Part three of our tea & sustainability series - the first of which "Tailor made Tea Bags" covered why we use teabags and their impact on our health and environment, part 2 "Making Tea & Making Change" talked about ways to consume thoughtfully and impact change in the tea industry. This post will go into alternative brewing methods and my efforts to design an infuser.
Tea is already fairly simple to make: leaves + hot water = tea. Overtime we've developed many rituals and habits around preparing tea, each serves it's purpose, whether that's saving time, or observing ceremony - there are many ways to enjoy this ancient beverage. Recently I've become more concerned with the usability and sustainability of tea infusers, as I've begun work designing my own. Rather than go into the pros and cons of each infuser in detail, I've come up with a list of qualities to look for in tea-ware:
Reusable- the device is sustainable, can be used over and over without creating waste or breaking and becoming trash, is made from durable material- and with as little environmental impact as possible.
Functional- the device is easy to use, easy to clean, has room for the tea leaves to expand and steep properly, can be removed from hot water without risk of injury, and can be used to brew single servings or larger batches interchangeably.
Accessible- the device is affordable, and doesn't require superior tea knowledge or extra gadgetry to use, it can fit to any cup, pot, or thermos, and is travel-able.
Safe- the device is made from materials that are food safe, is free of chemicals and pesticides, doesn't harbor harmful bacteria after long use, and doesn't break or become toxic when exposed to high temperatures
Fun- the device brings the user joy, is engaging and exciting to share with others. An aesthetically pleasing compliment to the tea
- 3 being "well considered"
- 2 being "somewhat considered"
- 1 being "not considered"
- 0 being "badly considered"
While researching, I've looked at different kinds of infusers and compared them to each other and to the 5 above mentioned qualities that govern my design. Here's what I've found after rating each one on a scale of zero to three:
Top Four Methods Breakdown
The next step was to look at each Method and identify what could be improved upon. The Gaiwan came nearest to meeting all the qualities, but lost points for accessibility, since they're usually made of ceramics and are comprised of a loose fitting lid and cup - they are not very travel-able. Additionally, they take some technique to pour, and are small chambered, so you really have to slow down and take your time preparing the tea, enjoying the ceremony of it. I count that as a plus, but most of us don't have time to drink tea gongfucha style - or prefer one large mug of tea to several little cups.
The basket infuser is a step closer. It still has all the roominess of the Gaiwan, but can be added to a larger cup or pot. The thing is, they're usually made of metal, plastic, or wood at the top and specially fitted to a particular teapot, cup or thermos They also have the problem of being rather large to pack away, and difficult to remove from the cup - dripping, or not having enough of a handle to grasp.
The metal teaball is better for transporting and removing, but can get very hot to the touch and is very small - not enough room for the leaves to expand, and only allowing small batches to be made at a time. Cloth bags are more roomy, but don't last as long - since the fabric wears over time and is harder to keep clean. The cloth is collapsible, and easy to transport, and cant be crushed or shattered, it's also much more affordable compared to metal, ceramics, and glassware.
So what if I was able to make an infuser with the the simple practicality of the gaiwan, the roominess of the basket, the convenience of the tea-ball, and the collapsible power of the cloth teabag?
Designing an infuser with all the qualities I desire is a challenge. Making it with the limited resources I have regarding equipment, woman-power, time, and $$$ is even more of a challenge. But it's one I truly enjoy working through (if you can't tell from all the nerdy graphs and charts above).
My favorite part of the process is doing the research, learning about all the thought and care that goes into something as simple as a cup of tea, and sharing that knowledge with all of you.
So thanks for keeping up with the project! I hope you enjoyed this small glimpse into my creative process, and that you'll continue to reach out with your ideas, questions, and support. And maybe, just maybe, I'll have an infuser for you by the end of the summer (naked ladies and all). Wish me luck!