in long-leaf black tea or full, intact green teas. These teas steeped quickly and the flavor was ‘good enough.’  The comparatively slim selection of tea available in tea shops at the time had a similar appearance and all of it fit reasonably well into a teaball. I can even remember when we received our first shipment of ‘tea-balls’ that were shaped like little houses…and hearts….ye gad.

So today, in my book, tea balls are ‘dinosaurs’ of the past. They make no sense for steeping the gorgeous, whole-leaf teas that tea enthusiasts can purchase today.  To be honest, the idea of someone purchasing some of our premium, hand-made artisan tea and then squishing it into bits to stuff it into a teaball distresses me. Not only is a shame to crumble-up whole-leaf tea that has made it all the way from tea factory to one’s kitchen intact, but teaballs simply cannot hold enough black, green, white, yellow or oolong tea to do the flavor of the tea any justice. They are just wrong, wrong, wrong on all counts.

So, with all of this in mind, we took the hard-line and banned tea balls in our store two years ago, much to the dismay of those who inquire.

But, in their place we have something better that even the most diehard tea-ball-users comes to love. They are single-cup tea infusers made from stainless steel or gold mesh. There are many choices in these infusers, such as different diameters, with or without lid, etc, but most of the time the best one for a customer is the one that will fit in his or her favorite tea cup or mug.

These infusers have spacious capacities so they happily steep the largest and longest tea leaves without having to damage the tea. And the tea leaves are able to hydrate to their full extent, so the flavor is infinately better than with a tea ball. The infusers are easy to clean, do not clog or have little chains to break, and, they cannot be accidently dropped down the garbage disposal, like the fate of so many tea-balls! And, they are ecological and re-useable, unlike the single-cup paper ‘tea sacs’ which are commonly used in cafes for take-out-cups of tea.

stainless-steel infuser

gold-mesh tea infuser

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7 thoughts on “Ban the Tea Ball

  1. Thomas,
    I am puzzled by your comments. The single-cup infusers that I am referring to do very, very well for steeping tea in an individual mug. In fact, they are ideal for large, leafy tea as there is room for the leaf to float about and hydrate properly. I keep one in my favorite mug at the store so that I can always steep a quick cup of one of my favorite teas ( An Ji Bai, Fenghuang Dan Cong, Assam Kama black ) when I am pressed for time. I can honestly say that our customers are very savvy tea enthusiasts and they love these for many reasons; I can barely keep these in stock.

  2. Most of the tea I consume is pu-erh with leaves in some cases a good 3″ long or longer, breaking them leads to a bitter infusion and some of the zisha pots that I have are even too small to be suitable with infusers being even smaller.

  3. Thomas,

    Yes, you are correct: these infusers are are not suitable for compressed, cake tea such as Pu-erh. Their best usage is for steeping loose-leaf black, green, oolong, yellow or white tea.

  4. We blogged about the dreaded tea ball last year on our tealove blog and wholeheartedly agree. It must be retired. We are very partial to the stainless steel infusers. The investment is worth it. They are dishwasher safe, and just hold up better. And work well for fine teas like Rooibos.

  5. I’m a little confused by this. I love tea ball infusers. I use them for my loose tea in the office (and at home!) daily. Great for steeping a cup/mug of tea!

    I am even starting to make my own!

    • Well…. perhaps you are using a finely-cut tea which will, in most cases, can steep reasonably well in tea balls. But a restrictive nature and small size is the main argument against using tea balls. For most whole-leaf tea, such as dark oolongs, China spring greens and white tea, single-cup tea balls are close to pointless in my mind because one can simply not get enough leaf in the teaball for proper flavor extraction. At one time tea balls were the only choice for steeping tea ( other than using a teapot or a teabag ) when the popular teas of the day consisted primarily of finely cut black teas from India and Sri Lanka and perhaps Gunpowder tea from China. Today we have access to glorious, large-leaf, whole teas which require a different set of steeping tools. While tea balls have been around for decades, we believe that there are better choices for today’s tea which will allow whole-leaf tea to fully unfurl and deliver the best flavor the tea can. We have banned tea balls from our tea shop and offer customers better single-cup tea infuser alternatives that are easy to use, don’t have the hinging problems of tea balls and are only slightly more expensive. Give one a try and see if you don’t agree.

      • I just think banning is a little strong. Banning it from your store. Shouldn’t the customer have their own preferences and taste? Maybe they prefer it. So to get the teaball they will have to go elsewhere.

        I have used infusers, but like I said my personal preference is the tea ball. I like fairly strong tea too, so with the tea ball I can just leave the ball in the entire time. Can’t do that with the other infusers.

        I know one store near me only allows 4 inch tea balls, which take up half of your cup. He “bans” anything smaller. I won’t be going to that shop again.

        But I guess it all comes down to personal preference. And personally I like the choice.

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