© Denzil Green
A Tea Ball is a small, mesh container designed to hold loose tea leaves while they are being steeped in hot water.
The container can be made of metal or plastic. The most common are egg-shaped balls usually made out of stainless steel. It comes apart into two halves that screw together.
Most Tea Balls have a chain on them, with a clip attached to the chain. You use the clip to clip the Tea Ball to the side of the tea pot or mug. You use the chain to lower and fish the Tea Ball out with when the tea is steeped to the desired strength. In practice, though, the chain often gets detached and lost, and the Tea Ball is simply fished out with a spoon.
Most Tea Balls have matching small shallow saucers that you are supposed to rest them in afterwards, for example at a table. Most often, though, tea gets made in the kitchen so the used tea ball just gets chucked in the sink instead, and the stand eventually gets lost and forgotten.
Tea Balls come in a zillion different sizes and variations. You can get small ones to make a single cup of tea to ones large enough to hold enough tea for a pot.
Some “cutesy” ones are shaped like teapots, including a decorative handle, though these are only big enough to hold tea for a single cup.
You can also get Tea Balls spoon shaped; the bowl of the spoon is what holds the tea, then you can stir it around in your cup with the handle attached.
Tea Balls are not really needed in pots. In fact, many feel that tea in pots is better made with the tea leaves loose. As tea leaves settle to the bottom of the pot this is really only a problem if the “exit” hole for the tea in the pot is at or near the bottom, in which case you can just pour the tea out through a good old fashioned tea strainer. Some people who do use large Tea Balls for pots say they do so because it makes clean-up easier. They can ensure that most of the leaves end up in the compost instead of the city’s water system. People who have septic tanks or have finicky drains particularly appreciate not having loose leaves floating around during clean-up.
If you’re tempted to buy a really large Tea Ball for your favourite tea pot, make sure the ball will be able to fit into the hole at the top.
Put the Tea Ball ball in the cup or pot first, then pour boiling water over it. Don’t pack a Tea Ball full; leave lots of room for water to circulate through the leaves.
You can also use a Tea Ball as you would a sachet bag, for holding herbs etc together in a soup or sauce, or spices for mulled wine.
Cut a square of cheesecloth, put the necessary amount of loose tea into the centre of the square, and tie it up with string or thread.
Or, make loose tea in a pot.
Or, buy tea bags.
Tea Balls first appeared in the early 1840s in the UK. Some would be very ornate, and would be made of silver. These fetch very high prices today by collectors.
Stick infusers were also made of silver. They were a small ball or canister at the end of a slender silver rod; you use a Stick Infuser for a single cup of tea. A Danish kitchen design firm has reinvented them, with a dome covering the widened end of a black plastic stick. You press the end of the plastic stick so that the dome raises, you put your tea it, then release the end of the stick so that the dome closes, and then put it in your tea cup.