The Tests

  • Measure capacity in liquid tablespoons

  • Test compatibility with wide range of mugs and cups

  • Brew and taste herbal tea

  • Brew and taste white tea

  • Brew and taste green tea (two types)

  • Brew and taste black tea

  • Wash by hand between infusions

Tea infusers are great for making a single cup of loose-leaf tea. They come in several styles: sticks, balls, and baskets made of perforated metal or wire mesh. With each, you simply insert the amount of tea you want to use into the infuser, stick the infuser into a cup, and pour hot water over it. We wanted to know which tea infuser was best, so we bought nine models, priced from $5.96 to $16.95, and used them to brew herbal, white, green, and black teas.

The size of the infuser proved critical. The smaller the strainer, the harder it was to brew good, full-flavored tea. Some of the ball- and stick-style infusers weren’t big enough to hold a full 2- to 3-gram serving of tea leaves, particularly with the large-leafed white tea and fine, voluminous herbal tea. Even when we did manage to fit in most of these tea leaves, the smaller strainers let us down. Tea leaves need plenty of room to circulate in order to infuse the hot water properly. When they’re crammed into a small strainer, they don’t always get full exposure to the water and thus can’t expand and unfurl. In some of the smaller infusers, the leaves toward the center were packed so tightly that they didn’t even get wet, especially when brewing for shorter periods of time. The result in all these cases: wan, weak tea.

Strainer design has a big impact on the brewing process. We found that models that don’t allow ample circulation produced weak, pale tea.

Smaller strainers were also fussier to fill and harder to clean. Accordingly, we liked larger strainers. To measure their volumes, we lined each with plastic wrap and filled it with water; we found that we strongly preferred models that held 10 tablespoons or more. In practice, this meant that we liked basket-style infusers, which had a number of other advantages in addition to their size. They had large openings of 2 inches or more in diameter, which facilitated filling and cleaning. And they had no fussy moving parts—some of the tea balls and sticks had tricky clasps or tops that were difficult to put on. Finally, they generally had more and smaller perforations than ball- and stick-style models, allowing water to enter and exit easily while preventing all but the tiniest particles of fine herbal tea from filtering out. (It wasn’t a deal breaker to have a few leaves of tea floating at the bottom of the cup, but most tasters preferred not to encounter detritus.)

In a large tea infuser, the leaves will become wet because they have plenty of room to circulate in the water (like those above, left). In a smaller infuser, some leaves may stay dry, because they are too tightly packed into the space and cannot come into contact with water (above, right).

Our winning tea infuser, the Finum Brewing Basket L ($9.95), is constructed of very tightly woven mesh that kept even the finest leaves out of the tea. It had the biggest capacity in our testing, equivalent to 13.5 tablespoons. And with a 2.5-inch opening, it was easy to fill and clean. As a bonus, it comes with a top that can also be used as a saucer, holding the basket and catching any drips after or between infusions.

Basket strainers have ample room that allows the tea to unfurl and infuse the hot water evenly, as opposed to smaller ball and stick strainers that pack the tea in too tightly.

Winning Traits

  • Large capacity

  • Wide opening

  • Mesh basket