on January 25, 2013
இ Fuzzy Wuzzy's Summary:
ѾѾѾѾѾ Highly recommended with warm fuzzies!
You would think that making a tea infuser would not be rocket science, but various tea infusers/strainers just do not function very well, particularly when it comes to leaking out tea leaves. These tea balls satisfy the two main requirements for a mesh tea ball infuser: (1) the very fine mesh that is used keeps all of the loose tea inside the ball (only a tiny bit of tea powder dust leaks out through the holes), and (2) the two halves of the ball close together tightly to prevent tea from leaking through the seam and the locking clasp securely keeps the mesh ball closed. These are the two main problems affecting some other mesh tea balls: either their mesh openings are too large or their closure seam is too loose.
I purchased three of the 2" mesh tea balls. I had thought about ordering the 2.5" size since I often drink tea from a larger mug, but the 2" size also fits into smaller cups. The mesh tea balls were not shipped in the box that is currently shown on the product photo, but were just individually wrapped with a small bit of bubble wrap covering only half of the ball, with plastic wrap taped up around it, and they were sent by Amazon loosely rolling around inside the shipping box. Two balls had slight dents in the mesh, but the dents were very easily pushed outward to form a nice round ball again. Luckily, I did not include other heavy items with my shipment of these mesh balls (my order included some food items sold in paper pouches); otherwise, the tea ball mesh could have been bent or squashed badly. This is more of an issue with how Amazon sometimes does not provide sufficient padding in their shipments to prevent items from bouncing around inside their shipping boxes. So if you order these tea mesh balls, since they may be shipped without a box enclosing them, you should not include other heavy items in your order to prevent the tea balls' mesh from being crushed.
If you are deciding which 2", 2.5", or 3" size to order, keep in mind that this is the maximum diameter of the tea ball (i.e. the diameter of the metal ring that surrounds the mesh ball) that determines whether it will fit inside your cup or mug, so the actual mesh ball diameter is slightly smaller. For the 2" size, the outer metal ring is exactly 2.0" in diameter, while the mesh ball has a 1.6" diameter. The 3" size may only fit inside a mug that is quite large. But you should order the largest size that will fit inside your cup, mug, or brewing container. You should always use a large roomy tea ball to steep the tea leaves in. Ideally, the tea ball should be roomy enough so that adding your desired amount of tea only fills up the interior by no more than one half or one third. I have seen people tightly pack a small 1-inch diameter tea infuser with loose leaves, which is a bad way to steep the tea. The dried tea needs both time and space to unfurl, expand, and spread its flavor, aroma, flavonoids, and antioxidants out into the surrounding water. For this reason, I also advise against using the tea balls that consist of a stainless steel ball having several dozen perforations in the metal. With these enclosed tea balls, too much of the flavor and antioxidants remain trapped inside the ball, never getting distributed into the rest of the water. Like a fine wine, tea needs room and time to breathe and spread its essence out into the water.
If you want to maximize the amount of flavor, aroma, flavonoids, and antioxidants that get spread out into your tea, you should also periodically either swirl and stir the water or move this tea ball around in the cup/mug/teapot while the tea is steeping. Do not just let the tea ball sit motionless in the water while it is steeping. Because the mesh on this tea ball has such small openings, the surface tension of the water forms a "membrane" around the mesh ball. The water molecules want to join together to form a thin membrane between the small openings of the mesh, thus preventing water from freely passing through the tea ball and keeping more of the concentrated tea flavor inside the tea ball. This surface tension tendency is less likely to happen in a mesh with large openings. So by periodically swirling or stirring the water or moving the mesh ball around a little, this breaks the surface tension and allows the water to circulate more through the inside of the tea ball. You should also never pack a tea ball full of leaves because that also prevents the leaves from expanding and letting the tea flavor disperse outside the tea ball.
