I have given up on tea balls. That's not code for anything unsavory—just a slightly crass-sounding term for the tea infusers that have served as stocking stuffers and gift store staples since time immemorial, tucked in between the sachets and the bookmarks emblazoned with rainbows and sayings. These too-fussy little metal cages dangling from a chain are the thing to get someone when you have a vague idea that they might like hot tea, or basically you don’t know them at all, but you got their name in an office secret Santa. Tea balls work for both. 

Tea infusers come in various shapes, from classic round orbs (hence the “ball” reference), to teapots, to the always-classic heart. But alas, if thou doest believe these small orbs be relegated to the Victorian tea room or Cracker Barrel gift shop, think again. They’ve also evolved into silicone animals that I will admit wooed me for a moment, especially the Manatea. Unfortunately, for me, the Manatea and his buddies are only marginally better than their dangly, pot metal counterparts. 

Yes, I’m bitter. It’s morning and I decided to forgo my usual coffee for a loose leaf tea start to my day, and I fished the tea ball out of the back of my kitchen utensil drawer where it was living next to the little knife and scoop that comes in the jack-o'-lantern kit. But this tea-ball-created cuppa is far from satisfying. Here’s why:

The size

Most of tea infusers hold ¾ to 1½ tablespoons of tea, which is perfect for your granny’s tea cup. To me, that isn’t enough tea to infuse a proper cup of tea in mugs most common in today’s American kitchens. The ones emblazoned with World’s Greatest Teacher or received for your fourth quarter earnings—those vessels in heavy rotation can hold a venti and extra whip with ease. Use a mug that size and you have weak tea (read: diluted caffeine, diluted everything good). 

The mess

I know it seems ultra-obvious, but tea is a leaf. Add any variations, and you might have berries, twigs, stalks and even bits of peel in the mix. Adding these to a tea infuser takes a bit of wrangling, and there is no way to really do this other than with your fingers, which invariably means some escapes and falls to the countertop. Also, using your fingers can lead to... 

The pinching

This is not an aspect of the next-generation silicone infusers, but traditional tea balls, and especially the tea tong, can pinch your delicate digits as you try to keep said twigs and leaves in and close the thing (sometimes with a tiny hinge). It’s not really painful, but it is highly annoying.

The fussiness

If all that fishing from back of drawer, wrangling leaves and twigs, and pinching is not quite enough, more than occasionally one of said twigs or leaves escapes its captivity, only to get stuck in your teeth or on your lip upon that next sip. All this general fussiness and flora is more than likely floating in your cup.

Maybe I am a little bit too fussy and caffeine-deprived to fuss with these things first thing. Or maybe it’s because I finally got my serene cup of tea (and more) by making a whole pot in my new Krups tea kettle, which has a handy-dandy screen on the spout to keep all leaves in the pot and out of my cup, and give me a second cup without having to cage more dried greenery. But whatever the reason, I have a hint for any future secret Santas: Ditch the tea ball. I like cocktails.