Ben: Six months on from starting teatunes, both Dan and I have grown accustomed to drinking lots of different kinds of looseleaf tea. The problem with getting addicted to the leaf is that whilst we can brew as much as we like in teapots at home, making tea whilst at work seemed to be too time-consuming, too messy and too impractical.
Because we don’t want to be tethered to PG Tips and Twinings whilst at work, we both searched around to find a way to make odd oolongs and sexay senchas at our desks. We’ve found different solutions to that problem and can now happily sup away all day long.
Dan: I made the plunge first as I found I was running low on teabags (they were Ridgways ‘Her Majesty’s Blend’ – they’re actually pretty good for a teabag) and decided not to buy any more. I had a quick glance around a few sites at various one-cup infusers and was impressed by Jing’s offering. The fact that they had a little video to show it off helped – you can find it on their site in the ‘Tea At Work’ section. It is made of three parts: a glass mug, a removable glass infuser section and a glass lid. It works like this:
1. Place the infuser section in the mug and put your chosen leaves in it.
2. Pour the boiling water into it. The water pours through the holes in the infuser filling the mug.
3. Put the lid on the top to keep the heat in. After 2 minutes, you remove this and place it upside down on the desk.
4. Lift out the infuser. This takes the leaves with it and the tea pours through the holes, filling the mug.
5. Place the infuser section with the leaves in it in the upturned lid.
5. You have a glass of tea. Drink it.
This is very, very easy, the most important aspect of drinking loose tea at work – if you’re busy, you really don’t want to fiddle about with a teapot. You probably don’t have the space on your desk for a full teapot set either so it’s a self-contained mug that takes up little room and is quick and easy to use. Perfect, I thought, and bought it.
It’s a glorious piece of kit to use - it’s almost the same as putting a teabag in a mug and taking it out again except this has the benefit of allowing you to make a decent cup of loose-leaf tea. The leaves have plenty of room to do their unfurling and infusing and make as nice a tea as you’ll get from a teapot.
The simplicity of use is as impressive as the genius of the design. The fact that it comes in three parts means it’s easy to clean and by placing the lid upside down and the infuser in it your desk won’t get wet. The lid has condensation after you’ve infused so it gets placed upside down to prevent dripping and the infuser is the perfect shape and size to fit in it without sploshing or dripping excess liquid anywhere.
I’ve been using it nearly every day for a month or so now, and I can honestly say it was worth every penny I spent on it. I’d never consider going back to bags at work again.
Ben: Whilst I love preparing teas in glass equipment, I didn’t consider going down the same route as Dan. The bloody things are so fragile and as co-workers and office cleaners will be lurking about (as well as the necessity of stressful dashes from kettle to desk), a glass system just wouldn’t work.
This hampered my options considerably. I didn’t want a wee teapot as it’s just additional washing up. I didn’t want a steel ball infuser or similar because they have a habit of breaking easily and retaining dirt. Those teabag stick things just don’t work and disposable filters aren’t very environmentally friendly. I was, frankly, at a bit of a loss.
I kicked around the websites of the normal motley crew – Jing, Leaf, Adagio, Whittards etc – and didn’t find anything particularly satisfactory. I was pretty much resigned to abandoning my quest when I stumbled across the teaware section of Lahloo Tea’s site.
We’ve spoken about Lahloo a fair bit of late – not out of favouritism or bribery but out of admiration for an excellent product, the friendliness of the company’s founder and the genuine desire on our part to see a small company succeed. I thought, well, small company, not long established, they’re going to have the same generic stuff as elsewhere, but no! Lahloo stock a range of chatjans, earthernware mug, infuser and saucer sets which are absolutely ideal for drinking at your desk. They’re big enough to provide you with a decent-sized brew, they’re small enough to be inconspicuous, they’re unusual enough to be a talking point (if you so desire) and they’re not flimsy or delicate.
Above all, the design is great (and not too dissimilar to the Jing set that Dan has): add leaves to infuser, add water, place saucer on top to allow it to brew, take saucer off and place infuser onto it. There is no mess, no awkward looking for somewhere to place the infuser once brewed, no faffing back and forth from kettle to desk to bin and back – it’s all self contained. I add the water to the leaves in the kitchen, bring the chatjan back to my desk and do the rest of the preparation there.
I’ve been using the chatjan at work for the past month and couldn’t be happier.
Dan: There is a downside to all this for me. Brewing at work means using a bit of a manky kettle and the water isn’t filtered. Welcome to limescale central. It means there’s a film on the top of my tea and because the mug is made of glass it stains quickly. After I’ve finished my tea there’s generally a ring of tea stains from where it’s been left at the same level to brew and cool.
This wouldn’t be too bad if it weren’t for the fact that cleaning it isn’t exactly easy. We’ve got a sink in the corner of the room but I have to use paper towels to dry. A bottle of washing up liquid has mysteriously appeared recently so I make some sneaky use of that when I can but I’m usually still left with smeary marks on the glass. Half of this is just aesthetically unpleasing of course and none of it infringes on the tea-making process or the quality of the mug itself. It’s still a quality product but if I’m being picky – it’s not a perfect experience.
Ben: The one downside I’ve experienced is not in the preparation of the drink itself but in bringing the tea leaves in.
I like to have a good selection of different leaves so I can drink to suit my mood. At home this isn’t a problem – I have a whole cupboard in the kitchen full of weird and wonderful leaves – but being stuck at work limits my options terribly. If, say, I want some of Teapigs’ popcorn tea (and I quite often do) I don’t have a wee container I can bring it into work in – I have to cart around the whole cardboard package it came in. I could get around this by ordering tea in the little sampler tins that Teapigs (and Adagio) sell but they’re quite expensive for what they are and the lids are prone to open accidentally during transit in my bag (speaks the voice of bitter, bitter experience).
What I’m looking for at the moment is a set of little plastic pots with firm lids that I can use to carry around a few spoonfuls of loads of different teas. Once I’ve got that cracked everything will be perfect. In the interim, I’ll keep toting big pots of tea from work to flat and back again.
One of the reason I’ve been using Lahloo teas at work is because they don’t specify a temperature – everything’s done by time (boil a kettle, leave for two minutes, infuse leaves for three etc). I end up just guesstimating when using other brands but this doesn’t always result in a great drink. Most tea companies are geared towards those with temperature-controlled kettles or – at the very least – some thermometer or other. At work those two things aren’t really practical. I’m still working on a solution to this – really I’m hoping it’s something that other suppliers will take into consideration.
Coming soon – part two in this series where we talk about how we brew tea at home.