The Best Tea Steeper
After interviews, hours of research and drinking dozens of cups of tea from no fewer than ten tea infusers and teapots, we recommend the Finum Brewing Basket for people who drink loose leaf tea on an occasional or frequent basis.
The Finum Brewing Basket is versatile, sturdy and convenient. It’s plenty large to allow tea leaves to expand and move throughout the water while steeping. It also fits in the vast majority of mugs and cups, and it can be used with teapots and thermoses.
The Finum is BPA-free and heat resistant, but if plastic really freaks you out we also like the 100% stainless steel FORLIFE Brew-in-Mug. Ultimately, the plastic Finum is better—it allowed more water flow while steeping, was easier to take out due to its plastic handles keeping cool and was easier to clean when finished than the FORLIFE. Plus the Finum came highly recommended by experts and user reviews alike.
We also recommend the all-glass-and-metal 23 fl. oz. Hario ChaCha teapot for people who want more than one cup of tea at a time. It has a much larger brew-basket-to-teapot size ratio than any of the other pots we found, which means that leaves have more room to expand and release their flavor.
Who should buy this?
Daily tea drinkers would definitely benefit from using a Finum Brewing Basket, especially people who are currently drinking tea made from tea bags or tea balls. Switching from confined bags and balls to a larger infuser made specifically for loose leaf tea will drastically improve the quality of the tea you drink. (More below.) If you are a tea enthusiast and already own tea infusers and teapots, the Finum Brewing Basket is still worthwhile to have at hand. It’s a low-cost infuser that is compatible with most teaware and a quick option for single-cup servings.
Why ditch the tea bag and ball?
Most tea bags today are made up of “fannings,” basically leftover tea dust. The exposed surface area of all those little pieces means you’ll get a faster-brewed cup, but it also results in a more stale and less flavorful tea.
Even if you do put full tea leaves into a tea bag, which more and more high-end tea companies have started to do, you’re still putting your tea at a disadvantage. Tea leaves need room to fully expand and move freely through the water for their actual flavors to come out. The bag itself suffocates the leaves, preventing them from expanding to their full capacity. The result: A bland cup of tea.
Tea balls might seem like a step up from tea bags, but that isn’t the case. They are no better than tea bags at actually making a well-brewed cup of loose leaf tea. They’re from an era when all of the tea Westerners drank was super finely cut, machinery-processed black tea. This kind of tea features crushed and broken leaves that share a similar texture to the fannings in tea bags. Since they aren’t full leaves, they don’t need to expand and won’t impart any different flavors if given more room in an infuser.
For a really good cup of tea, not just some dark-colored hot water, you should ditch the tea bag and tea balls for a well-made infuser.
What makes a good tea steeper
Size and how much the steeping device lets tea leaves come in contact with water are the two most important factors that make a great infuser. “Size is most important,” World of Tea’s Tony Gebely says. The steeper needs to be large enough for individual leaves to float and expand and dance on their own in the water during the given steeping time. It’s important to “let the leaves flow in the steeping vessel for maximum contact with leaf/water,” Gebely adds.
Just because we’re ditching the tea bag and tea balls for being too convenient doesn’t mean that a great tea infuser should be any harder to use. A great steeper needs to be easy to clean, especially if you are drinking tea daily or more than 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. “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. Mesh allows water to circulate better through an infuser than a solid infuser with holes in it. 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 on glass teapots. They also retain heat evenly. The main drawback is that glass is more delicate than other materials.
If you are opting for a plastic pot or steeper, make sure it is BPA-free. At first, we were concerned about the possible health ramifications of mixing plastic and boiling water, but our tea-making experts told us that they have no problems recommending plastic if it’s BPA-free and heat resistant. That said, if you’re still not comfortable with that, we have a glass and metal picks for you too.
Price can vary drastically depending on what you’re looking for. You can get infusers for $2, but those tend not to meet basic requirements and are very poorly made. Basic, good tea infusers will cost you around $10 to $30. Depending on how many and what kind of features you want your infuser to have, you can also spend upwards of $200—but at that point, you’re just paying for gadgetry or show.
