Over the years, I’ve read numerous reviews in various coffee trade magazines and on websites about what brewing devices make the best cup of coffee.  Coffee-holics usually arrive at a similar place when they cup the strong brew in today’s conventional devices.  If my memory serves me correctly, the French Press usually ends up on top.

tea steeping devicesTo my knowledge, I have not seen a similar review done of tea-steeping devices for loose-leaf tea.  Sure, we all have our personal favorites and we can speculate on what device might brew the best cup of tea, but has anyone actually taken the time to cup a few teas side by side with the more popular devices available today?

This quest for clarity and knowledge got the better of me this week, so I cleared my Sunday afternoon slate to focus on determining which popular loose-leaf steeper renders the best cup of tea.

I decided to choose the top four steepers that are being used in homes, cafes, and restaurants across the country.  These are the T-Sac paper filter, the French Press, the stainless mesh infuser ball, and the BREWT.  If you know of another that is in wide use, I would love to hear about it.

Being just a tad bit of a tea lover, I happened to have all four in my tea cupboard.

test teasBefore I submit my results to you, I will briefly explain my methodology: I chose two teas – a China Golden Rain Black and a Pai mu tan scented with hazelnut and rose buds.  In addition to solidifying in my mind which of the tea steepers makes the best cup of tea, I also wanted to see if the various steepers brewed scented tea differently than unscented.

I used two teaspoons of tea for each brewing device, 400 ml of hot water, and a three-minute steep time for each pot of tea.

So, without further delay, here are the results of my exercise:

China Golden Black Rain

China Golden Black Rain1.    T-Sac:  The T-sac wicked the tea up the paper and then proceeded to drip on the counter.  The resulting brew was weak, lacked any subtleties, and tasted somewhat washed out.  Not a very impressive cup of tea.  Have you ever tried to stuff fluffy white tea into a small T-sac when you are in a hurry?

2.    French Press:  The French press was easy to use – pull off the plunger, drop in the tea, and add the water.  The resulting brew was robust, flavorful, and perfectly steeped.  The liquid felt clean and fresh on the palate.  It did lack some maltiness and there was a hint of metal – shiny stainless metal.

3.    Mesh Infuser Ball:  The tea was weaker and lacked the same robust flavor of the French Press, but was not washed out as with the T-sac.  There was a hint of metallic, which I could only surmise came from the mesh ball.

4.    BREWT:  The tea was excellent.  All the subtleties of the tea were evident – a classic hint of smokiness, the caramel notes, and the fine tannins that come out in the end.  This device was easy to use and easy to clean.

Pai mu tanPai Mu Tan Scented with Hazelnut and Rose Buds

1.    T-Sac:  The classic notes of the Pai mu tan were evident, but not overwhelming.  The hazelnut and rose scents were much duller, and were overpowered by the inherent flavor of the Pai mu tan.  It seems the T-sac held back the added flavors, and stripped the Pai mu tan of its fresh taste.

2.    French Press:  The French Press made a great cup of tea.  The balance between the Pai mu tan and the added flavors was much more evident.  The hint of rose buds was clearly noticeable and complemented the hazelnut.

3.    Mesh Infuser Ball:  The resulting cup of tea from the teapot was OK.  It would have had to steep longer then three minutes to achieve the same intensity that was present in the French Press and BREWT.  None of the Pai mu tan notes and added scents were clean and clear.

4.    BREWT:  The cup of tea from the BREWT was the most flavorful.  Here the rose buds were in perfect harmony with the two other distinct flavors.  The tannins were low, and the beverage felt the lightest and cleanest on the palate.  I could detect more body and subtle nuances than with any other device.

Summary

If it is a priority of yours to drink or serve the best cup of tea possible, then much to my surprise, the new BREWT tea steeper won on all accounts.  I could not detect any transference of flavors, or any metallic taste.  It was a perfectly steeped cup of tea.  This particular model is made with a BPA-free, food-grade resin.

The runner-up was the French Press, but because the whole plunger apparatus in the press is made of various steels and plastics, there was a slight difference in the taste between the BREWT and the French Press.  The tea made with the French Press lacked the ultra clean taste that the BREWT tea had, but the French Press is easy to clean out.

T-sacThe third best tea brewer was the conventional mesh infuser ball.  Because of the compression of the leaves into a confined space, the pure essences of the tea have a much harder time escaping into the cup.  In addition, the steel mesh holds flavors and contributes to the metallic taste of the beverage.

The poorest performing tea brewing device was the paper T-sac.  Here I found so much of the beautiful notes of the two teas to be flat, washed out, or non-existent.  The paper also held back the added scents in the white tea.  I could hardly detect any of the rose buds, even though I made sure each device had one full rose bud in them.  The other thing that was problematic with the T-sac as the wicking of the hot liquid out of the cup and onto your hand or desk.  The tea leaves seemed to be too restricted to allow for proper infusing to occur.  Not something I would use if there were other options available.

So now we know.  There is something to be said for technology.  The BREWT, with its bottom-dispensing pour spout, proved to make the best cup of tea, han
ds down.

Merry Christmas, folks!  See you all again in 2010 for a prosperous year in fine tea!