One question I see often on tea forums is along the lines of “I want to get into loose leaf tea, what tea ware do I need?” or “My loved one drinks bagged tea and I want to get them loose leaf tea ware, what do I buy?”
This question, I feel, has multiple answers since people want to drink tea for different reasons or have tea ware items that would be better suited to their life style. I drink a lot of loose leaf tea, like 6 cups+ a day, mostly solo or on the go. I have a crazy amount of tea ware, and over the years I’ve found what Loose Leaf Tea ware works the best and what items I could make a great cup of tea. With that said, I’m going to break down, at each level, what type of tea ware one needs so they can get started on the awesome tea journey.
First, the questions for the new loose leaf tea drinker
“How many people in your household will be drinking tea, or is it just you?”
“What kinds of tea do you want to get into – blends or unflavored? Traditional gong fu? Iced?”
“Do you want to drink more tea or will be drinking tea often away from home?”
“What is your budget?”
Essential Loose Leaf Tea Ware for 1
So, maybe you are on a budget. Maybe you don’t want to drop a bunch of cash just in case you don’t like tea. You are a solo tea drinker, you don’t need a whole tea pot. What tea ware do you need? Luckily, there is only one special tool, the rest you should have already in your kitchen or easy to acquire:
1. Brew Basket / Infuser
This is hands down, a large in cup tea infuser/brew basket is the best tea equipment. These puppies provide lots of room so your fancy oolongs can expand, letting out all the delicious flavor, yet be fine enough to filter out tiny rooibos bits. These are good for 1 big cup of tea, though there are models you can get to fit in a teapot.
*Look for a brew basket/Infuser that is big, has lots of fine holes or mesh. These infusers come in stainless steel or plastic. Many companies sell these infusers separate, but sometimes they sell them with mugs. Sometimes they come with a lid to cover your tea while steeping and use as a tray. I use the DavidsTea Perfect Infuser, which I’m super happy with. Another popular infuser is the Finium Brew Basket (amazon link) and the FORLIFE brew-in-mug Infuser. An in-mug infuser tends to run between $5 to $12. Do NOT buy the novelty robot, Queen, axe, whatever shaped tea infusers and balls – they do not let tea expand thus less flavor.
Brew Basket/Infuser also resteep super easy! That gongfu short steeping method you’ve heard about with fancy gaiwans and yixing? You can fake it with an in cup infuser. Just steep that pu’er or oolong for 30 seconds, pull it out of your mug, and steep it again for the next 8 rounds.
2. Tea Storage – Tin/ jar
Yes, I know you make tea in a cup. But you don’t drink all your loose leaf right after opening the package, right? Keep your tea in a tin, jar or tupperware (I like the locking ones) to keep the leaves fresh and free from dust/bugs/spills/contaminates. Ideally tins are the best, as light can damage tea, but as long as you don’t display your tea in glass in light you should be fine. You don’t need to empty the tea into the tin, I often just roll up the bag and stuff it into a tin. You typically want to store teas separately or in similar groups so they don’t contaminate each other.
You can repurpose cookie tins, or purchase tea tins. Many tea sellers sell tea tins, though I like using the IKEA TRIPP tin set. Later in your tea drinking journey you will need many tea tins to store all your teas!
3. Stuff you probably already have – Good Water and a Mug/ Tea cup
Water is the base of your tea, probably the most important factor in making a good cup of tea. If you personally do not drink tap water, why would you drink it in your tea? I know people who go with bottled spring water for their tea, but I’m personally not that hard core so I use filtered water out of my fridge.
Mug or Tea cup is of course a must have and you can use whatever hot drinking vessel you like. I like mugs with Owls on them. For Oolong Owl I often use glass mugs or tea cups with white insides – those styles are mostly to have a blank canvas to enjoy the tea color and photography.
To sum up a basic a Loose Leaf Tea ware gift or starting point – Good water, tea cup, in mug infuser/brew basket and some sort of tea storage.