On making tea
Brewing a great cup of tea is very simple. But just because you have the right teaware and some loose leaf tea doesn’t mean you can automatically make an amazing cup. There are a few important things to know after you have the right tools. First off, I suggest reading our guide to tea kettles. In short, various kinds of tea require different brewing temperatures. You can’t just pour boiling hot water on all teas and expect good flavor. If you don’t have a temperature-controlled kettle, you can use your stove-top kettle and check the water temperature with a digital thermometer like the CDN DTQ450X ProAccurate Quick-Read Thermometer. “Water temperature and brew time are very important,” David Kosmider, editor of 19 Lessons on Tea, says. Lighter teas, such as greens and whites, need slightly cooler water than black teas. If you’re drinking lots of tea, a variable-temperature tea kettle will make your life so much easier.
You’ll also need to consider steeping times. For example, some teas need four to five minutes in the water to expose their full flavor, while other teas only need two to three minutes (sometimes even less). Most loose leaf teas you purchase in stores will come with brewing instructions, including water temperature and steeping time.
As a rule of thumb, however, you can brew most teas at the following temperatures and times:
White tea, Japanese green tea and Chinese spring green tea: 160 to 170 °F, 90 seconds to 2 minutes
Green tea: 170 to 180 °F, 90 seconds to 2 minutes
Oolong tea: 180 to 200 °F, varies widely
Black tea: 190 to 200 °F, 3 to 5 minutes
Pu-erh tea: 200 to 212 °F, multiple steepings of varying times
How we picked
There are 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, in-cup brewing baskets, teapots with built-in infusers, tea tumblers with strainers and electronic gadgets for automatic tea making.
Unfortunately, there are almost no roundups comparing and reviewing all of these 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.com, 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 forums over at Teachat.com are brimming with recommendations and suggestions for teaware, depending on what you’re looking for. Brendan Waye over at Tching.com had one of the only articles on testing multiple tea steepers to find his favorite, though he only tests four.
There are also several tea experts with advice on picking a brewing vessel. I spoke with Tony Gebely of World of Tea and David Kosmider, the editor of 19 Lessons on Tea. I also checked Amazon.com user reviews, although only for products that met the criteria that make a great tea infuser. The problem with many Amazon reviews for tea products is that there is not a lot of knowledge about what makes good tea. Many people gave high reviews to very small infusers purely on aesthetics. As Gebely said, “There are so many terrible steeping gadgets out there, and because they look cool or are trendy they tend to get a lot of press, I’ve seen a shark, a robot, a duck, a ship, various ‘tea sticks’ — all are shit.”
I 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 electronic tea maker. This got narrowed down to eight final products to test, which included one in-cup infuser, two over-the-cup steepers, four teapots and the tea making gadget. I eliminated the tea tumblers entirely because they are designed more for on-the-go travel use, making it difficult to take the leaves out after they are done steeping.
I brewed a black, green and oolong tea in each infuser, using a Zojirushi water boiler at specific temperatures required for the teas. (The Zojirushi is also our “Step Up” pick for the home tea kettles.) I checked for how well the teas were able to expand and move throughout the water, and tested for flavor and taste. After each infusion, I cleaned the vessels and checked how easy it was to dump the leaves and whether any leaves got stuck in the infusers.
The best overall tea infuser is the Finum Brewing Basket in Large, which costs $11. It is wide and tall, giving tea leaves a lot of space to expand and move around. What makes it a standout option from other steepers that also meet the above criteria is its construction. If you want to own only one steeping device, this is it.
The Finum Brewing Basket is extremely simple and effective. It’s made of heat-resistant, BPA-free plastic and very fine stainless steel mesh. The mesh is super fine, so no leaves or leaf particles escape into your cup, but water flows very freely through the infuser. The mesh is even on the bottom of the basket, which further helps circulation.
The two handles at the top of the basket make it easy to take it out of hot mugs. It rests easily in anything with a 2.8 to 4-inch diameter, including teapots. (The Finum also comes in a medium size, if you have cups smaller than 2.8 inches in diameter.) An accompanying lid is a very handy touch, retaining heat of the water. When the tea is done steeping, you can take the lid off and use it as a drip tray for the basket.
