The Best Tea Steeper
After more than 30 hours researching dozens of tea steepers, interviewing experts, and drinking many cups of tea made in no fewer than 15 tea infusers, teapots, and travel mugs over the past two years, we’ve found that the Finum Brewing Basket (the large version) is the most versatile and well-made tea steeper available. The fine-mesh and plastic in-cup steeping basket allows more water flow than other infusers while more effectively keeping tea particles from escaping into the cup. It’s one of the only models that fit both mugs and teapots, and it’s among the easiest to clean. At about $10, it’s the best choice for most people who drink loose-leaf tea on an occasional or frequent basis.
Table of contents
- Why you should trust me
- Who should get these
- How we picked and tested
- Our pick
- Flaws but not dealbreakers
- Long-term test notes
- For company
- For tea on the go
- Care and maintenance
- The competition
- A note on free-float brewing and gaiwans
Why you should trust me
I have been an avid tea drinker since I was a child, when my parents would make me cups of green tea, letting the leaves brew directly in the cup. Now I drink at least a few cups of tea a day, which amounts to spending hundreds of hours steeping different types of tea over the years.
To better understand the tea steepers market, I spoke with experts in the industry, including Tony Gebely of World of Tea and David Kosmider, the editor of 19 Lessons On Tea. I read The Tea Enthusiast’s Handbook by Mary Lou Heiss and Robert J. Heiss, and I scoured the many online tea-review communities, including Steepster, T Ching, TeaChat, and Teaviews.com.
Who should get these
Daily tea drinkers would benefit from using a good infuser, especially people who currently drink tea made from tea bags or tea balls. All of those tea bags you see packaged in boxes and tins on grocery store shelves are the tea equivalents of instant coffee. A bit of history on tea bags: They were an accidental invention, the result of New York tea merchant Thomas Sullivan’s decision to send out samples of his tea in small silk bags back in 1908. Instead of taking the tea out of the bag, as intended, Sullivan’s clients saved time and effort by simply dunking the bags into hot water. So the tea bag was born.
Switching from confined bags and balls to a larger infuser made specifically for loose-leaf tea will drastically improve the quality of the beverage you drink.
How we picked and tested
You can find dozens upon dozens of steeping vessels and infusers that allow leaves to expand and come in contact with the water. They come in various shapes and sizes, including over-the-cup steepers (those that brew tea in a vessel and then drip into the cup), in-cup brewing baskets (which sit inside the cup, resting on the lip), teapots with built-in infusers, tea tumblers with strainers, and electronic gadgets for automatic tea making.
A great steeper needs to be easy to clean, especially if you drink tea at least once a day. It also needs to be durable and simple to use. “Simplicity is the key when it comes to picking out a good basic teapot,” Brent Hughes of Tea Nerd states in his Newbie’s Guide to Teaware. “Buy something simple, small-ish, functional, and with as few moving parts as possible.”
Tea infusers and teapots come in a number of materials, some better than others. For in-cup infusion baskets, stainless steel is preferable to ceramic or plastics because it offers more durability, and most such models allow more water flow. Teapot materials vary from plastic to cast iron. One of the most common and sturdy materials is ceramic, which retains heat well and is often glazed so it doesn’t impart any flavor on the tea. Glass is another common, decent option: “This is the ideal pot for blooming teas but great for all tea types, so you can see the leaves unravel and flowers blossom,” Art of Tea’s Melissa Chua writes. Glass teapots also retain heat evenly. The main drawback is that glass is more delicate than other materials.
At first, we were concerned about the possible health ramifications of using plastic with boiling water, but new research shows that chemicals leaching from plastics aren’t as big a problem as researchers once thought. For example, according to a European Food Safety Authority evaluation, the much-maligned bisphenol A (BPA) probably doesn’t pose a health risk. And our tea-making experts told us that they have no problems recommending plastic if it’s heat resistant.
