Cramping, stuffing, inhibiting expression…these are the words I might use to describe tea balls and their effect on quality tea leaves. Many (many) years ago, I used tea balls because it seemed like the way to steep before I knew other options. I think I was accepting of this steeping method because I didn’t know what to expect from good tea–no one had ever told me differently and I had bought the tea ball I was using from a loose leaf tea store. Tea balls seemed so “traditional” so I accepted it for a while. Besides a slight metallic taste, the thing that stands out in my mind was the stuffed, cramped look of the tea leaves in the tea ball after steeping—I suspected this wasn’t getting the best expression from the tea.
Now, many years later, as a tea devotee, I know more what good tea should taste like. When new customers come in and ask if I carry tea balls or tea-infusion spoons (my existing customers already know my opinion of these) I tell them why I don’t: cramping, stuffing, inhibiting expression of the tea (and, the metallic taste).
There are many options for steeping that are not expensive–that encourage the best possible flavor from tea and are easy plus convenient to use. I’m a fan of gaiwans, but realize this may not be practical for many people. Explore the options and try out a few– find one that works for you. Freedom for tea leaves!