I have been drinking tea for what seems like all my life, though I am sure my mother didn’t let me have any as a small child. I started with Tetley tea with milk and sugar, just like mom drank it. When she decided she wanted to lose weight and stopped adding milk and sugar, I followed her lead soon thereafter. Now I rarely have milk with my tea, and I never take sugar.
I fell in love with loose-leaf tea when I went out for dinner with my parents as a celebration of their wedding anniversary. We went to a restaurant around the corner, and I had tea after dinner. I had never had such marvelous tea! I asked the waiter about it, and he brought me a tiny plastic container of the tea, which was probably an oolong. I had a hard time bringing myself to actually drink that tea, since I both wanted to save it for a special occasion and didn’t know how to obtain any more of it.
I started becoming a connoisseur in college, as I tried all the varieties of teabags available in the dining hall and settling on “China Black” as a favorite. As I became a more sophisticated tea-drinker, I started buying loose teas from Upton Tea Imports. Happily, they provide inexpensive sample sizes, and you can decide which teas you like best without having to buy large quantities. I have discovered that I enjoy oolongs, assams, keemuns (China black, or more properly, China red), yunnans, and every once in a while darjeeling. I very much dislike Lapsang Souchong: the smokiness is not to my taste at all. I will drink Earl Grey, but I prefer the milder versions over the more strongly bergamot-scented ones. I’ll drink green tea sometimes, and I confess to evening indulgences in Celestial Seasonings‘ tisanes and teas: Tension Tamer and Decaf Green Mint Tea are two favorites.
(Aside: If you visit Boulder, CO, you can get a tour of the Celestial Seasonings factory. I dragged my husband there before we were even engaged, and he enjoyed it despite having grave doubts ahead of time. In particular, the opportunity to stand in their Mint Room was an exhilarating experience!)
If you are not going to use tea that comes in prefabricated bags, you need some way to make the tea without getting leaves all stuck in your teeth when you drink it. That leads to infusers and teapots. I have a lot of tea infusers: baskets of some sort with openings too small for tea leaves to pass through (mostly) that allow the leaves to be removed from the mug or pot before drinking. Removal of the leaves both prevents the tea from steeping too long (some teas become bitter when the leaves are soaked too long in boiling hot water) and prevents the tea leaves from winding up in your mouth.
The problem with most infusers is that they restrict the leaves to some extent. Restricted leaves don’t steep as well. One work-around is to simply place your loose leaves in the teapot and either pour through a strainer into your cup (I have a lovely silver tea strainer, but they also come in woven bamboo) or count on the leaves to settle to the bottom of the pot and not have too many come out. Either way, this method requires pouring off all the tea or risking oversteeping.
Tea infusers are mostly utilitarian. I do not buy them for their beauty, but for how well I think they will do their job, leaving me with perfect tea. Teapots, on the other hand, can be highly aesthetic.
I have fallen in love with some teapots.
My first teapot I fell in love with was a Jenaer Glas glass teapot from Germany that was advertised as being in MoMA for its design. Unfortunately, I am now on my third Jena glass teapot, and when I bought the last one I bought the style that didn’t have a protruding spout, since that was the bit that broke off the other two. The one below the spouted one is the current one I own, and it is perfect when serving breakfast tea for 3 or 4 people.
I have two handmade clay teapots found at craft shows and purchased for me by my parents. One is my “iced tea” pot, as it holds a generous amount. I brew strong tea and stick the pot in the fridge, pulling it out to pour over ice time after time until I finish the pot.
The other is by potter Marv Bjurlin, which captured me at first glance. Bjurlin presses small found objects into many of his pieces, and the glazing on this pot and the accompanying cups drew me in to the illusion of great depth and mystery. I wish the photo could do them justice!
All three of the above teapots are used with infusers. The iced tea pot actually has a built-in strainer at the base of the spout, inside the pot, but the holes are so large that lots of fragments get through.
My most recent teapot is Joey Roth‘s Sorapot. I found this one through a roundabout way: a friend of mine became a Slashfood blogger, so I started reading Slashfood. Then a different Slashfood blogger wrote about tea infusers, asking for suggestions. Of course I had to put in some thoughts. Another commenter on that post had a link to the Sorapot. I was drawn to its elegance right away. Since getting my first Jenaer pot I have loved glass as a container for tea, and I had recently been drinking my weekend morning tea out of bodum double-walled glasses, so the glass cylinder that contains the tea was immediately a draw.
