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Novelty infusers are very cute. I personally own a small, silicone sloth who hangs out on the side of my cup. In addition to being cute, they also encourage you to drink your tea loose, rather than bagged, which is good, because loose tea tends to be of a much higher quality.
However, novelty infusers definitely have drawbacks. While these cup companions may be adorable, they also tend to be small. Small infusers, like tea balls, make it difficult for leaves to properly expand, and impart their flavor to the water. The result tends to be a weaker, flatter tea and wasted tea.
Novelty infusers can also get you into the habit of oversteeping tea. Much like a tea ball, they can hang out conveniently on the side of your cup, long past the 5 minutes that any black tea, or 3 minutes that any green tea should be steeped for. This can lead to a bitter, astringent taste.
Both of these problems can be solved by a basket infuser. Basket infusers fill the whole cup, which makes it almost impossible to take a sip while they are still in the water. This also means that your tea leaves have plenty of space to fully unfurl. Additionally, all of our basket infusers also come with either a lid or dish to set them on when you take them out, eliminating the hassle of that scrabble to find somewhere to set a novelty infuser or tea ball.
My final concern with novelty infusers tends to be regarding the materials which they are made out of. They tend to use food-safe silicone plastics, but how clean, non-toxic, and durable is the bit of plastic which you continually plunge into hot water, and then leave out for extended periods of time, full of wet leaves? Our basket infusers are made from stainless steel. I personally only own one, and fully intend to own it for the rest of my life. After four years of continuous use, it could certainly use a thorough cleaning, which it hasn’t had in a few months (I’m a college student- we do what we can, okay?), but it continues to work just as well as the day I bought it.
Certainly, novelty infusers are not the worst thing. They’re cute, and anything which gets people to drink more tea makes me happy. However, it physically pains me to see really good teas being brewed in them. The leaves don’t fully expand, they oversteep, and you might as well be drinking something out of a bag.
While novelty infusers are wonderful for some teas, in particular black teas, which tend to have smaller leaves there are some which they should never be used with. With green teas, one should be very careful to not oversteep them. Most oolongs have very large leaves which will never expand all the way in a small infuser. For reference, the image is of the brewed leaves of the Magnolia Oolong which I’m drinking this morning, fully expanded. Finally, white teas have a very delicate and nuanced flavor, and if you brew them in a novelty infuser, it will taste like hot water and nothing else.