It’s not easy being a tea drinker. We’re used to walking into a coffee shop and selecting one of maybe three options, or (true story) having to explain to a barista why simply dropping a tea bag into a cup of ice water does not make iced tea. And at work, where it’s common to find a single-serve pod coffee maker at-the-ready, tea lovers often bring their own from home.
Without a teapot, those who prefer using full-flavor loose tea leaves over tea bags need an in-mug tea infuser to get their caffeine fix. But, as someone who has put in years of unofficial trial and error can attest, good ones are hard to find. That’s why we spent weeks putting nine of the best tea infusers to the test, throwing ourselves a daily tea party to see which were easiest to use, most effective at steeping evenly, and least annoying at extracting stubborn leaves and washing by hand.
After many caffeine-fueled days of testing, the Fred & Friends Manatea Silicone Tea Infuser(available at Sur La Table), which is as cute as it is functional, earned our Best Overall spot. For those who like an oversized mug or adding extra leaves for stronger flavor, the Yoassi Extra Fine 18/8 Stainless Steel Tea Infuser(available at Amazon) was our favorite, and subsequently finished as our top stainless steel pick.
Here are the best tea infusers we tested, ranked in order:
Fred & Friends Manatea Silicone Tea Infuser
Tilevo Dinosaur Loose Leaf Tea Infuser
Yoassi Extra Fine 18/8 Stainless Steel Tea Infuser
Harold Import Co. 2423c HIC Mesh Snap Ball Loose Leaf Tea Infuser
OXO Good Grips Twisting Tea Ball Infuser
Chefast Large Infuser
Forlife Brew-in-Mug Extra-Fine Tea Infuser with Lid
No one is as shocked as I am to find the silly Fred & Friends tea infuser in our top spot. I’ve passed over it in gift shops for years, thinking that its punny name and cute manatee form disqualified it from being a quality tea infuser. I stand corrected.
The design, which hangs the infuser from the rim to look like a manatee poking its head out of the ocean, is wonderfully functional. Even when tipping the mug more than 90 degrees to get the last few drops of tea, the Manatea holds on tight, eliminating the need for a separate dish to catch drips. And while that means you may keep it in the mug longer than other infusers, as you sip, and the water level decreases, steeping stops. (That being said, make sure you initially fill your mug to cover all of the infuser’s holes—you’ll see it start working immediately.)
Made of silicone, the Manatea is easy to clean, and leaves don’t escape or get stuck in the holes. The one downside is that when leaves expand in its narrow body, they need a little extra help being removed (I used my finger), but then they generally come out in one relatively clean clump.
A great gift? Absolutely (especially since it was the least expensive product we tested). But this is one tea infuser even avid tea drinkers should buy for themselves.
Yoassi Extra Fine 18/8 Stainless Steel Tea Infuser
Whether it’s raining outside, or you need a giant cup of tea to kick-start your morning, there are some days that just call for an oversized mug. And on those days, we recommend you reach for the Yoassi. A more traditional stainless steel tea infuser, the Yoassi offers a large basket to hold enough tea leaves to flavor even the biggest mug of hot water—or to allow for an extra-strong cup for that boost of caffeine.
The Yoassi’s arms are wide enough to easily fit across our 16-ounce testing mug, and could likely work on one with an even bigger mouth. Tea steeps quickly and evenly without needing much prodding. And when the tea is steeped to your liking, the Yoassi’s dish (which fits snugly as a lid when not in use) can hold your dripping infuser until you’re ready to clean it or make a second cup with the leaves. Just be careful when you’re removing it—the metal arms get surprisingly hot to the touch after steeping.
And speaking of cleaning, the Yoassi is about as straight-forward as tea infusers come. Leaves come out easily and the mouth is wide enough to fit a sponge when washing by hand. If the Yoassi were a bit smaller to use with more standard mugs, we might have named this our top pick, but instead we’ll enjoy breaking it out on those days when we need a little something extra.
Hi, I’m Meghan Kavanaugh. As managing editor of core content here at Reviewed, I’m responsible for making sure stories are scheduled, edited, and sent out into the world each day for our loyal readers. Meeting deadlines means drinking caffeine, and lots of it.
