I was a little perplexed the first time I opened a canister of loose tea. I’d only ever brewed tea in a bag before—in fact, I didn’t know it came any other way. I sat and scratched my chin for a second before resorting to brewing it straight in the water and then straining it out with a wire sieve.
Then I discovered the wonderful little tea ball. What a great invention! This little contraption is like a hollow metal dome punctuated with little holes and secured with a little latch. You open it up, scoop in a teaspoon or two of your loose tea of choice, and then seal it up and steep it. Kind of like a reusable tea bag.
The tea ball has a couple of other cool uses, too. You can use it in place of cheesecloth to make a bouquet garni (a removable spice packet typically filled with whole herbs and spices and used in soups or stocks). Or, try using it when infusing oils or vinegars.
You can usually find these in their classic, round stainless steel form for a couple of bucks. I once had a little gingerbread house-shaped one that came with a bag of holiday tea—you can also find cute shapes like bells and hearts. Some of them come with cute little weights or charms to keep them submerged. Look at this little teapot version!
There are a couple of other options to brew loose tea if you can’t find a tea ball. Aside from my steep-and-strain method, you can also use a cheesecloth bundle, muslin bag, or coffee filter. You can also brew loose tea in the brewer basket of your coffee maker.
Asian markets and tea shops carry specialty infuser tea pots, which are great for making a few cups at a time instead of just one. You can get these in plastic, but I’d recommend going for ceramic. These typically come with a hollow core into which you can drop in and then remove a steeper basket.
Knowing how to properly brew loose tea really opens up your options. You can find a broad range of diverse, unique blends and flavors or even mix up your own. Remember to store tea in airtight containers and to wait at least 10 seconds after your water boils before pouring it on.