Cleaning the Finum is hardly a chore. You just dump the leaves out in your trash or down the sink (if you have a garbage disposal) and rinse with water. This is one of the main things that separates it from similar, all-steel models like the FORLIFE Brew-In-Mug, which tends to get little bits of leaves stuck in the small, circular perforations that don’t come out without extra scrubbing on your part. It’s also top rack dishwasher safe, if you want to throw it in with your regular cycle.
Compared to other models we tested, the Finum was by far the most convenient and versatile option for everyday use. You don’t need more than a mug and hot water, but should you desire, it works just as well in a teapot, or even a pitcher for iced tea. There’s no need for any additional trays or coasters. There isn’t much to wash afterwards.
The Finum was also the least expensive steeping device we tested, since it didn’t come with any frivolous features. It is slightly more expensive than tea balls and gimmicky tea infusers, but it’s a very small investment for consistently great-tasting tea.
Of course, there are a few drawbacks. The Finum is not ideal for group tea drinking situations, since it is made for in-cup brewing and is not great at infusing large amounts of tea. You could, however, use it as a filter between two vessels. For example, if you want to brew tea in a large teapot that doesn’t come with an infuser, you can pour through the Finum into a cup, so it catches the leaves.
Some Amazon reviewers have also noted that the mesh can stains over time. And if the basket is not cleaned well, a patina can develop on the mesh, potentially clogging it in some parts and/or transferring flavors from one tea to another. If you are an extreme tea enthusiast with a collection of multiple teas, you might want to consider purchasing more than one of the Finum in different colors—it comes in black, green, red and blue—for different types of tea.
Who else likes it
Tony Gebely of World of Tea has called the Finum Brewing Basket the only infuser you’ll ever need on his site. “I like to keep it simple. The absolute most versatile steeping device is the Finum brewing basket,” he told the Sweethome. “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 is the second-highest rated piece of teaware with a score of 91/100. Davidstea’s The Steeper earned first place with a score of 93, but didn’t fare as well in our testing due to its over-the-cup pouring design, which makes it too easy to accidentally overfill your mug.
Amazon reviewers also give it praise, with more than 355 reviews and an overall rating of 4.8/5.
Many tea forums, including those on Teachat.com and Steepster.com, include numerous mentions and recommendations of the Finum Brewing Basket.
The alternatives for multiple cups and non-plastic steepers
If you want a teapot that makes more than one cup, we highly recommend the Hario ChaCha. Holding 23 ounces, the glass pot makes about three small cups, so you can share with another person. Or you can have more tea for yourself without making an overwhelming amount that you won’t finish.
What makes the Hario special is its large metal, mesh infusing basket, which takes up the majority of the teapot. This gives the leaves more room to expand and ensures a flavorful tea. You can watch the leaves expand and dance through the top of the pot and always know how much tea you have left. It’s also a very easy pot to pour, thanks to its short, pointed spout. Glass teapots are more delicate, 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 step up
The Breville can brew up to 40.5 ounces of tea or heat up 51 ounces of water. The reason it makes a bit less tea is because it needs space for its tea basket, which hangs above the water as it heats up. 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 the tea is steeped. You can choose between five presets (black, green, white, oolong and herbal) and varying brew strengths. You can easily override the presets with a custom setting. Then just press the “Tea” button and the Breville does the work for you. And like quality tea kettles, the Breville brings water to the exact temperature requested instead of boiling and then cooling the water.
A “Keep Warm” button will keep your tea at the desired temperature for up to an hour. The LCD screen lets you know how long the tea has been sitting there. An “Auto Start” feature will automatically begin brewing tea at a given time, so if you want your tea ready for you first thing in the morning you can set that up the night prior.
The Breville has lots of good reviews from a diverse range of publications, including Apartment Therapy, Serious Eats and tea sites including Steepster.com and Teaviews.com. The biggest drawbacks are that it’s incredibly expensive and takes up quite a bit 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,” Gebely said.
In short, it’s a very fancy tea gadget with all the features you’d want for making tea. You just need the right kind of situation to justify spending hundreds of dollars on a tea maker.
There are so many tea infusing options out there, and we considered more than 30 of them. Many got eliminated because of complaints users had, or due to the quality and size of the infusing basket.