Price can vary drastically depending on what you’re looking for. Infusers come for as little as $2, but those tend to be poorly made and typically fall short of meeting basic requirements. Good tea infusers will cost you around $10 to $30. Depending on how many features and what kinds you want, you can also spend upwards of $200—but at that point, you may just be paying for gadgetry or show.
Unfortunately, we could find almost no roundups comparing and reviewing all of the different types of tea-steeping options. The tea community, however, is fairly active in reviewing teaware on a one-off basis. Some popular tea sites include Steepster, which has a section for its community to rate and review teas and teaware. The writers at Teaviews.com have also reviewed many tea-steeping options. The TeaChat forums are brimming with recommendations and suggestions for teaware, depending on what you’re looking for. One of the few articles we could find on testing multiple tea steepers is a piece by Brendan Waye at T Ching, but he tested only four.
Although many Asian cultures use a more involved method of tea preparation, we figured most of our readers would prioritize convenience over tradition. As such, we elected not to test methods such as single-cup gaiwan brewing (see A note on free-float brewing and gaiwans if you want to know more about this).
For our original review in 2013, we ended up with a list of 13 products. This included two in-cup infusers, four over-the-cup steepers, four teapots with built-in infusers, two tea tumblers, and one electric tea maker. We narrowed that list down to eight final products to test, including one in-cup infuser, two over-the-cup steepers, four teapots, and the electric tea maker. At the time, we eliminated tea tumblers entirely because they are designed for on-the-go travel use and make it difficult to remove the leaves after steeping. For this update, we tested five additional products, including one in-cup infuser, one teapot, and three travel mugs with built-in, removable infusion baskets that make taking the leaves out easier.
We brewed a black tea, a green tea, and a fine herbal tea (peppermint or rooibos) in each infuser, using a Bonavita 1-Liter Variable Temperature Digital Electric Gooseneck Kettle at the specific temperatures and steeping times (see below) required for each tea. We checked for how well the teas could expand and move throughout the water, and we tested for flavor. After each infusion, we cleaned the vessels and checked how easily we could dump the leaves and whether any leaves got stuck in the infusers.
The rule of thumb is that you can brew most teas at the following temperatures and times:
The Finum’s two-piece design is simple and effective. The basket is made of a heat-resistant, high-quality plastic and an incredibly fine, flexible stainless-steel mesh. Unlike other in-cup steepers, which have a less-fine mesh or small perforations in metal, the Finum doesn’t allow leaves or leaf particles to escape into your cup, and water flows freely through the infuser. Even the bottom of the basket has mesh (most steepers don’t offer this design), which further helps circulation. The Finum’s handy lid helps hold the water’s heat in while your tea steeps; after brewing, you can flip it over to use it as a drip tray for the basket. This model is also easier to clean than most other steepers—just dump the leaves out and rinse it with water.
Compared with other models we tested, the Finum was by far the most convenient and versatile option for everyday use. It rests easily in anything with a diameter of 2.8 to 4 inches. You need nothing more than a mug and hot water. It also works well in a small teapot, though probably not one that stands much taller than the Finum (4.2 inches), and likely not for more than three servings since the leaves won’t be able to reach as much of the water or have as much room to expand. Over-the-cup steepers like the Adagio ingenuiTEA are limited to single use, and steepers that come in teapots really work only with those teapots. The Finum also comes in a medium size for cups smaller than 2.8 inches in diameter.
Large, heat-resistant handles let you easily remove the Finum from hot mugs. Other steepers weren’t as easy to lift out of a cup—the Home Origins Ultra Fine Loose Leaf Tea Infuser had much smaller handles, while the FORLIFE Brew-in-Mug Extra-Fine Tea Infuser’s steel became hot to the touch.
Thanks to its simple design, the Finum was also the least expensive steeping device we tested. (The teapots, tumblers, and over-the-cup steepers we looked at cost between $14 and $250.) It is slightly more expensive than tea balls and gimmicky cartoon-shaped tea infusers, but it represents a very small investment for consistently great-tasting tea. The Finum is also top-rack dishwasher safe, if you want to throw it in with your regular cycle.