I read more of Joey Roth’s site, and learned that he is a recent graduate of Swarthmore College, my alma mater. I enjoyed his various designs and I was impressed that he was working to put his design into production on his own, without being part of some corporation. I decided to pre-order from his original run of 300 pots, though the total price seemed initially expensive: $180 for a teapot? Well, once Joey Roth is famous, I imagine his designs will run a lot more. Want an Eames molded plywood chair? Prepare to spend $400. For plywood. How often will I use the Sorapot? It is a convenient size, and I drink tea every day. We own a Wii which costs a lot more than $180 and does not get used every day. I’ll probably use my Sorapot as often as the Wii gets used. Besides, I like this guy. I want him to get a foothold in the design world and make more useful, elegant things, and I want to be on his mailing list when he sells them.
So, I am now using my Sorapot. You can see how here.
If you look around on the internet, you will find that most mentions of the Sorapot talk about its “sexy design” and not about using it. To me, design must be useful, so I will discuss my experiences with actually using the pot!
I love watching the tea leaves unfurl in the Sorapot. The glass cylinder becomes a lens when filled with water, and the color of the tea is glorious. The cylinder takes about 11 oz. of water, which will over-fill even my large mugs. Since the leaves stay in the pot (it is its own infuser, with a steel mesh built-in at the pouring end) it is important to pour off all the tea at once. I am thinking of getting a larger bodum double-walled glass, just to use with this pot. Roth has designed glasses to go with, but they are not yet available.
I have tried the Sorapot with three different types of tea so far: Golden Monkey (a favorite Chinese tea), darjeeling (Mokaibari estate), and oolong. Roth intended the Sorapot to be used for oolongs and green teas which take a lower temperature water, and the steel acts as a heat sink to avoid “cooking” the tea. I found that it worked well with the Golden Monkey and with the darjeeling, even though those teas require water at a full rolling boil.
It is mesmerizing to watch the leaves unfurl and the tea liquor turn gold, orange, or red. I always use filtered tap water for my tea, and as a result my tea is never dark brown or black. Most of the leaves sink as they get saturated with water, but a few smaller ones drift lazily upwards. I don’t know why that happens.
The capacity is a little much. In order to pour off all the tea at once, I wind up with some of the tea getting cool in my cup before I drink it. This doesn’t happen with my regular “2-cup” teapot and bodum cup, since I put a tea cozy on the pot and the bodum cup retains heat extremely well with its double-wall structure. I think the solution is to fill the Sorapot less or get a bigger bodum cup.
The pour takes getting used to. The tea emerges as a trickle initially, as the water in the spout exits. Then the stream increases as tea starts coming through the mesh. It is possible to tip the pot too much and get a flood, and toward the end the tea may stop coming out (this happened this morning) due to a combination of the small holes in the mesh preventing Rayleigh-Taylor instability (this is why ketchup can be difficult to get out of a glass bottle) and the leaves settling to the mesh end and blocking the flow. However, I think I have mostly gotten the hang of it. After the first time using it, I have done much better pouring it.
I have enjoyed filling the pot a second and third time, to re-use each set of leaves. I get to watch the steeping all over again, and more yummy tea (with less caffeine on each subsequent steep). I have never been a great fan of re-using tea, mostly because I really want the caffeine in addition to all the other great things about tea, like its flavor. The antioxidants are a nice side benefit, but they are not why I drink tea!
The teapot is heavy for its size, due to the steel. Yet, it looks delicate, due to the arching shape and the glass insert. When I wash it, I am a little nervous about the glass. I am also a little nervous when tightening the tension rod, before filling the teapot with water. If I tighten it too much, will it break the glass? If I don’t tighten it enough, will it leak? So far I have not had either problem, but those of you who know me well know that I am a habitual worrier.
Would I recommend Sorapot? If you love tea, and love tea in clear glass, and have someone to share each “pour” with, this is a good teapot. Or, if you don’t mind drinking 11 oz. of tea at once this is good for you even if you don’t have someone to share with. If you like elegant and useful design, have enough disposable income not to mind spending that much money on a teapot (the price includes shipping) and want to support a young designer, please do buy Sorapot. Roth plans on an additional run of 300 pots, and you can get on his list by dropping him a line. Will I use this pot often, as I anticipated when I ordered it? Probably…at least until I fall in love with another teapot!