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Tea 101: What Supplies You NeedTo determine what tea equipage you'll need, you should answer these questions first: (If you encounter a word you don't understand, check out our Definitions page first.)
1. Are you going to be making pots of tea or one cup at a time?
2. What facilities will be available to you? Will you be at home with everything you need, are you going to be at the office or dorm where your ability to clean up will be limited, or where you might not have a stove to boil water?
3. What kind of tea will you be making? Fine cut? Full-leaf? Herbal? Iced?
4. Will you be serving guests or making it for yourself or your family?
5. Do you like to sit with a pot of tea for a couple of hours, or are you going to gulp your tea on the way to work?
6. Are you someone who likes to keep things simple, or do you prefer a more fancy way of doing things?
Now based on how you answered those questions, you must choose the following:
This is very personal. You must consider what flavors you like, whether you can have caffeine, and how important cost and ease of preparation are to you. In general, loose teas are inexpensive, although some can get rather pricey. Most people who are just starting out can't taste the difference between a $1.50/oz. tea and a $10.00/oz. tea, unless they are wine connoisseurs or chefs, or anyone else who has a highly developed palate. Frankly, a lot of $1.50/oz. teas are really very good, especially for every day, and for your friends who don't know the difference.
Most teas are easy to prepare, although some greens and whites need extra attention for best flavor. This is usually no problem at home, but at the office it may be more of a challenge. Don't ruin your Imperial Silver Needles at work by stuffing it too tightly into a paper filter and then microwaving it in your kitchenette. Take something inexpensive and easy to prepare.
If you can't have any caffeine at all, you must stick to herbals. Decaffeinated black and green teas still have a little bit of caffeine in them, although not much. If you can have a little caffeine, decafs are fine. Ask your doctor if regular tea is OK. It has one third the caffeine of coffee.
If you're not sure what you like, buy an ounce of several different kinds to taste. An ounce of tea will make 10-15 cups - plenty to try! If you have no idea what flavors you might like, try a couple black teas, a couple greens, maybe an oolong, and an herbal or two. (White teas require a somewhat refined sense of taste and don't often appeal to beginners.) If flavored teas specifically appeal to you, try a fruity one, a spicy one, a minty one, and a flowery one. Check out our Tea Sampler Category for more suggestions.
Infuser or strainer:
Most people like to have a method of keeping the tea leaves out of their cup. You can either strain them out as you pour your tea into your cup, or keep them neatly in the infuser you brewed the tea in.
Infusers: Infusers are more popular now than strainers. These work well for most teas, although often fluffy white and green teas require more room than the average infuser allows. Restricting tea leaves too much while they brew will decrease the quality of flavor you get, so always choose the largest infuser you can afford that will fit into your pot or cup. If you think you may be using many different pots and/or cups to make tea, and you're not sure what size would be best, a good option is a cotton infuser, which is flexible enough to fit into most openings and is inexpensive. They are not pretty, however, so this is not a good choice for tea parties.
If your cleanup facilities are limited, you might want a disposable paper infuser, which is just a paper pocket that you fill with tea leaves. These are great for travel or for the office.
If you're brewing fine-cut teas like rooibos or typical breakfast teas, you'll want to make sure you get an infuser with fine holes to catch all the leaves. Typical tea balls have holes too large for many of these teas. People generally choose a fine mesh basket, cotton, or paper.
Many pots now come with their own infusers, which saves you the trouble of finding one that fits your pot, which is especially hard to do when ordering from a distance. Our most popular infuser pots are the Bee House.
Strainers: If you are brewing large leaf green or white teas, you should probably consider a strainer instead. The benefit of strainers is that they allow you to brew your tea without any confinement of the leaves. Just put the leaves in the pot and let them swim around in all that space! You may be surprised how much room they have taken up when they are done brewing and how great the tea tastes when brewed this way. The disadvantage of a strainer is that, since many teas will get bitter with extended brewing, by the time you get to the last cup, it may be unpleasant. Only use a strainer if you know that the tea you've chosen doesn't get bitter (herbals are an obvious choice, but some green teas too), or if you will be pouring off the tea quickly, like at a tea party or for your family's dinner. See our Empress Strainer as an example.
Pot or cup:
If you're going to have more than one 6 or 8-ounce cup of tea, you really need a teapot. Here's why: tea cools off very quickly. If you pour yourself a latte mug of tea, it will be cold by the time you are half way done (unless you gulp it, which defeats the purpose of tea.) If you have a teapot and a small cup, you can keep your tea hotter longer, especially if you use a tea cozy in addition. Please see our Teapots and Tea Cups sections for ideas. Bee House Teapots are our most popular brand. We also particularly like the Finum Teapots.
You should have some way of measuring how much tea you're putting in your pot so you get enough, but don't waste it. Generally, one teaspoon of the average tea is adequate for a 6-8 ounce cup. You can use your household teaspoon measure or get a separate one to keep with your tea things. Others prefer a scale, which is more accurate, especially if you're using very fluffy teas. Two to three grams per cup is the standard. Check out our 1 Cup of Perfect Tea Spoon, our Adjustable Measuring Spoon, and a nice gram scale.
Heat your water in a kettle, not a microwave. Most people any more use their microwave, and that may be OK if you can't taste any difference and if you know when the water is done (or if you have no choice of equipment). Don't over boil it or it will taste flat. Don't under-heat it or you won't get the full flavor of your tea. If you are drinking green, oolong, or white teas, please use a tea kettle so you can see when the water is ready. Please, please, don't put your tea leaves in the microwave!! The freshly boiled water should be poured over the leaves for a proper infusion instead of putting it all together and then heating it. If you're going to all the trouble to buy good tea, why treat it so cruelly?
You want this if you're using a teapot and you like to leisurely drink your tea without it getting cold. I always use a tea cozy. Always.