Tony Gebely of World of Tea has called the Finum Brewing Basket the only infuser you’ll ever need. “I like to keep it simple. The absolute most versatile steeping device is the Finum Brewing Basket,” he told us. “It meets all of the requirements, it’s large, and can be removed from the steeping vessel. It can be as simple as putting it in a coffee mug, then removing it after the steep time, or inserting it inside the top of a teapot.”
The Finum received top marks on Steepster, where it currently ranks as the second-highest-rated piece of teaware, with a score of 95 out of 100. Amazon reviewers also give it praise, with more than 876 reviews and an overall rating of 4.8 out of five as of this writing.
Flaws but not dealbreakers
The Finum is less suitable for group tea-drinking situations, since it is made for in-cup brewing and therefore isn’t ideal for infusing large amounts of tea in teapots and pitchers.
Some Amazon reviewers also note that the mesh can stain over time, though we have not experienced this problem in our use of the product over the past two years. And if you don’t clean the basket well, a patina can develop on the mesh, potentially clogging it in some parts or transferring flavors from one tea to another, which we did encounter during long-term use. If you are a tea enthusiast with a collection of multiple teas, you might want to purchase more than one Finum Brewing Basket in different colors—it comes in black, green, red, and blue—for different types of tea.
Long-term test notes
As mentioned above, we did notice a small amount of patina develop on the mesh, specifically on the bottom of the Finum Brewing Basket, after more than a year of use. This happened when on several occasions we let the basket sit for a day with old tea leaves, which you shouldn’t do! After we ran it through the dishwasher, most of the patina cleared. Aside from our own forgetfulness with regard to cleaning, the Finum Brewing Basket has held up extremely well to frequent use for more than two years.
The holes in the thick metal do not allow for as much water flow as the super-fine stainless-steel mesh of the Finum. This model is also slightly shorter at 3.2 inches, which means the leaves won’t come in contact with as much of the cup’s contents. Cleaning is a bit harder, since pieces of tea leaves often get stuck in the holes of the infuser. And some user reviews complain that the metal body gets a little too hot for comfort when steeping, which isn’t an issue with the plastic Finum.
This infuser does have an amazing Amazon rating in general, with a current average score of 4.8 stars out of five across 1,059 reviews.
What makes the Hario special is its large metal-and-mesh infusing basket, which takes up the majority of the teapot. This design gives the leaves more room to expand and ensures a flavorful tea. All of the other teapots we tested with infusers, such as the Bodum Shin Cha and Adagio personaliTEA, have either narrow or short infusers. The Chacha is also easier to pour from than other pots we tried, thanks to its shorter, more pointed spout.
Glass teapots are more delicate than ceramic ones, so you’ll want to make sure not to bang this one around much. The infusing basket also needs a separate plate or coaster to rest in after the tea is done. The teapot has great Amazon ratings, with 4.7 out of five stars and more than 500 reviews as of this writing.
For tea on the go
The DAVIDsTEA travel mug’s built-in infusion basket is relatively large. Unlike other models we tested, such as the MIU travel mug, the DAVIDsTEA mug has its infuser at the top, and you can twist off the lid for removal. The infusion basket is made of heat-resistant polypropylene plastic (which is safe to use with hot water) and fine metal mesh (though not as fine as the Finum’s). Although the basket lacks mesh on the bottom, which could provide better water flow, an additional fine mesh strainer near the lid provides another filter for tea particles that may escape the steeper. We didn’t measure temperatures to assess heat retention, but our tea stayed warm for several hours.
The lid’s design is a bit large, and not as comfortable to drink out of compared with less niche travel mugs. Unless you’re sipping herbal teas that don’t become astringent after a long soak, we recommend brewing before you leave the house; otherwise you’ll have to find a place to dump your basket of wet leaves during your commute. The mug has decent reviews on Steepster, though some users note that the finish doesn’t hold up to long-term use.
