Serious Eats: Drinks
Tea Technique: How to Steep in a Cup-Top Infuser
For those for whom clutching a hot gaiwan is not at the top of their list of favorite activities, technology brings us the cup-top style infuser, a see-through, durable teamaker that's gaining popularity. Sold as the "auto-open" tea infuser by Kamjove, or the more affordably manufactured Piao I teapot, these infusers use a tea-and-water chamber that sits on top of a pitcher or cup, releasing the tea at the press of your finger once infusion is satisfactory. Magic! (It's almost like a Clever dripper for tea...sort of.)
The high-grade plastic is made to avoid taking on odors and essences of the teas you brew over time—and also won't break in your luggage or tote bag.
Here's how to brew an oolong tea using the cup-top.
1. Measure out 2-3 tablespoons of tea into the cup-top brewer. Don't be afraid to be generous. This cup can hold a lot of tea, and many find that erring on the side of more tea versus less produces a better flavor.
2. Heat your water. For oolong, we're aiming for water between 185-205 degrees Fahrenheit, so a little bit off the boil.
3. Once the water has reached the appropriate temperature, fill the cup-top 95% full (don't overflow it) with the water.
4. Cover cup-top brewer with lid and time your first infusion, between 1-2 minutes. During this step, you can enjoy one of this brewer's best features: watching your tea steep! Twisted and rolled teas are a delight to watch in this machine: watch the leaves unfurl, and you'll be able to see exactly how much surface area they're exposing to water with each infusion.
5. When ready to serve, press down on the little button at the top of the infuser and release the tea into the pitcher or cup you've placed it on top of. The tea can now be poured off (even without taking the infuser off the top, though I'd hold down the lid just to be safe) among friends, or enjoyed by yourself. Tea is strained through a fine metal screen at the bottom of the infuser, and only releases while the button is depressed.
6. Reinfuse! Repeat steps 4 and 5 to take advantage of the pot's ease of use for multiple, short infusions of tea. Since the walls are made of thick plastic, short infusions are a fine application here as you will not be worrying about long-duration or precise temperature control. Instead, treat the infuser like a mid-air gaiwan and perform repeated short infusions of your choice of tea, taking in the visuals as well as the taste and aroma.
Though it lacks (completely) the romance of a gaiwan, or the artisanship of a Yixing clay pot, the cup-top infuser makes up for much of that in portability, volume (and leaf-expansion space), and ease of reinfusion. This may be your new travel infuser—over and over and over again.