questionswhat is the best method for brewing loose tea?

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I honestly think the Perfect Tea Maker or some other product like it is the best way to go. For some teas though, like green tea, an over the cup stainer works great and is pretty easy to clean.

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I've been screwing around with tea makers for years, and I'll tell you where I ended up.

I started out with something similar to what you use now. I buy all my teas and most supplies from Adagio Teas (www.adagio.com). Their prices are pretty good (way better than Teavana, they tend to rip you royally), they have a nice community, and good selection.

Cleaning these type of tea makers is a pain. You have to give them a good rinsing to get the stuff out of the bottom. If the bottom is kind of nasty, I've found some warm water and OxyClean gets it clean.

For one cup at a time, you can go old school and just get a tea infuser. Works well, but kind of hard to use:
http://www.adagio.com/teaware/stainless_steel_infuser.html?SID=6ebd7d6646688d1d42048748c4ce3dd2

When I'm travelling I use a Thermos Nissan tea infuser. I bring this and some dry tea to conferences. They usually have hot water, but the tea sucks. BYO tea and it's good for two rounds easy.

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(Continued from above)

If you are serious and want volume, for several years I used this:
http://www.adagio.com/teaware/triniTEA.html?SID=6ebd7d6646688d1d42048748c4ce3dd2
The Trinitea is very flexible, especially if you like green or herbal teas, that really shouldn't be seeped in boiling water, but 190 or less. The user can control (sort of) temperature and time. It's kind of expensive, and the infuser will need to be replaced after a while (even after oxycleaning from time to time) and they have had QC issues on some batches (the boiling chamber). I would fill it the night before, then flip it on when I got up and let the dogs out (when I had them). It was ready to pour into travel mug and thermos on my way out the door.

For the last 18 months I've moved up to this, the Mercedes of tea makers:
http://www.amazon.com/Breville-BTM800XL-One-Touch-Tea-Maker/dp/B003LNOPSG

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This has features that we tea drinkers never had. This provides exact control over both temperature and time of seeping. It works by a little magnetic gizmo that lowers into the water after it has been heated, then raises after the time is up. You can even tell the tea maker to dunk the tea basket in and out of the water, if you so desire. This also has a timer, so I set it the night before, set the time to start, and have my tea ready on my way out the door. It's pretty expensive, but I've been very happy with the purchase: it's saved me hours in preparation and cleaning.

You still have to get the tea leaves out of the seeping chamber, but it isn't that hard, and the seeping chamber is dishwasher safe.

Forgot to give the link for the Thermos Tea Infuser and Travel Mug:
http://www.amazon.com/Thermos-Nissan-12-Ounce-Stainless-Steel-Tumbler/dp/B00004S1CV/

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If you make a paste out of baking soda and smear it all over all the parts with tea residue and wait just a few seconds, it will wipe right off as if it were never there. If there are a lot of nooks and crannies, use a soft brush, perhaps a cheap soft toothbrush. The baking soda paste works on coffee stains and sometimes on rust stains as well. The best thing about cleaning with baking soda, it's cheap and non-toxic (being food itself).

As for method, I love my Zarafina. Not only does it make a very good cup of tea, it is fun to watch. As it brews it blows bubbles through the tea to oxygenate it.

http://coffeetea.about.com/od/teaware/gr/zarafina.htm

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I've used the little infusers, but I still prefer the old fashioned way the best.

I put some hot water in one of my teapots, so that it's already warm. I have a teakettle on the stove with water in it. When it boils, I put a spoonful or so of the tea in the pot, and then pour hot water in. I put the lid on, and let it steep for a bit, then pour some into a cup.

Most of my teapots are older, and have the filter built into them, so very few tea leaves make it into the cup. Some do, of course. I don't drink that part.

Besides, how could you tell fortunes without a few tea leaves in the bottom of the cup?

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Thanks for the tips everyone. The fancy machines look pretty cool, I'll have to consider those. I just tried the baking soda cleaning, I think this is going to require Oxy Clean (which I don't have right now). The scum is underneath the tea strainer where I can't physically wipe...it built up when the unit didn't completely dry due to the way I stored it.

And I just realized I do have a traditional teapot, although it is rather large, so I will try that method as well.

One other question if there are any follow up comments - I find I can get up to 4 cups of tea out of one tsp of tea leaves. How easy is it to re-use leaves in these other methods? Do you do that frequently?

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@mkdr: I don't reuse tea leaves, but then, when I put those leaves in a pot, they're pretty much done for in any case.

I don't even reuse them if I'm using an infuser, truthfully. I used to use a tea bag twice, back when I was buying Lipton tea, but that was aeons ago.

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@shrdlu: Not to hijack a thread, but I'm glad to see your name again. It's been awhile....hope everything is OK in CA. :)

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@jsimsace: There really hasn't been much to comment on. I don't mind being helpful, if I know something. Usually others have already said anything I might say, and I just vote up comments, and move on.

I don't live in CA, although I once did, several years ago. You may be confused.

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@mkdr: Yes, you can easily get 4 cups of tea out of 1 teaspoon of a good loose leaf tea. For black teas I use 1 liter of water and 2 teaspoons (and sometimes a bit more to grow on, depending upon my mood), heat the water to 212F, then seep for 4.5 minutes. That is about 6 5 oz cups or so. I mentioned above that when I'm travelling I use that Thermos tea infuser: I will resuse the same leaves at least once, sometimes twice in a morning.

I do know that some people re-use tea leaves, I don't use them on different days if that is what you mean. I'd think that mold and critters would start to grow (moisture + organic materia + warmth = microbiologic nastiness). Ugh.

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@wilfbrim: I usually only do it on the same day. However the guy at Teavana (or maybe it was the literature) suggested that the leaves could be kept up to 24 hrs if refridgerated. So in my mind I figured if I put my whole Tea Maker in a Ziploc bag in the fridge I might be OK overnight if I made a cup at night and wanted to reuse in the morning. I think this is where I went wrong. I believe you are right and even though I only did this a few times, combine that with not making my second cup immediately after the first (read: let the leaves sit out for an hour or so) other times and I have some mess. Not sure it is fixable. But I've sure learned my lesson! And now I know how to replace it :)

And thanks for the advice on the travel mug. I'll be snagging one of those.

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While it may not be the best/most traditional way, my dad had a french press for coffee and he uses that for tea now. Just toss the leaves in, let them brew with the press part up, when you are ready to drink press the thingy down, pour out the delicious tea. He doesn't really squish the leaves he just pushes it down till they are all the is left.

About the perfect tea maker. I use the one from adagio at work and have a bad habit of just leaving the leaves in it on my desk for hours/overnight which has caused some staining but I read somewhere to use coffee carafe cleaner on it. My work actually has some here so I didn't buy it so I can't tell you if it is affordable or where to get it. I just put a couple drops in and fill it with hot water and then leave it overnight and it really helped.