Upgraded Loose Leaf Tea Ware for 1
Kettle – I personally like electric kettles, especially Variable temperature kettles, as many of them boil water really fast, can be inexpensive and safer with auto shut off. Some people get really hung up that their kettle needs to whistle, but that doesn’t make tea taste better. My kettle beeps when its done, and can hold temperature for a long time (see upgraded gear). I also like how an electric kettle is one less thing on my stove top that won’t get splattered with bacon grease.
Variable temperature kettle or Thermometer * – I would put this as bare essentials but you can make do without temperature controlled hot water for tea for awhile. But in the end, you will want a Variable Temperature Kettle in your future tea drinking days. It is a game changer!
First off – temperature control is must have if you are drinking greens and whites, which call for around 175F water temperature. Green and White tea is not supposed to be bitter and steeping them with boiling water often leads to bitter results. If you check steeping instructions for many of the teas I review, they are all not 212f/100c boiling water. If you want to just drink black tea, some instruct to use boiling water, others 190F to 200F, so you can fake it without a temperature control easier. There are tricks to dropping water temperature fast or spotting the water’s appearance to temperature, but those aren’t as accurate than actual measure. With accurate measure, you’ll have a perfect cup of tea everytime.
With that said, purchase a thermometer or just make your budget bigger and buy a variable temperature kettle (around $50 to $100) which is much less hassle and time wasted than watching your hot water cool to 175f. I personally use the Cusinart Variable Temperature kettle, but you got many other options.
Other Loose Leaf Tea Ware to Consider
Gravity Steeper – These tea making devices are lots of fun! They make a decent cup of tea as there is plenty of room to expand while the leaf is infusing. The tea pours out the bottom, leaving the leaf inside, so there is very little mess. However, these devices are always plastic and do not retain heat well. They stain easy and need to be cared for, but eventually will get cloudy looking over time. I find I get a better, perfect steeped, hot cup of tea with an in cup infuser because gravity steepers do not retain heat as well, but have their uses.
Gravity steepers make AWESOME iced tea – just steep and pour into a cup full of ice (if you drink a lot of iced tea, consider an iced tea maker as well). Gravity steepers are also awesome for the office, making for a quick, clean cup of tea.
* Look for a gravity steeper that is a wide model with removable filter/parts. Wide models, like the DavidsTea The Steeper, are easier to clean and will fit on top of any wide mug. Narrow ones (cough, Adagio, cough) you need a brush to clean and are too skinny to rest on top of a mug.
Travel Tea tumbler – this is for the person who wants to drink more tea, travelling or office tea drinking. Travel tea tumblers are also great for use at work. Similar to bringing a water bottle everywhere to get one to drink more water – bring a tea tumbler! I’ve reviewed a couple here on Oolong Owl, out of them I mostly use the super functional DavidsTea Carry Travel Mug, or the pretty Mandala Glass Tea Thermos. Depending on your needs, you can also fake it with a thermos (steep the tea before you leave) but dedicated tea travel tumblers can filter out the leaves, let you remove the leaves and even store tea in a hidden compartment.
Travel Tea tumblers can also double as a tea steeper or small tea pot!
So, you want to venture into the really exotic tea territory? Steep up a pu’er or oolong how it was traditionally done? Get a gaiwan if you are the tea drinker that drinks unflavored teas and want to get into gong fu style infusions. I love gaiwans, I think they are the greatest tea gift and make a killer round of tea, however they are also a tea ware you can’t give to a new tea person. If you are that tea drinker who loves gong fu cha, you’ll love your gaiwan to death and all the other gaiwans you end up buying (or receiving!). Gaiwans come in various sizes – get a cute 40ml to 120ml for solo sessions or 150ml – 200ml for group tea sessions. I tend to purchase my gaiwans online on Ebay or Aliexpress but many tea vendors sell them.
Teaspoon measure – you need to measure your tea right? Some tea sellers sell a special “tea spoon” but most often it’s a 1.5 or 2 sized teaspoon. You can use a regular o’ teaspoon measure. I have extra that I dedicated to my teas so I don’t have to search or clean one every time I make tea. I also have a 1/4 teaspoon set aside for matcha.
