Tea balls, also known as tea infusers and tea eggs, were most popular around 1890 to 1910. Tea balls are perforated metal ball-shaped containers in which tea leaves are placed. The infuser/tea ball is placed in a cup or pot of hot or boiling water, allowing the tea to brew without loose tea leaves spilling into the pot or cup. A chain is commonly attached to the container of the infuser to make retrieval from the pot or cup easier.
The number and shapes and different styles is quite astounding. A fierce competition between silversmiths produced some of the most beautifully crafted tea balls that are now highly sought after by collectors.
Tea balls were not produced in the United States until after 1880 but quickly became popular in many American homes. Two well-known American makers were Tiffany and Gorham, but many other companies made high quality tea balls as well.
In the early 1900s, New York tea merchant William Sullivan began sell his tea in silk sachets instead of small tins to reduce the cost. With his cost cutting move he unknowingly developed the tea bag. From that point on, tea balls/infusers quickly fell out of favor to the convenience of tea bags.
How to use a tea ball
One of the most common mistakes made when using a tea infuser is to over fill it. When it’s packed too full the tea leaves aren’t able to open up fully and release their flavor. In addition, tea leaves will escape and end up floating around in your tea cup. Only fill the bottom half of the infuser; this can best be done by using the bottom half like a spoon to scoop up the tea leaves, then tapping the infuser lightly to shake out any excess tea. After it’s filled, close the infuser and you’re all ready to make your cup of tea.
What size tea ball should you use?
Use a 1.75″ ball for small cup sizes
Use a 2″ ball for large cup sizes
Use a 2.5″ ball for a small teapot
Use a 3″ ball for a large teapot or iced tea pitcher
A great book on tea balls is:
Sterling Tea Balls Date: 1997
Shapiro, Dottie and Seymour. Silver Tea Balls. Great North Coast Tea Company, PO Box 2974, Gary, IN 46403, 1997.
A fabulous website you have to visit,with the largest collection of tea infusers you will ever see in one place : http://www.teainfusers.com