Ah, tea. Camellia sinesis. The wonderful and ancient plant with countless varietals that can energize, relax, center, you name it.
America doesn’t have as salient of a tea-drinking culture as other countries do. You’re lucky if you can get some weak-ass Lipton bags at the local diner and your average independent coffee shop might have at least four blends if you’re lucky. When you’re a tea drinker in a coffee drinker’s world, it seems totally bizarre the that the United States is actually the third-largest importer of tea in the world after Russia and Pakistan (although the same stat sheet says about 75-80% of it is the iced variety, which explains a lot.) In contrast, the average American consumes 3.1 cups of coffee per day because we’re a bunch of slaves to capitalism and have no other fucking way to stay awake for all of that.
While I drink both tea and coffee, I definitely veer towards the former. This is partly because my doctor told me I had to cut back on caffeine and partly because if I don’t want to do anything fancy to make it, which is probably 95% of the time, all I have to do is boil water and we’re in business. Even within a tea-drinking culture, I don’t fit in with a lot of it because I just like to get that water totally scalding and pour it over a teabag and let it get so strong that it would’ve made Andre the Giant gasp. What’s all this malarkey about “steep 3-5 minutes” on the side of the box? Cowards! I want tea, not barely-flavored water weaker than some dude’s excuse for ghosting! Different temperatures? Nah boo, that better be hot enough to cause skin burns like the infamous McDonald’s lawsuit so that it’s still hot by the time it’s sufficiently steeped that teabag. Especially if I want it to fill an 18-oz mug sufficiently.
Before the hardcore tea drinkers pelt me with their stoneware pots for sacrileging tea preparation, I’ll observe their nuances in this list. If you’re a coffee drinker who’s not sure what to get the tea drinker in their life or are thinking about diving into the tea realm yourselves, you won’t want to miss this guide for the best tea-making gifts this holiday season!
A great practical gift for a friend who loves tea is a box or two of filter bags with a nice box of loose tea blend that they’d like. They’re pretty spacious and can make either a single mug or a pot based on how much loose tea you add. Personally, I like putting in two teaspoons of my favorite loose tea from Fairway for a single large mug, a tablespoon for a small pot, and two tablespoons for a large pot. Filter bags are pretty versatile so you don’t have to use them to make a whole pot if you don’t want to.
I’ve personally used the Melitta ones in this product listing, I love them because it’s a fantastic way to enjoy loose tea without making a mess! If you don’t want to bother with straining loose tea bits or having them annoyingly escaping from those silicone infusers and metal balls, you can just measure out the tea leaves to your liking and make your own teabags on the spot. And if you really don’t want any bits escaping and ruining that perfect coppery or smoky cuppa, you can just tie them shut with some bakery or butcher string.
Tea filter bags are also great for the tea drinker on the go because if you want to make loose tea while traveling, you don’t have to wash anything and got peace of mind that the paper is pretty much biodegradable. If you’re on a budget and don’t want to take chances on a heavy or fragile gift, these are a nice practical gift that would make any tea drinker happy.
Silicone Tea Infusers
The reusable counterpart to infuser bags, silicone tea infusers can be hit or miss. They come in a variety of cute shapes and colors, obviously with my affinity for frogs and toads I chose this one.
They’re a lightweight and inexpensive gift that, depending on the tea drinker in question, could have more aesthetic than practical use but they’ll appreciate the thought no less. Check the reviews before deciding which one to buy because based on experience with various silicone infusers, they can either be the greatest thing since Prohibition got repealed or they’re going to lay in your random kitchen gadget drawer forever.
One great thing about silicone tea infusers is that they’re not just reusable, they’re also dishwasher-safe unlike metal tea balls and the clasp-y kind that often just ends up leaking leaves out. The drawback though is that depending on which kind you get, they can end up not having enough capacity for a whole pot or the really strong cup of tea that you want to make. If the holes in the silicone are also not fine enough, you could end up with annoying pieces of loose tea coming out every time you take a sip. It’s also really annoying trying to pull out the used tea leaves when you’re done, and it looks like the contents of a wood chipper made it onto the front of your shirt.
But if you find one that’s got finely-punched holes and can hold a decent amount of tea, the tea drinker in your life will still love for it. Especially if you pick one that looks like their favorite animal.