Scale – I touch on this on my review of a small scale. A small scale l is very handy for gong fu style tea steeping. If you want to get into drinking unflavored teas, especially big spacious teas like whites and greens, or weighty teas like oolong and pu’er, a scale is a valuable tool. For example, 1 teaspoon of oolong is a lot more tea than 1 teaspoon of white tea. Some teas don’t even fit in a spoon as the leaf is too big! Look for a small scale that does 0.1 gram measure. Kitchen scales aren’t sensitive enough for single gram measure.
Tea Ware Cleaner – Clean tea ware is a must for having good tea! You also want to clean your tea ware in something unscented as well, I can taste my dish soap if I use it to clean my tea mugs. Baking Soda and vinegar were my go to for cleaning tea ware, however a big game changer for me was the Smart Soak Tea Stain Remover from Mandala Tea. This tea soak cleans tea ware without scrubbing and will remove the nastiest of tea stains and get into all the hard to reach places tea stains like to hang out.
Essential Loose Leaf Tea Ware for 2 +
Tea Pot, porcelain, ceramic, steel ~24oz/700ml
I only bust out a tea pot when I’m really thirsty for 1 big tea session or I have guests that I will serve 1 tea to. Steeping just a serving or two in a large tea pot is a recipe for bad tea – there is less room for the tea to expand, plus all the extra room will make the tea pot get cold faster. There are small tea pots out there for making western style tea (1 to 2 cup size) but in the end, why not just brew the tea in an in-mug infuser and have one less item to clean?
A 24 oz/700ml is a nice sized tea pot for about 4 cups of tea. Look for a tea pot that has a filter/strainer to remove the leaf to avoid over steeping, unless your guests chug tea like it is going out of style.
Optional Loose Leaf Tea Ware
AKA, Pass on these unless you have a specific need for these tea items.
New tea drinkers will often ask these questions “Do I need a cast iron tea pot?” or “I’m new to tea and want a glass tea pot…” but in reality you don’t need these tea items, especially if you are a new tea drinker.
1. Cast Iron. These tea pots are nice. I have 2. Realistically, they are just heavy tea pots that look really cool and retain heat well. The heavy, durable feel to these pots would be a great self defense weapon too. Cast Iron tea pots can be very expensive too, $50 is a fair price for them with some popular tea sellers listing them in the $150+ range. You can also get a vacuum thermos tea pot that retains heat better and cheaper.
I personally only use cast iron tea pots if I have tea I want to keep hot for long, like a long work session, or for entertaining. Other than that, as a new tea drinker, they don’t serve much purpose and are not needed. They are also ripping hot to the touch while in use – keep away from kids!
2. Glass tea pots. Also, glass gaiwans. I have a couple glass tea pots and a glass gaiwan. They are really pretty for presentation, but have a number of issues making them not so user friendly.
1. They don’t retain heat well.
3. Hot to the touch!
I never use a glass pot with a tea that requires boiling water as it’ll be impossible to handle. In the end, glass tea pots just look impressive for guests to serve low temperature teas like whites and greens, awesome for tea blogging and instagram photos, but not the best tea pots.
3. Yixing tea pot
This one is a toughie. Yixing pots are in ADVANCE MODE BIG BUDGET land as decent one will run you $50 to $200 (at least). Yixing tea pots are really optional but very cool for the unflavored tea lover. Yixing tea pots “season” with tea, usually a single type of tea, and eventually giving back making a great cup. These tea pots of perfect if you drink similar teas everyday, as the more you use it, the better it gets. I love my yixing pots, but admittedly, my gaiwans get more use as they aren’t as fragile and can be used with any tea. Before you upgrade to a yixing pot, try out a gaiwan. You can also purchase a yixing gaiwan for less.
4. Automatic Tea Makers. There are automatic tea makers out there, similar to a programmable coffee pot. These automatic tea makers unfortunately run $150 to $300+. I don’t own one myself as 1. Outrageously expensive for what it is. 2. mono-tasker vs an electric kettle 3. less control than steeping it yourself (especially if you are unsure how long to steep something and need to taste it every 30 seconds) 4. Reports of it being not so great for delicate teas. I know many tea drinkers that love their Breville or Cusinart tea maker, but for $200 you can a lot of great tea goodies instead.
I hope this guide helps you fellow tea drinkers and gift givers! Tea is awesome and spread the tea love!