The Carry Travel Mug also has a neat compartment for storing dry tea leaves for later use; however, they don’t always stay dry if something happens to shake the mug.
Care and maintenance
Most of these steepers require basic care, namely washing or rinsing after a single use. The Finum and FORLIFE are both safe for the dishwasher on the top rack; we don’t recommend putting the Hario Chacha pot in the dishwasher since it’s a bit more delicate. If you use soap to wash fine mesh, make sure to rinse thoroughly, as residue could lead to soapy-tasting tea. For the most part, we tended to rinse the steepers with water and then washed with soap or the dishwasher only after several uses.
As for travel mugs, check out the care and maintenance section of our travel mug guide. The main point: Don’t put your mug in the dishwasher. The environment inside a dishwasher introduces heat and water pressure to the vacuum seal, which can degrade the cup’s ability to retain heat over time. Instead, use a long bottle brush.
We found so many tea-infusing options out there, and we considered more than 40 of them. We eliminated many because of user complaints, or the quality and size of the infusing basket.
We tried four steepers in the most recent testing:
We love the Hario Chacha Kyusu Maru, so when we saw the new Hario Chacha Natsume, we had to see whether it could outdo the original. The Natsume has a slightly more elongated body and a large plastic infuser with super-fine plastic mesh. Though we love the redesigned shape and the familiar short spout, the new Chacha didn’t quite beat its predecessor since its infusing basket allows less water flow.
We liked the clever design of the Effiliv Hot or Cold Glass Tea Tumbler Bottle. It opens on both the top and bottom, so it’s simple to clean. The built-in tea strainer resides at the bottom, and you can empty it out so that the leaves don’t oversteep. Unfortunately, removing the infusion basket without having the mug leak from the bottom isn’t easy. The basket and the glass body also become incredibly hot, making the bottle hard to handle in general. You have to invert the bottle to remove the steeper, but the strap at the top makes balancing the mug on its head impossible. Plus, the infusion basket is small in comparison with the tumbler. All of these little design flaws add up to an impractical on-the-go tumbler.
The MIU Color Stylish Portable Handmade Crystal Glass Water Bottle with Nylon Sleeve (with tea infuser) is incredibly similar to the Effiliv, but with a few smarter design choices. For one, it can rest on its top while you spoon tea into the infuser basket. Unfortunately, the glass body still gets too hot to handle, and it tends to leak if you remove the infuser basket. You can remove the rubber gasket from the basket and place it in the bottom lid for a slightly less leaky mug, but that’s pretty inconvenient. The small infusion basket is also identical to the one in the Effiliv, which makes us think that the two are made by the same manufacturer.
The Home Origins Ultra Fine Loose Leaf Tea Infuser is a new, popular item from a small retailer on Amazon. We tested it because it looked like it had a very fine perforated metal body, with silicone handles that would not get too hot during brewing. It also has high reviews on Amazon, with 4.6 out of five stars as of this writing. Unfortunately, it did not live up to our expectations. We found that the construction was poor and flimsy in comparison with the metal FORLIFE, and this model is noticeably smaller than both the Finum and FORLIFE.
We tested eight infusers in 2013:
In the previous version of this guide, we recommended the $250 Breville One-Touch Tea Maker, but we think it is too expensive for most people. The Breville heats water to preset temperatures for different types of tea, allows varying brew strengths, steeps the leaves, and keeps the tea warm in one handy glass kettle. It can brew up to 40.5 ounces of tea or heat up to 51 ounces of water. The reason it makes a bit less tea is because it needs space for its infusing basket, which hangs above the water as it heats. When the water reaches the designated temperature, the basket slowly moves down. After the allotted steeping time, the basket moves back up to stop steeping. Buttons and an LCD screen on the gadget’s stand let you set and monitor the temperature and length for steeping. And like high-quality tea kettles, the Breville brings water to the exact temperature requested instead of boiling and then cooling the water. The biggest drawbacks are that it costs quite a lot and takes up a large amount of counter space. “I have a few friends that swear by them, but tea making is such a simple process; it can be as simple as steeping the leaves and straining them with stuff you have around the house—I wouldn’t spend $250 on this,” World of Tea’s Tony Gebely said. Still, the Breville is a great brewing option if you can justify the price for the extra features and convenience.
