I don't think you need to own a huge collection of tea-making gadgets or obscure culinary ingredients in order to make a good cup of tea. I have found a few things though, that can help you make a better-tasting cup of tea, or that can reduce prep time, hassle and mess. None of them cost over $20, and most cost a good deal less.
--Before we get started, let me just say this: I sell a couple of the products listed here, and the reason I sell them is that I believe they are the best tool for the job. The rest I don't gain anything from sharing with you, except warm fuzzies ; )
With that disclaimer out of the way, here are my 5 favorite products to make better tea:
5. Spun/Creamed raw honey: This is just honey that's been intentionally crystallized with very tiny crystals (not the big grainy crystals that occur when you forget about the jar in the back of your pantry). I like to use honey with herbal teas and citrus-flavored teas. I think it enhances their flavor in a way that sugar, even raw sugar, doesn't. I pay around $7 for a pint of spun honey locally.
Why do I love it?
The advantage of spun honey is that if stored in a cool place, it's thick like peanut butter, so you don't get sticky everywhere. I hate getting sticky everywhere.
4. Raw (or Demerara, or Turbinado) Sugar: I first tried this type of sugar because I'd read it was less processed/more healthy than white sugar. While I'm not sure I buy that line of reasoning, I like raw sugar so much better than white sugar that I'm happy to pay the difference in price. I pay around $1 per pound locally for Demerara sugar.
Why do I love it?
*The small amount of molasses that remains in raw sugar gives a depth to flavored teas that white sugar can't deliver. Natural flavorings can tend to be a bit flat, and the raw sugar adds dimension along with sweetness.
3. Sunbeam Hot Shot: I first bought one of these little guys right before a craft show so I could offer samples of steeped tea. I paid about $20 for it new. I have since bought every one of them that I've seen at a thrift store, generally for about $5.
Why do I love it?
*It heats up water one cup at a time.
*it does it within about 30 seconds.
*It dispenses the water very fast.
*It has enough room to fit most larger cups (but not most travel mugs) under the dispenser.
I do not care for the version that comes with a bowl. It dispenses the water more slowly, which flusters me when I'm offering samples. There is also less room under the dispenser for taller mugs, which means I can't use my preferred 16-ounce mugs.
The only down side of this gadget is that if you are half-asleep and forget to add water before you turn it on, you will probably ruin it. Either the heating element will burn out, or the gasket that keeps the water in will fail. I speak from experience on that.
2. Finum Brewing Basket: I offer both the medium ($10) and large ($13) version of this basket. The medium is ideal for most teacups and teapots, while the large works well in extra-large mugs (which is how I prefer to take my tea).
Why I love it:
*The fine mesh doesn't allow any tea leaves through.
*It allows lots of room for the tea leaves to expand.
*The lid keeps more of the heat in the cup.
*Once the tea is steeped, the lid flips over and provides a handy place to set down the basket of soggy tea leaves.
*No puddles or tea stains on the counter.
*Easy to get the used tea leaves out.
*Large enough that I've never lost one.
*Super easy to use, even when only half-awake.
*They don't rust.
I still use the original baskets that I bought nearly 10 years ago for daily steeping, and they've been through the dishwasher countless times in those 10 years. They are still in perfect shape.
I like these filters so much that when I began milking our Jersey cow last summer, I bought a different version of this filter (no arms) to strain the milk. They cost a whole lot less than a genuine milk strainer, and I didn't have to mess with filter papers.
The only down side of these filters, is that they will not fit in my Klean Kanteen travel mug, nor in the tea for one teapots that I sell. Of course, a tea ball won't fit in those either.
1. Good Loose Tea: I'd like to think that this goes without saying. For me, the flavor of good tea is more than worth the slight increase in preparation time and cost vs. instant tea or tea bags. I don't particularly like drinking water, but I'll choose tap water before I'll drink instant or bitter tea.
So those are my 5 favorite products that make tea better.
If there's something that you find indispensable for making tea that I've missed, I'd love it if you'd share it in the comments.