I tested the Adagio Inginuitea, a 16-ounce over-the-cup steeper. These are very popular options, and are made by several different companies, varying in size and shape. It shares the same BPA-free plastic build and when placed atop a cup, push a mechanism up to let the tea out. A filter catches the leaves. It’s very good at steeping the tea, since the leaves are allowed to 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 an easy wash. (It’s top rack dishwasher safe, too.) But unless you have a clear mug, you can’t see how much of the tea is being poured into the cup. In my testing, I kept on having to lift the infuser to make sure tea wouldn’t spill out. At one point, I thought I had enough room left in my mug, and ended up with an unpleasant overflow of burning hot tea.
The DavidsTea The Steeper is very similar to the Adagio Inginuitea. It’s slightly better because it comes with a coaster that catches any tea dripping out of the bottom. The wider shape of the steeper also make it easier to pull the filter out for cleaning, plus 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 you need clear or giant mugs—the DavidsTea makes 18 ounces of tea.
The Adagio Personalitea came recommended by expert David Kosmider, and is a highly rated teapot. It’s decent, but not a standout in any way. The infuser is somewhat small, but the tea still turned out tasting fine. One nice feature is the spout isn’t completely open to the pot; there are small holes from the wall of the pot that let tea out of the spout, reducing the amount of leaf bits that make it into your cup. It also comes in multiple colors, if you like that.
FORLIFE’s teapot, the Stump, 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 only holds 18 ounces – not much more than a typical mug.
The Takeya Tea Maker with Jacket is a good sturdy teapot option, with the added bonus of a sleeve to keep the tea warmer for longer. It doesn’t look like your standard teapot and is made of a lightweight plastic called AcraGlass. The main qualm is that the infuser screws into the lid, so it’s a bit of a chore to take out once the tea is done steeping. It also doesn’t have mesh on the bottom, so doesn’t allow maximum water contact. The 40 oz. model, which I tested, would work great for large groups, but otherwise there’s better options like the Hario ChaCha.
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’s not pressed down, and you have to wiggle it around to get it in the right position to work. It a hassle to use. The pot itself is huge, which can be good for groups. And the infuser is cleverly designed, where you can 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, it’s not worth the hassle.
Another high-end tea set that disappointed us in testing was the BergHOFF Dorado. It is a gorgeous teapot that is beautifully designed out of glass and stainless steel accents. It 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 to the BergHOFF’s 44 ounces. The leaves required for that much tea just didn’t have enough room to expand in the infuser. They looked cramped, and the tea didn’t turn out tasting as good. Another flaw: the lid is made of stainless steel, so was very hot to touch, making it hard to remove when taking out the basket.
Some tea makers that I did not test include 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. They both have good reviews and could definitely work for at-home use, but would require that you pour through a strainer like the Finum anyway. (Both do have screw-in strainers, but many users had complaints about them letting through too many leaf particles.) So if you’re making yourself a cup of tea, it would be easier to just use the Finum.
The Le Creuset Stoneware Teapot, though incredibly sturdy, had an infuser with far too few holes for water flow and contact. For the same reason, I eliminated teapots like the Primula Flowering Tea Set, the Tea Beyond Heat-Resistant Glass Teapot and the Grosche Glasgow Glass Teapot.
In-cup baskets and infusers like the Frieling Medium Infuser and Tovolo In-Mug Infuser were eliminated due to complaints about poor design, mainly in terms of leaves escaping into the cup and leaves getting stuck in the holes while cleaning.
Wrapping it up
If you want a well-brewed cup of tea, you’ll need to ditch tea bags, opt for loose leaf and get an excellent infuser. The $11 Finum Brewing Basket is an inexpensive, convenient and well-made product that will give you consistently good cups of tea. Not only will your leaves have enough space to fully expand and come in contact with the hot water, the Finum is also incredibly easy to take care of and clean. If you want a teapot option, go for the Hario ChaCha. And if you have a lot of tea drinkers in your home or workplace, consider the Breville One-Touch Tea Maker.
A Note on Free-Float Brewing and Gaiwans
As noted earlier, it is very simple to make tea; 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. It’s very common in Chinese culture to just brew leaves right in a teapot and pour around the table. This is great if you are drinking tea with several people and can pour all of the tea after it’s done steeping.