Having never developed a taste for coffee, tea has been my pick-me-up of choice for more than a decade. Hot or iced, it never lets me down. I’ve been informally conducting my own research of the best tea infusers for my entire adult life, so an official testing assignment for Reviewed was, well, just my cup of tea.
For this particular assignment, we only focused on personal-sized in-mug infusers as opposed to those that can be used in larger tea pots or travel mugs, both of which oftentimes have built-in infusers. We used the same amount (2 teaspoons) of the same organic assam black tea in the same 16-ounce mug for all testing, noting how quickly and evenly the tea steeped without our intervention and how easy it was to remove leaves after use and hand-wash (since many homes and offices don’t have dishwashers available, even if the infuser itself is dishwasher-safe).
Since portability is more of a factor with in-mug tea infusers than their teapot counterparts, I also tested how convenient it was to go about my workday, carrying them from my desk to various conference rooms and back again. Did they have a dish to catch water upon removal, or did I have to grab paper towels (or just keep steeping and deal with a super-strong brew)? Trust that in drinking enough tea to keep me up with late-night jitters on more than one occasion, I put each of the infusers through the ringer.
What You Should Know About Tea Infusers
What is a Tea Infuser?
Typically made of either stainless steel or silicone, a tea infuser holds loose leaves of tea, keeping them from floating around the hot water in your mug or teapot while you brew. Dating back to the circa-760 A.D. Tang dynasty in China, tea infusers were first used to keep bugs out of Buddhist monks’ cups before 17th-century Dutch merchants began using them to keep leaves contained. The 19th century saw the most widespread adoption, especially in Europe, where tea balls were often made of silver.
Think of a tea infuser as having the same basic functionality as a standard tea bag, except that tea infusers are not discarded after use. A tea infuser also provides the leaves more room to expand than traditional tea bags, which can mean a stronger flavor. And since tea infusers are sized for single-person use, users can steep their cup to their individual preferences in a way that making a whole pot of tea for the group wouldn’t allow. Tea brewing has never been so easy.
How Do You Use a Tea Infuser?
While exact instructions may vary by infuser and type of tea, most tea infusers are used in the same way. Fill the infuser with 1 to 2 teaspoons of the dry tea leaves and place it in the mug. Pour hot water (exact temperature depends on the type of tea) over the infuser and let the leaves steep for the designated amount of time, typically 3 to 5 minutes, before removing.
Some tea infusers benefit by a bit of dipping or swirling while you wait for the tea to steep or before you remove it, to ensure that the tea is evenly distributed throughout the mug.
The more leaves you use and the longer you steep, the stronger the tea will taste. Half the fun of drinking tea is discovering your personal preferences so you can enjoy sipping something made just for you.
Other Tea Infusers We Tested
Tilevo Dinosaur Tea Infuser
The ability to easily clean a tea infuser was one of our main criteria for testing. Whether at home or at the office, no one wants to hunch over the trash can picking out stubborn leaves from tiny holes. That’s where the Tilevo shined against the competition. Made of silicone, and designed with a wide opening in the “body” of the dinosaur, leaves generally came out in one clean clump.
The diffuser was also enjoyable to use in that it stands on its own at the bottom of your mug, its long neck bringing its head just above water level. While you may want to dip it a few times to keep steeped tea from concentrating at the bottom of the mug, it’s able to provide a nice flavor throughout. A few bits of leaves may escape, but it’s minimal and not enough to impede drinkability.
When you’re finished steeping, you will need a dish or paper towel to keep the Tilevo from leaking since it doesn’t come with one of its own. But once it’s dry, you can skip storing it in a drawer or cabinet and let it stand on its own, working well as a conversation piece for your desk or countertop.
Full disclosure: I’ve used the Harold Import Co. tea infuser for years in my own life. I’ve always had a pleasant time using it—it’s small enough to fit any mug and it disperses tea quickly and evenly throughout. (One minor hitch: If even a small leaf gets between the two halves of the ball, others can sneak out.) But I was still curious to see how it would stand up to the other tea infusers we tested.
Mine has looked a little worse for the wear for as long as I can remember—its delicate stainless steel mesh denting from what I thought was too many washings. But after just two uses of the new one I used for testing, the mesh was already slightly dented. It doesn’t impede performance as far as steeping goes, but it’s a bit disappointing.