To really thoroughly steep the loose tea leaves, you can drink tea the way that they drink it in China - by not using any infuser and just adding loose tea leaves to your cup or teapot and pouring hot water into it. The loose tea leaves sink to the bottom of the cup or teapot after awhile, and unless your cup is nearly empty, you usually do not need to strain tea leaves by closing your teeth together :-) By adding loose tea leaves directly to a cup or teapot, the leaves are not impeded from fully expanding, and the flavor and aroma are thoroughly mixed throughout the water, both of which can be issues when using an infuser. Some people are averse to leaving loose tea steeping in their cup or teapot because they associate bitter flavor with oversteeped tea. This may be true for some particularly bitter teas like yerba mate. Black teas and green teas naturally have tannins that taste slightly bitter, but you can adjust a tea's bitterness by either adding more leaves and infusing for less time or adding less leaves and steeping longer. Modern taste buds prefer stronger flavors (and more salt and sugar), while previous generations ate simpler diets and drank weaker coffees and teas. Even though some people do not like the slightly bitter tannic aftertaste from teas, I do not mind it; I just consider that to be part of the character of the tea leaves, just as I accept the slight bitterness of Brussels sprouts.
These tea balls should last many years if you just rinse them with water after use, gently open and close the fragile clasp each time (treat this tea ball's clasp as gently as you would treat a necklace clasp), and do not bend the metal when handling them or lowering them into a mug. This is not a sturdy heavy-duty kitchen utensil, and both the tiny hinge and the clasp need to be handled delicately. As with all mesh tea balls having this design, do not grab the latch clasp like a handle to pull one side of the mesh ball apart from the other side. The hinged clasp is too delicate to endure that kind of torque on a daily basis. Use the edge of your fingernail to lift one side of the metal ring away from the other half of the tea ball to open it up. This tea ball is in its most fragile state when it is opened up, and it is more sturdy when it is clasped shut. In some cases, you may even need to use needle-nose pliers to shape the clasp so that it closes the tea ball more tightly. Even if you add milk or honey to your tea, you should not need to use vigorous scrubbing to clean this, and you should not put this in the dishwasher. I keep an old toothbrush at the kitchen sink to lightly clean any specks of debris that do not rinse off by themselves. Sometimes, I add a tiny dab of dish detergent on the toothbrush, gently brush the mesh with it, and rinse with water. Over time, the stainless steel mesh may discolor and stain due to the tannins present in the tea. When this happens, rest assured that this discoloration is NOT rust on the mesh. If you really want to remove the tea stains from the mesh, you can try boiling the tea balls in white vinegar and rubbing the mesh using a scrubbing pad or stiff toothbrush. But you also risk damaging the mesh by scrubbing it this way. Therefore, it is best to just accept the discolored mesh as a sign of having enjoyed many teas, just as wrinkles that come with age tell of a life well-lived :-)
IMPORTANT NOTE: It looks like all of the 2", 2.5", and 3" mesh tea balls in this product listing are being sold by a variety of third-party merchants other than Amazon. Whenever multiple merchants are supplying products that are often interchangeable such as mesh tea balls, instead of all items being directly supplied by Amazon, the actual product that you receive *may* come from a variety of sources and manufacturers, depending upon the merchant who ships you the product. So the 2" mesh tea ball that one merchant for this product listing ships you may be different than the 2" mesh tea ball that another merchant ships for this product listing. At the time of this review's writing, there are over eight different merchants supplying mesh tea balls for this Amazon product listing. There are plenty of other mesh tea ball listings on Amazon and their product photos all look the same - a mesh ball with a small hinge on one side and a latch closure on the other side. For my order of the three 2" mesh tea balls, a merchant named "Red Arrow Savings" shipped me the product. As mentioned, my tea balls worked well, but they were not shipped in the box package that is depicted in the product photo, and there were no labels indicating that this was a "Swedish Traditions" product. I mention this because it is unfortunately a frequent problem on Amazon product listings where multiple merchants are supplying items that are commonly interchangeable from different manufacturers, possibly leading to wide variations in the actual product that you do receive. I am not saying that you will end up receiving a mesh tea ball that is considerably different than what I received (e.g. does not close correctly or the mesh has larger openings than the very fine mesh on my tea balls), but just that it is a possibility considering the large number of different merchants who are supplying mesh tea balls across many Amazon product listings. Whenever you see a label like "Sold by ABCD and Fulfilled by Amazon", it means that Amazon is providing the product order fulfillment services, but the mesh tea balls that various merchants are supplying to Amazon may come from different manufacturers and thus can differ in design or quality. If a product is directly being sold by Amazon, you have a better chance of getting a consistent product that only comes from one supplier/manufacturer.