Another option is to just 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. The yixing pot and gaiwan are very commonly used for pu-erh tea, a fermented dark tea that usually comes in circular bricks. This kind of tea is steeped multiple times for varying lengths, from as little as 20 to 25 seconds, gradually up to several minutes.
That said, pu-erh tea is not common in Western cultures. And though you can brew tea without an infuser, it’s 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 it is more difficult to actually drink the tea. For vast majority of tea drinkers, we do 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,“When steeping the tea, be sure the tea can flow freely through the water, this rules out tea bags, tiny tea infusion baskets, tea balls, etc. Ideally, pour water directly over the tea and then strain before drinking. If you must use an infuser, a large finum strainer [photo left] works nicely and still allows for proper water flow.”
Newbie’s Guide to Teaware, April 3, 2009,“Want something almost as easy as glass brewing? Repurpose that evil infuser basket from your teapot. (If you don't already have one, just google "infuser basket" and look for something similar to the one shown here. They're only a few bucks at most places.) Just plop it in a coffee mug or cup of similar size and you're good to go. In fact, this will probably work better than a real infuser mug; mesh basket strainers drain faster and allow much more water to circulate through them than ceramic infusers… Try to avoid those little tea balls. They are convenient, yes, and better than a teabag, but not by much. There is almost zero room for your leaves to expand, which is a bad thing. Besides, they really aren't that much more convenient than a basket strainer.”
Discovering the best tea steeper, T Ching, December 18, 2009,“1. T-Sac: The T-sac wicked the tea up the paper and then proceeded to drip on the counter. The resulting brew was weak, lacked any subtleties, and tasted somewhat washed out. Not a very impressive cup of tea. Have you ever tried to stuff fluffy white tea into a small T-sac when you are in a hurry? 2. French Press: The French press was easy to use – pull off the plunger, drop in the tea, and add the water. The resulting brew was robust, flavorful, and perfectly steeped. The liquid felt clean and fresh on the palate. It did lack some maltiness and there was a hint of metal – shiny stainless metal. 3. Mesh Infuser Ball: The tea was weaker and lacked the same robust flavor of the French Press, but was not washed out as with the T-sac. There was a hint of metallic, which I could only surmise came from the mesh ball.”
Teaware 101: How to Choose the Right Teapot, ArtOfTea, February 15, 2013,“Glass teapots such as the Glass Assam Tea Press or Glass Bell Teapot retain heat evenly. Since it is transparent, you can watch the tea leaves unfurl and determine by color when to stop steeping. This is the ideal pot for blooming teas but great for all tea types, so you can see the leaves unravel and flowers blossom. However, because glass is so delicate, it is prone to breakage and may stain on the spout. To prevent breaking, it is recommended to hand wash. Quality glass teapots are lead free and made of borosilicate glass like the Glass Assam teapots by Bodum.”
Finum Brewing Basket, Steepster, April 2013,“Simply awesome. I had a Chatsford infuser for my teapot and a ForLife infuser for brewing in a mug. The ForLife has been difficult to clean and a little hard to balance in a bigger mug, but nice otherwise. The teapot infuser is much easier to clean but not designed to rest in a mug at all. As the Finum looks a lot like my Chatsford, only mug-friendly, I thought I’d give it a shot. It is great. Easy to use, easy to rest on the rim of bigger mugs, doesn’t leave behind a lot of flotsam and jetsam, and easy to clean.”
I'm looking to start drinking tea properly. Where do I begin?, Reddit /r/Tea, 2012,“A good single cup strainer: These range in quality and materials. It is typically mentioned wherever I go that a stainless steel mesh is good because it prevents flavors from being absorbed into the material, washes easy and is generally resistant to bacteria growth. Others prefer a bpa-free plastic mesh or other synthetic material, and some go with a fabric mesh (though I have yet to find one that isn't essentially a one-time use bag).”
Hario ChaCha Teapot, Amazon User Reviews, December 12, 2012,“I take more than 5 cups of tea every day. I bought this pot at a local store and have been using every day. This teapot is perfect for my use. 1. It's large infuser allows tea leaves dance, i.e. they move along with water convection, which is necessary to make good tasting tea. 2. Infuser makes removing tea leaves easy. 3. Tea leaves motions are visible. 4. Good outlet shape, which does not allow spill.”