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A Tea Filter Renaissance


The ancient tradition of making tea is a time-consuming and precise one. In this new age of the specialty beverage, modern people also want to sit back and enjoy the relaxing small luxury of a cup of tea. Recently, some have realized that their senses may benefit from a different experience than that provided to them by the quick teabags found at supermarkets. But the convenience factor is still important. Enter the tea filter. Whether it is used in a foodservice environment such as a tea salon or a high-end restaurant, or just at home, this inexpensive tool can make loose leaf tea an easier pleasure to experience in this fast-paced world. Tea filter companies have come up with a variety of designs and new ideas to aid customers with their newfound, or traditionally embraced, love of loose tea.

Riensch & Held (R & H) is a specialized manufacturer of filter components, many of which are custom designed and manufactured.

“The demand is pretty global,” says Christian Justus, managing partner of R & H. Western Europe, he observes, is still the largest single market, while Germany accounts for 50% of their sales, and the U.S. and Japan are going strong and showing the best growth rate. He names a few of the main determinants for the demand for tea filters in particular areas: tea traditions (which often are related to quality of teas consumed), consumer income, and overall market volume. “It is actually not so much determined by the mere amount of tea consumption in each country. Otherwise Germany would rank at the bottom and China at the very top of the list. Even countries like Poland and Russia would be big markets, which they are not right now,” says Justus.

R & H’s fibrous filters contain mainly woodpulp and hemp fibers, which contribute to taste neutrality. All fibers are either unbleached or bleached with oxygen or hydrogen peroxide.

R & H’s uniquely designed Tea Control Brew-Stop Tea Maker combines a glass teapot with a filter, which is attached to the lid of the teapot, all in one unit. The perforated base of the filter allows boiling water to flow through the system quickly, so the user doesn’t have to constantly set the kettle down like they do traditionally. Side perforations in the filter allow the tea flavor, which usually tends to spread towards the bottom, to flow evenly out into the water.

The Tea Control system allows the user to easily control the strength of the tea - twisting the lid of the pot stops the tea from getting stronger than desired. The tea leaves are not pressed down in the filter but rotated to the side. There is no need to remove a strainer. Tea Control works with loose teas as well as teabags.

Another thoughtfully-designed teapot filter option for the tea lover is Grace Tea filters. Founded in 1959, Grace Tea Company is a supplier of loose teas exclusively from Asia. The company’s recent goal has been to simplify the brewing of traditional, or “orthodox” loose tea, to bring their kind of tea to a wider audience.

“There’s little question of the superior cup quality of orthodox tea over CTC tea used for teabags. If this is so, why then does orthodox tea represent less than 2% of the tea market?” asks Richard Sanders, managing director of Grace Tea Company. “To me, the key answers are: (1) Few people understand proper teapot brewing and fewer still want the perceived bother - teabags are just plain easier to use; and (2) with the education of consumers to quality coffee, some are now trying better quality teas but, even so, few people have ever tasted a superb orthodox-made tea.”

The unique Mini/Minit Tea Leaf Filter system which can also be used for coffee, is sold world wide.
Grace’s first Teapot Filter was about the size of a teabag, open at one end, to which the consumer could add up to 4 tsps of loose leaf tea, fold over the top of the bag to close it, drop it in a warmed teapot, add boiling water, cover the teapot to retain heat (“The best tea is brewed with furiously boiling water in a closed teapot to retain heat so the leaves will fully open to release all their flavor and aroma,” advises Sanders.), brew to the desired strength; and then easily remove it to stop brewing. Last year, Grace introduced Extra Long Teapot Filters, which are used in the same way, but their extra length permits them to hold up to 6 tbsps and to be suspended in the teapot by the open end being held by the lid of the pot. This dry end allows the user to easily remove the filter once the desired strength has been reached.

“Teapot Filters have been adopted by many of our present customers and have persuaded many to trade up to loose tea, which they now find is not so difficult to brew after all,” affirms Sanders.

Sales of these filters have increased enough to permit Grace Tea to lower their price two times due to volume, leaving the company optimistic about their future.

T-sac GmbH has been developing filter systems for tea since 1982. T-sac’s filter paper is made of wood cellulose and cellulose from Manila fiber. Strong fibers are selected from the Philippines and Equator - yet one square meter of this thin, fine-porous filter paper only weighs approximately 16g/m2, meaning one sheet size DIN A4 weighs not even 1 g.

The design of the T-Sac tea filter is unique in that the back of it is longer than the front. This forms a kind of a slide shape, which makes filling it up with tea easier and neater. No filter holder is needed - the filter can just be held with the lid of the tea pot. During the brewing process, the bottom fold is opened which increases the extraction.

One useful feature of T-Sac filters is versatility for different quantities of brewing. It is available in four different sizes - for use with cups and mugs, for large cups and small teapots, for standard teapots, and for large teapots and herbal teas.

“In Europe most tea filters are purchased for home use, and sold through specialized tea and coffee shops,” says the Peter Paardekooper, directing manager of T-sac. “These tea and coffee shops are different from the ones in the U.S. The U.S. tea and coffee shops are more foodservice-oriented and they sell tea and coffee by the cup, while the European tea and coffee shops sell by the pound.”

Ted Napier of MiniMinit, a tea filter manufacturer, says that cafés and restaurants use their filters to “impress and pamper their patrons by presenting tea (particularly specialty teas) in a unique and classic fashion,” but that they are also used extensively in the home. He believes the traditional metal infusers are often too small to capture enough of the tea and not large enough to let the leaves completely expand so as to extract the full flavor of the tea. MiniMinit filters are manufactured using U.S. filter paper made with non-chlorine bleached pulp fibers, and are sold world wide.

Mim Enck, president of East Indies Tea, a company that sells loose leaf tea as well as T-sac filters feels similarly about the people who love her teas, “Our customers really like using loose tea, however, the perceived inconvenience of brewing loose tea has had its challenges. Tea filters offer an alternative to this perceived challenge. We have seen a significant increase in the interest in tea filters, specifically, paper filters. These provide room for the tea leaves to unfurl and infuse.”

Enck says she sees tremendous growth in paper tea filters, while mesh balls are next in sales volume.

“There seems to be a scramble to find the perfect tea filter or teabag that will create the perfect infusion without the perceived hassle. For the purist, this isn’t ‘it’, however, for the ‘grab and run’ group, paper tea filters are their way out of this,” says Enck.

Tea & Coffee - October/November 2001


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