That said, it’s a solid choice for anyone looking for a simple tea infuser that’s a breeze to clean. Simply squeeze to open the hinge and watch all the leaves fall into the garbage. Just be careful with the scrubbing.
I was immediately intrigued by the functionality of the OXO Good Grips tea infuser, twisting the end of the handle and watching the ball open and close with a satisfying heft. In practice, however, this proved to be the most frustrating part of the experience.
This is not to say the twisting itself doesn’t work—it certainly does—but the movement actually traps tea leaves between its two halves, making cleaning a pain. This design also made this infuser the only one that actually let whole leaves escape, likely from being caught in between the mini cups while they were in the open position. During one test, enough leaves floated to the top that I stopped drinking it altogether.
That being said, if you’re especially thorough with your cleaning, this may not be a bad choice. I enjoyed how little space it occupied in the mug, and, since I have a tendency to leave my tea steeping as I drink, the fact that I could still sip easily around it. Also, for all its moving parts, it felt sturdy and well-made.
My favorite part of the Chefast tea infuser—sold in a set with one large and two small infusers—was the combo scoop/bag clip that came included. While not a part of any testing criteria, that scoop came in handy throughout testing for scooping tea into all of our infusers, and was the single-most talked about piece from colleagues passing by, even while sharing the company of silicone dinosaurs and manatees.
That being said, I was less excited to use the Chefast infuser itself. I tested using a big mug, so I opted for the large infuser. While it held a good amount of tea and kept leaves from getting into the water, it took a while (and plenty of dipping it up and down on my end) to get it to steep enough.
In terms of design, the chain coming from the lid was about double the length it needed to be, rendering the hook at the other end useless. And clicking the lid into the basket didn’t feel as sturdy as I’d hope, making me wonder how durable this would be over many uses.
Sold separately, I’d purchase the bag clip scoop in an instant. But as a tea infuser alone? There are better ones out there.
Forlife Brew-in-Mug Extra-fine Tea Infuser with Lid
The Forlife tea infuser was one of the more frustrating to use. Unlike the Yoassi (and most other similar-looking tea infusers on the market), the Forlife infuser only has one arm to hold it atop the mug, leaving you to balance a much thinner lip on the other side. Move it just so and that side falls into the water. While it never let any leaves escape, it seemed like such an unnecessary problem to have. I even tried it in a smaller mug, but at that point, it stood too tall to fit properly.
On the plus side, when the infuser is balancing properly, it works well to disperse tea throughout and contain leaves—and it comes with a dish to catch drips upon removal. It’s also large enough to fit a sponge into fairly easily for cleaning (even if leaves did get more stuck in the holes than I would’ve liked). But for being the most expensive tea infuser we tested, it was a let down.
Finum’s product description claims it works in most mugs and pots, and while that may be technically true, it’s a hard sell in practice. The infuser is massive, much larger than most in-mug infusers, and a bit excessive for steeping a single cup.
While the frame is made of a fairly cheap-feeling plastic, the stainless steel infuser panels are made of an extremely fine mesh that keeps every bit of leaves inside. They do, however, seem to slow down the steeping process—after 5 minutes of sitting in the hot water, the Finum produced a weaker tea than other infusers.
While I appreciate the idea of the House Again infuser having retractable arms that can be moved to a vertical position for easy storing, they made the tea-drinking experience pretty annoying. Even while the tea infuser is empty, the basket is too heavy for one single arm to support. That means, when you lift the infuser out of the mug, you need to use two hands or risk the arm folding in on itself. It likely won’t spill any leaves, but it does make the basket hit your knuckles—not painful, but unpleasant.
And while I enjoyed the silicone lid that doubled as a dish for drips, I did not look forward to using the House Again infuser. Some leaves were able to escape into the mug, which meant they also were able to get stuck when it came time for cleaning. In terms of even steeping, it performed just fine, but there are better infusers on the market that won’t leave you frustrated.
Meghan Kavanaugh is Reviewed's managing editor of core content. A career journalist and editor, she cut her teeth in community journalism before moving to lifestyle publications—the cheese-centric Culture magazine included. In her spare time, you can find her learning to knit and write calligraphy, to varying degrees of success.
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