Pour boiling water over some tea leaves, wait 2-3 minutes, strain and your tea is done. Sounds simple? It’s not. Making a perfect cup of tea often requires much more patience, right amounts of tea leaves and water, and a perfect teaware and accessories. Getting a strainer may be the first thing you do when you switch from tea bags to loose leaf tea. And maybe you have even postponed trying loose tea because you though you don’t have necessary equipment. The good news is, all you need is a mug and some common kitchen utensils. Sometimes, to brew loose leaf tea only a glass will be enough.
Strainer or infuser? What is the difference?
Strainers and infusers are two different tea utensils, although you may use both for either steeping or straining. The most common infuser is a tea ball, infusion spoon or tea basket. The most popular strainers are strainer with handles and regular kitchen strainers. Almost every type of strainer can be used as an infuser, and some infusers may be used as strainers. But how to make tea if you don’t have either, or if your tea strainer is too small for tea to expand.
How to make tea without an infuser
Mug or glass brewing
Simple mug or glass brewing are two easiest brewing methods suitable for many types of tea. Mug brewing is popular for rolled oolongs, mostly Ti Kwan Yin, and some high mountain Taiwanese teas. Glass brewing is great for delicate fresh green teas such as Dragon Well or Tai Pink Hou Kui. For mug brewing, ideally add about 3-5 grams of oolong tea, and for glass brewing 2 grams will be enough, an amount that equals one teaspoon of loose tea. Don’t use this method for stronger green teas or black tea. If you are unsure, make a test brew first with less leaves. Boil water and let it cool down for about 2-5 minutes first, then pour into a glass with tea leaves. Drink straight with the leaves inside the cup.
Home-made tea filters
You can easily make your own tea bags at home by using tea or coffee filters, cheese cloth and a gauze or a muslin cloth. Learn how to make them here.
Using a gaiwan
Gaiwan is a traditional Chinese vessel for making tea. It’s suitable for brewing almost any type of tea, including most herbals. The only types that are not gaiwan-friendly are teas with tiny leaf particles such as rooibos. Particles of this herbal tea are often too small, and it’s difficult to hold them inside the bowl when puring the tea into a pitcher. However, some other small particle teas such as Japanese mecha are suitable for gaiwan brewing (for experienced tea drinkers) because these particles are much heavier and will stay at the bottom of the gaiwan.
Gaiwan has two pieces – a cup/bowl and a lid. It doesn’t have a strainer of any type, neither a spout nor handle. Its simple appearance may give you an impression that it’s difficult to brew tea with it. Gaiwan is, in fact, very easy to use once you get the grip of it. Gaiwans are incredibly sophisticated and a must if you want to re-use same tea leaves for more than 2 times.
Using a strainer
If you have a strainer, but don’t have an infuser, you can brew tea in your mug and then strain it into another mug using a kitchen strainer. Alternatively, if you strainer is big/small enough to rest on the mug, you can place the leaves in the strainer, and pour hot water over it. Kitchen strainers are available in almost all grocery stores.
How to strain tea without a strainer
But, if you don’t even have a strainer, and don’t want to glass or mug brew your tea, making a perfect cup of tea may be even more difficult. This is what you could do.
Using a small plate
To make a homemade gaiwan you will need a simple mug, cup and a small saucer. Choose cups with thin walls. They will be a bit easier to manipulate with and are often lighter than robust coffee or tea mugs. Use a smaller saucer that you can eaily hold with your hands. Steep the tea in a cup, then cover with a small saucer and make only a small opening that will prevent tea leaves from getting into another mug. Now hold it with your hands and pour the tea into other mug. This method is suitable for teas that you brew with lower water temperature to avoid the risk of getting burnt.
Using a clean cheese cloth
Cheese cloth is one of the most useful things you could have in your kitchen. Loosely place a small cloth on top of the empty mug and slowly pour the tea from the mug you used for brewing. To get the most out of tea leaves, lightly wrap the tea leaves in the cheesecloth to make a small sachet and use it for one more infusion. Alternatively, use it to make your own tea bags with dry loose leaf tea.
Use a four sieve
Flour sifter may be use for straining the tea too. Be careful though, some sifters are very big and may leave your kitchen messier than you would want.
Use the fork as a strainer
If you don’t have a cheesecloth or a flour sieve, and don’t want to make too much mess in your kitchen, you can use a regular fork to strain the tea leaves too. Steep the leaves in a mug or a small saucepan first. Then use another mug and slowly pour the tea from the first mug/saucepan into the second, while holding the tea leaves with a fork. This will work only with big unbroken leaves, such as Pai Mu Tan or Pettiagala Extra Long Leaf Orange Pekoe.
All of these methods will work if you don’t have necessary tea equipment at home. They will allow you to try loose leaf tea without investing into teaware. However, if you really want to find relaxation and beauty in drinking tea, nothing can beat a beautiful tea set.
To learn about the recommended time for steeping different tea types and how to measure tea leaves, read how to measure loose leaf tea, and how to brew white tea, green tea, oolong tea, black tea and herbal tea.