by Emeric Harney March 26, 2020 4 min read 11 Comments
You might be wondering if we’re running low on ideas around here at Harney if we’re writing about tea strainers… on the contrary! What you don’t know about tea strainers might surprise you. Just stick with our (s)train of thought and you may learn something new!
Before the accidental invention of the teabag (see our post on U.S. Tea Traditions to learn about that little factoid), tea strainers were the only way to keep from chewing your tea instead of sipping it. But even before strainers, there was another device that was used to eliminate tea debris. First, however, let’s talk about why these utensils are necessary.
A Pot Full of Leaves
The traditional method of brewing tea is to put tea leaves straight into the pot, pour in fresh, hot water and let it steep. Then you pour the tea into the cup—leaves and all. Unless you prefer your tea chunky style, you need a way to get the leaves out of the cup. Using your fingers is generally frowned upon. And potentially painful. Fortunately, someone came up with…
The Mote Spoon
In the late 17th century, a device called the mote spoon was crafted for the purpose of removing unwanted tea leaves from teacups. “Mote” is an Old English word used to describe an object or obstruction that’s in a place it doesn’t belong. Like squirrels in your attic.
The slots in this spoon were used to scoop out the tea leaves that had escaped the pot and flowed into the cup. The mote spoon’s long, thin, pointed handle was used to unclog the teapot’s spout of the leaves that were stuck inside, allowing the tea to flow freely again. Kinda like a plumber’s snake, only not bendy and far more sanitary.
By the time the 18th century rolled around, tea strainers had been invented and mote spoons became a moot point. Sitting on top of the teacup, strainers catch the tea leaves before they ever hit the cup, eliminating the need to fish them out, otherwise referred to as deep-tea fishing.
Before modern strainers were a thing, early versions were most likely made of bamboo. In some cases, tea was strained through linen. These days, you will find strainers made from all sorts of materials including stainless steel, mesh, sterling silver, gold-plated, porcelain and china. Antique sterling silver strainers are often quite ornate and were an integral part of cherished tea sets.
Harney offers a variety of strainers to create a perfect, leaf-free cup of tea. From our beautiful silver-plated strainer with a convenient nest, to our silver-plated, short handle version, to our perfect-for-everyday brushed stainless steel offering, you’ll find the perfect strainer to launch you into the wonderful world of brewing loose-leaf tea.
If a tea strainer is like a baby gate that lets a toddler roam around but keeps him/her out of unwanted areas, an infuser is like a playpen that keeps the toddler from roaming anywhere. Infusers are filled with tea leaves and sit in the water, letting the tea safely swim around the infuser and brew without letting any leaves escape and get into trouble sticking its fingers in electric sockets or painting the cat.
Unlike a tea strainer which is used to prevent the tea leaves from getting into your teacup after the tea has brewed, an infuser is used to contain the tea leaves while the tea steeps. If you use an infuser in the teapot, you won’t need a strainer to pour the tea. Or you can skip the pot altogether and use an infuser directly in your mug.
Infusers designed for teacups are a great way to make a cuppa loose-leaf tea at the office or on vacation. Choose from an infuser to use with your favorite mug, or our selection of handy mug/infuser sets: Curve Mug, Harney & Sons Mug, Newleaf Glass Tall Tea Mug, or Finum Bistro Glass Mug.
When nothing less than a pot of tea will do, go big infuser or go home! Grab a Finum permanent tea filter in large or medium, or get yourself a teapot/infuser set: Stump Teapot, Curve Teapot (24 oz. or 45 oz.) or Harney & Sons Teapot.
Tea Balls & Unicorns
Tea balls have been around for decades, before infusers became a thing. While you can make a cuppa with a tea ball, they generally don’t allow room for the tea leaves to have water swirl around them, which negatively affects the quality of the tea. You can still have a perfectly acceptable cup of tea, but it won’t have the full taste and aroma that you deserve.
There are also a variety of novelty silicone tea infusers available these days, and we have to say they’re pretty darn cute. Dinosaurs, rubber ducks, cats, dolphins, unicorns and more floating in your tea or poking their cute little heads over the side while their back end, stuffed with tea leaves, does its job. While they may be great for stocking stuffers or a fun gift for a coworker, beware cute over function. Like tea balls, these often don’t allow enough room for the tea leaves to live up to their full potential. Remember this saying: “Tea flavor should be uniform, not unicorn.”
Let’s Do the Brew!
If you’re new to brewing loose-leaf tea, the world of strainers and infusers makes it super easy. Bonus to brewing the loose-leaf way: you can mix your favorite teas together to make your own unique blend! Right? Mind. Blown.
Discover why tea connoisseurs insist that loose-leaf is the only game in town. And, since you can use the tea leaves brewed with an infuser to make two or three cups/pots of tea (whole leaf tea unfurls as it steeps, exposing more surface area and releasing more flavor), it’s more cost-effective. In other words, it won’t put a strain on your budget, and that’s something to be infusiastic about!
September 29, 2021
The level of clever and whit in these articles, gets me every time! I laugh, roll my eyes, scoff and share the puns with others. Please keep them coming in these incredibly informational and entertaining blogs!
September 17, 2020
We love your teas, thank you!
Please advise me how to effectively clean my tea infusers as they are clogged after much use. A toothbrush doesn’t clean it thoroughly. Thanks!
April 20, 2020
April 20, 2020
Loved the article and the humor! And, as always, I love drinking H&S tea everyday!
April 07, 2020
I appreciate a lesson in uncommon knowledge coupled with light-hearted chuckles :) Currently brewing an herbal with the infuser in my trusty H&S Travette.
April 07, 2020
Enjoyed this article! I prefer loose leaf tea because of the better flavor. I love to use my stainless infuser basket for a single cup or mug of tea and a disposable paper tea filter for my teapots. No mess and great flavor! I like to have a cup of real (caffeinated) Harney black tea ( like All India Blend, Victorian London Fog or Tower of London) in the morning, and later in the day a pot of decaf tea, like Harney Paris Decaf.
March 30, 2020
Thank you for a wonderful and fun article. I love tea strainers and I enjoy the way the teas and strainers were presented. Beautiful presentation thank you for the visual.
March 30, 2020
Enjoyed the humour and the information! Keep them coming. Oh, by the way, you didn’t mention the little bags with the drawstring tops that you can put your tea in. Comments please!
March 26, 2020
Delightful writing! Loved the smiles and puns. Thank you!
March 26, 2020
Thank you for the humorous and enjoyable article. I agree that once one has brewed from loose leaves, there is no going back. Harney and Sons remain my favorite importers and blenders. I just love your teas. You have opened up a whole new world of tea for me. Say hi to Brigitte and Mike for me. They were so fun on the London trip.
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March 16, 2023
to answer the question from Gail wanting to know how to clean her clogged tea infusers: for the stainless-steel ones go to the market and buy a can (near the cleansers) of “Bar Keepers Friend”. Just sprinkle a little in and use a damp paper towel or soft dish towel and gently scour inside and out. Rinse well. For all the other materials just do the same with bicarbonate of soda (plain old baking soda). Hope this helps.