With the Adagio ingenuiTEA, a 16-ounce over-the-cup model, a plastic cup serves as the steeper, where you place the water and tea. Simply position the steeper atop a cup and push a mechanism up to let the tea out. (Several companies make a similar design, varying in size and shape). The ingenuiTEA is very good at steeping tea, since the leaves float around through the water and have the entire vessel in which to expand. It’s easy to clean too. The filter pops out so you can wash that separately, and it’s made entirely of plastic for easy cleaning. (It’s top-rack dishwasher safe, too.) Unless you have a clear mug, however, you can’t see how much of the tea is pouring into the cup. In our testing, we kept having to lift the infuser to make sure tea wouldn’t spill out. At one point, we thought we had enough room in our mug but ended up with an unpleasant overflow of burning-hot tea. As one reader points out, you can avoid this problem by using your mug to measure out the amount of water you need first.
DAVIDsTEA’s The Steeper is similar to Adagio’s ingenuiTEA but slightly better because it comes with a coaster that catches any tea dripping out of the bottom. The wider shape also makes pulling the filter out for cleaning easier, and the filter has a slightly taller pull tab. If you’re looking for an over-the-cup option, this one is the best. Just keep in mind that you must either use a clear mug or measure out the amount of water you need for your particular mug; The Steeper makes 18 ounces of tea.
The Takeya Tea Maker with Jacket is a good sturdy teapot option, with the bonus of a sleeve to keep the tea warmer longer. Made of a lightweight plastic called AcraGlass, a type of acrylic, this model doesn’t look like your standard teapot. Our main qualm is that the infuser screws into the lid, so taking out the infuser once the tea is done steeping is a bit of a chore. It also lacks mesh on the bottom, so it doesn’t allow maximum water contact. The 40-ounce model, which we tested, would work great for large groups, but otherwise you can find better options like the Hario Chacha.
The Adagio personaliTEA came recommended by expert David Kosmider, and is a highly rated teapot. Though it’s decent, it isn’t a standout in any way. The infuser is somewhat small, but in our tests the tea still turned out tasting fine. One nice feature is that the spout isn’t completely open to the pot; small holes in the wall of the pot let tea out of the spout, reducing the amount of leaf bits that land in your cup. This teapot comes in multiple colors, if you like that.
One teapot that looks a lot fancier than it performs is the Bodum Shin Cha. The biggest problem is the built-in press: It’s wobbly when it isn’t pressed down, and you have to wiggle it to get it in the right position to work. It’s a hassle to use. The pot itself is huge at 34 ounces, which can be good for groups. And the infuser is cleverly designed, as it allows you to stop an infusion by pressing the leaves down to the bottom, where there are no holes for them to come in contact with the water. But for $50, this teapot is not worth the hassle.
FORLIFE’s Stump teapot is basically just a small ceramic teapot with a built-in Brew-in-Mug filter. It comes in a variety of bright colors, but it has the same water flow and cleaning issues as the Brew-in-Mug infuser. It’s a highly rated teapot, and ceramic is more durable than glass, but it holds only 18 ounces—not much more than a typical mug.
Another high-end tea set that disappointed us in testing was the BergHOFF Dorado. This gorgeous teapot, beautifully designed out of glass and stainless-steel accents, comes with a teapot stand that holds a candle to keep your tea warm. It’s a great feature. But the main issue with the teapot is its small infusing basket. It’s smaller than the basket in the Hario Chacha, which holds only 24 ounces compared with the BergHOFF’s 44 ounces. The leaves required for that much tea just don’t have enough room to expand in the infuser. In our tests they looked cramped, and the tea didn’t turn out tasting as good. Another flaw: The stainless-steel lid was very hot to the touch, and we found it hard to remove when taking out the basket.