There are so many different kinds of teapots out there now, and these aren’t your grandma’s porcelain tea services that just function as giant mugs with no way to tell how much it’s steeped.
While stoneware teapots are deemed the holy grail by many tea drinkers who swear by all the different tenets of tea-making culture because they can impart such a strong bolstering of the flavor, see, I got this rule. That rule is “If it can’t go in the dishwasher, then it can’t come in the house.” Tradition be damned, if you expect me to use something in the kitchen, this girl ain’t wasting her life washing it. Crockery teapots can also be finicky at fluctuating temperatures. So if you want a versatile tea gift that’s a good middle ground for people who like tea but don’t like cleanup, and hardcore traditionalists? A glass teapot with an infuser is a fabulous gift.
Most glass teapots are dishwasher-safe and come in a variety of sizes. The best one I ever owned was actually a little infuser pot from Avon that had super fine mesh so the leaves never leaked out, and it was about the same size as two normal coffee mugs. The larger one that eventually replaced it when it broke had cool silicone grippy things in the infuser part so it wouldn’t jostle while brewing, and all of the components were dishwasher-safe. Just make sure to check the product listing when deciding which one you’re getting to make sure *all* of the components are, and not just the pot!
Glass infuser teapots are the best of both worlds because you can decide how much tea to brew at a time, and you don’t need to pop a filter bag in like with stoneware or porcelain pots, and no messy straining is required either. You can also watch it brew in real-time through the glass! Definitely a good call for the tea drinker in your life if they mention needing a new teapot or wanting to go from infuser bags to pots.
Zojirushi Water Boiler
If you’re able to spring for a more lavish gift, this is one of the BEST things you could possibly buy for someone who regularly makes tea. I’ve had two different Zojirushi water boilers and I can’t quite remember the model numbers, but I basically used them over the course of a decade until they completely corroded. This Japanese mainstay is like the Cadillac of tea appliances.
What separates the Zojirushi water boiler from just boiling water in a pot, kettle, or cheap coffeemaker is that it’s designed to hold boiling water for several hours and at the temperature you specify. So if you want to keep that water hot enough to be considered a medieval torture device, you can program it to stay at the highest temperature the device can safely maintain the temperature at. If you’re more of a traditionalist who thinks that green tea should only be brewed at 160 degrees and nothing higher, Zojirushi’s got your back. (Sorry, I’m a heathen, I’m scalding the living crap out of that tasty bag of Ito-En genmai cha just like I do with my malty English teas that fill my suitcase on my annual pilgrimage to Waitrose after AdventureX.)
In addition to maintaining the desired temperature for hours, the water boiler also dispenses from a spout, opposed to having to pour boiling water manually, which makes it great for older users and people with motor-related disabilities. Or if the user just has a hard time lifting heavy objects and is prone to injury from having to lift a pot or kettle full of boiling water. Either way, dispensing from the spout definitely prevents a lot of potentially-scalding messes.
The only real drawback to using the water boiler is that cleaning and maintenance can be kind of annoying. You have to manually wash out the interior elements after a while, and it’s not as simple as just running a little bottle of vinegar through a coffee maker then doing a rinse cycle with water before you resume its intended use. And just like coffee makers, they can just end up completely crapping out on you when you least expect it if you’ve been using them regularly. No less, the two water boilers I’ve had were fantastic for when my caffeine tolerance was higher and I drank several cups of tea per day, glad that I had a virtually endless source of hot water without having to wait for a pot to boil manually with every cup. The benefits definitely outweighed the annoying maintenance aspects.
As an added bonus, if you need some hot water for things like instant ramen or making Jell-O, you also got it on tap without having to wait! Just get a glass measuring cup for what you need, or put that ramen bucket right under the spout and go to town.
And of course, the gift of tea itself is always welcome whether it’s a variety box of nice teas or a gift card to the recipient’s favorite tea shop!
Rachel Presser is a crazy toad lady from the Bronx who was exiled to New Jersey, spending a significant chunk of her youth where all the hideous 1970s couch covers and avocado shag carpeting went to die. Upon escaping the sea of brown and founding Sonic Toad Media, she decided to devote her time to writing from the fantastically-preserved Googie artifacts in LA and former speakeasies in Chicago, to forging new game worlds in the tea lounges of Taipei and Tokyo. She can be found at game jams, hardcore shows, vaporwave dance parties, and petting amphibians on a sensible corner loveseat.