A Tale of Two Teapots

When you make tea, the leaves absorb a great deal of water, and some of that is released back into the pot as tea. The water grabs the flavor components off of the tea. Like coffee, there are flavorful components to tea, and there are bitter components. The main difference in preparation is that with coffee, the water washes over the grounds, whereas with tea, the water passes through the leaves. In both cases, the extra bitter comes from steeping too long, but with tea, you can get extra bitter components from wringing out the water that wants to stay inside the leaves.

So, properly, black tea is prepared by pouring boiling water, seriously boiling water, into a pot with tea leaves, waiting four minutes, and separating the tea from the leaves. In a pinch, that's it. Traditionally you would use a standard teapot, put the leaves in, then the water, wait, and pour out through a strainer. Ideally, the teapot would made of some manner of heat-holding material, and you'd have warmed it before hand to keep the water as close to boiling for as long as possible without applying direct heat after mixing the water and the leaves.

Bodum Assam Tea PressFor the modern consumer, this causes some problems, like what to do with the extra tea in your kettle that you're not going to drink immediately. One option is to only make a single cup's worth of tea. Another option is to share. Another is to find some way to keep the water and leaves separated, like Bodum does with their Assam Tea Press, pictured to the right.

The Assam functions by having a basket in the middle of the teapot where the leaves reside. There are holes up the top 2/3 of the basket, so the water can more or less freely mix with the tea leaves. After four minutes, you press a plunger down into the basket, which pushes the leaves into the bottom 1/3, where there are no holes. Voila! You have your tea separated from your tea. The bottom of the pot is even small enough to put on a standard coffee cup warmer, which may keep the tea a bit warmer as you move from cup to cup.

There are some downsides, though. First, it's thin glass, so it's not going to hold the heat in well. Though the coffee cup warmer may help some, it will likely affect the basic quality of the brew from the proper connoisseur. The second is that it has a tendancy to dribble tea onto the floor or counter unless you are very careful in your pouring. I'm not that careful, so I tend to clean up a lot of drops of tea. Finally, the plunging action does squish the leaves some, so it'll almost certainly keep you from making the absolutely perfect cup of tea.

ingenuiTEA tea pot from adagio teasThe second option is adagio teas' ingenuiTEA teapot. This is for a more-or-less single serving of tea, and it's a very clever device. Mix the tea and water in the cup, wait 4 minutes, then set it on top of a standard-sized coffee cup. That releases a valve which will allow the water to pass through the filter at the bottom of the cup through a hole, and into your cup.

Downsides to this are that is holds about a cup and a half worth of tea, which is somewhat inconvenient, as the tea leaves stay with the water for whatever is left. It might be worth finding a larger cup to accommodate. Another problem is, like the bodum, the pot has thin walls, though plastic this time, which won't hold the heat in. Finally, you have to remember not to carry the pot by the bottom, or you might spill hot water on your hands.

Day to day, I will tend to use the ingenuiTEA rather than the Assam, unless I'm making tea for more than just myself. If I'm serving High Tea for company, or if someone who really cares about tea visits, then I might have to break out the proper tea pot and do things up right. In any case, either of these pots will be leaps and bounds above using a tea bag, especially if you combine it with quality, loose tea leaves.