Other steepers we looked at but didn’t test:
We eliminated tea tumblers like the Sun’s Tea Glass Tea Tumbler and Teas Etc Travel Mug Set because they are made more for travel drinking than at-home tea drinking. Both of those models have good reviews and could work for at-home use, but they would require that you pour through a strainer like the Finum anyway. (Both have screw-in strainers, but many users complain that they let too many leaf particles through.) So if you’re making yourself a cup of tea, just using the Finum would be easier.
The Le Creuset Stoneware Teapot, though incredibly sturdy, has an infuser with far too few holes for water flow and contact. For the same reason, we eliminated teapots like the Grosche Glasgow Glass Teapot, and the Tea Beyond Heat-Resistant Glass Teapot.
We dropped in-cup baskets and infusers like the Frieling Medium Infuser and Tovolo In-Mug Tea Infuser from consideration after reading complaints about poor design, mainly in regard to leaves escaping into the cup and leaves getting stuck in the holes.
The 2014 World Tea Expo named the Bonavita Porcelain Immersion Dripper one of the “Best New Product – Tea Ware” finalists. It’s an interesting pick since the dripper is mainly designed for brewing coffee. Much like other drip coffee makers, it’s shaped like a cone. What makes it compatible with tea is the lever that allows the coffee—or in this case, tea—to steep. (Hence the “Immersion” in the product’s name.) According to the experts at Seattle Coffee Gear, it works well for steeping loose-leaf tea. It’s fairly similar to over-the-cup steepers except that it requires the use of a filter. That extra step means additional costs but also means less leaf product landing in the cup.
If you’re fascinated with teapot design, you may want to keep tabs on the Sorapot. Independent industrial designer Joey Roth says that he’s spent four years developing the Sorapot. It looks like a worthy contender with its glass-cylinder brew chamber—perfect for watching tea leaves do their dance—and cast-metal body. The major drawback: It costs $285. That’s more than the Breville One-Touch, which automatically brews large amounts of tea. In the case of the Sorapot, you’d really be paying for the fancy design.
A note on free-float brewing and gaiwans
As noted earlier, making tea is simple. You don’t absolutely need a separate steeping device or a teapot with a built-in infuser if you don’t mind drinking some tea leaves (or drinking around tea leaves). In Chinese culture, just brewing leaves right in a teapot and pouring around the table is common. This approach is great if you’re drinking tea with several people and can pour all of the tea after it’s done steeping.
Another option is to brew right in a small cup, like my parents do, filling it back up with hot water as you finish. It’s a somewhat makeshift version of drinking from a gaiwan or a yixing pot, two traditional Chinese brewing vessels that are very small and made for drinking tea with multiple steepings. People commonly use the yixing pot and gaiwan to make pu-erh tea, a fermented dark tea that usually comes in circular bricks. The technique involves steeping this kind of tea multiple times for varying lengths, first for as little as 20 to 25 seconds and then gradually up to several minutes.
That said, pu-erh tea is not common in Western cultures. And even though you can brew tea without an infuser, doing so is not as convenient in larger teapots and cups, where you’d want to take the tea out as soon as it’s done infusing, and drinking the tea is more difficult. For the vast majority of tea drinkers, we recommend using some sort of brewing basket or strainer.
- The Tea Enthusiast’s Handbook, March 30, 2010 ,
- The Hacker's Guide to Tea, Lifehacker, November 23, 2010 ,
- Newbie’s Guide to Teaware, Tea Nerd, April 3, 2009 ,
- Discovering the best tea steeper, T Ching, December 18, 2009 ,
- Teaware 101: How to Choose the Right Teapot, Art of Tea, February 15, 2013 ,
- Finum Brewing Basket, Steepster, April 2013 ,
- I'm looking to start drinking tea properly. Where do I begin?, Reddit /r/tea, 2012 ,
- Hario ChaCha Teapot, Amazon user reviews, December 12, 2012 , ,
Originally published: September 4, 2015