Accessory: Infuser Mug Showdown - WTE 2010

The 2010 World Tea Expo is over. In its wake I have much to report, and much to review.

In this installment I'm grading three infuser mugs. One of these, I've reviewed before. The others are made by Teas Etc. and Lucha.

Read on for more.

It's not every day we have the opportunity to watch a shootout. Thankfully the ones we like are usually produced by Hollywood as no-one is usually hurt in those.

Today we're going to have an accessory showdown. This one is for steeping mugs. That is, mugs which have an infuser built in for brewing loose or bagged teas.

Infuser Mug Showdown

Infuser Mug Showdown (Infuser mugs were used in the making of this post.)

Libre Tea Glass

My opinion on the Libre Tea unit has already been heard, but I'm going to put it through its paces again more than six months later here for everyone's benefit.

The Libre glass has three pieces. The primary compartment, like the other two units reviewed here is where your water goes. The capacity is 9oz/260mL which is just more than a cup. The other two pieces are an infuser cap and a top cap so no liquid escapes.

Libre suggests two methods of infusing your tea in their glass. First, place the tea in the primary compartment, add water, allow to steep, drink and refill. This feels odd to me because the tea can become extra strong and/or lose its flavor more quickly. However, this is the way the Chinese have traditionally steeped their teas in mobile mugs.

The second recommendation is more logical to me. Fill the primary compartment with water at the desired temperature, place your loose tea or tea-bag in the infuser compartment, add the top cap and then flip the entire unit upside down to allow the tea to steep. Simply flip the unit back over when the correct amount of time lapses, drain any residual infusion from the lids into the primary... drink and repeat!

I found the Libre unit to not be dishwasher safe. It's best to clean it by hand with unscented soap. The mesh infuser is easier to clean than freestanding mesh infusers I've used.

While visually a little less interesting than the other units, the Libre has something special going for it. The primary compartment is made of two materials, polyurethane and glass with the glass being the interior material. The two materials are separated by an air pocket. This air pocket provides an insulation layer preventing the container from becoming too hot to hold, and it works quite nicely.

Teas Etc. Traveler Mug

I received this mug as a unit for review from Newman Johnston of Teas Etc.

My first impression was that this mug is nicely styled. A bright green cap with a silver infuser section just like the Libre unit. It's a little shorter, but definitely wider.

From the visual styling this unit appears high quality. And the materials indeed seem to be plenty sturdy. The unit even has similar design to the Libre unit in that is has three pieces. However, the unit appears to lack some of the design refinements of the Libre unit.

This traveler mug, easily resembles a tumbler with an infuser in it. It holds nearly 13oz/381mL of liquid which amounts to just about 1.5 cups of tea.

The instructions on the box indicate this unit to be made of BFA free plastics and to not be dishwasher safe. It also recommends the Chinese style of brewing which I haven't personally become accustomed to.

The recommendation again is to place the tea in the primary container, add the water, place both caps on while brewing, remove the top cap, and drink your tea unencumbered by leaves as the liquid filters through the mesh infuser compartment.

I found it more comfortable to use this unit's infuser just like I use the Libre. Filling the primary compartment with water at the right temperature, adding the leaves to the infuser compartment and placing both caps atop the liquid filled cylinder.

This unit ends up getting extremely hot if brewing with boiling water or anything above 175 degrees fahrenheit. I found the infuser cap to be very squeaky when screwing it on or off. It leaks if bumped and the top cap is rounded on its crown which makes it difficult to infuse upside down as the Libre does.

The result is that the Traveler Mug works, but it almost forces you into following it's recommendations on how it should be used. This is probably great if you're comfy using it that way. Regardless, the lack of heat insulation, squeaky cap and leakiness makes it unlikely I'll be using this unit frequently.

Lucha Tea Mug

The Lucha mug is interesting. It has three parts like the others, but the infuser piece isn't provided its own compartment. Instead, it inserts snugly into the primary chamber while the top cap is off. I received this unit for review from Mark Chau and the fine folks at Lucha.

The Lucha mug is made from BPA free plastics, and is considered dishwasher safe on the top rack only. I have not tested this faculty of the unit as I wanted to get this review out in a rather timely manner.

This unit is the least stylish of the three. There's no real color to speak of. The top cap is silver, but is made of plastic, not aluminum. The leaf design on the outside seems a bit 'girly' for my tastes, but I guess that could be a personal issue.

The unit holds 12oz/350mL which is 1.5 cups of tea. The recommended procedure is to place the leaves in the unit, fill with water at the desired temperature and let steep. The plastic infuser tray appears to be more of a catch trap to keep the leaves from going into your mouth when drinking. I have found when the device holds relatively little liquid, that the leaves have tendency to hold that little bit of liquid back from your attempt to imbibe it. Your mileage may vary.

The catch tray is very easy to remove and the unit certainly seems easier to clean than either of the other devices given its claim of dishwasher safe. The plastic catch tray also has slots on the sides which aid in removing the tray and in cleaning it. The unit does get hot when hot water is used, much like the Teas Etc. Traveler. So be careful.

Overall, if you like the Chinese method of infusion in a mug, the Lucha is a pretty nice solution.

Conclusion

While I don't prefer the Chinese method of infusing in a travel mug, you certainly might. So take my opinions with a grain or two of salt when deciding if any of these mugs is right for you.

Camparison Grid
 
Libre
Teas Etc.
Lucha
Capacity 8oz 12.5oz 12oz
Pieces 3 3 3
Infuser Mesh Mesh Plastic
Air Diffused Yes No No
BPA Free Yes Yes Yes
Multi Method Yes No No
Dishwasher No No Yes
Defect   Leakage  

I've been using my Libre for more than six months. During that time I've grown to rely on its sturdy construction. Design details such as air pocket heat diffusion aren't missed by me, they're completely appreciated. The thoughtful engineering, simple design and multiple steep options make this the best mug for me.

The Teas Etc. Traveler clearly lost here. It certainly could be the specific unit I was provided, but I can't be sure without trying another one. It concerns me that the unit was prone to leaking, and that the infuser piece required significant energy to remove once tea has been steeped in it. I wouldn't recommend this mug until such time as I can verify whether my specific unit is defective.

The Lucha mug seems like a great option if you enjoy the Chinese method of portable brewing. However, you can also follow this same method with the Libre is you so desire.

Unless you already know you prefer the Chinese method, I would say the Libre is the best of breed in this showdown.

  16 comments for “Accessory: Infuser Mug Showdown - WTE 2010

  1. June 17, 2010 at 10:38 AM

    Hi Chris,

    Thank you for taking the time to review the Teas Etc Tea Traveler™. Couple things I'd like to point out.

    1. The Tea Traveler™ is designed to brew the tea leaves in the primary compartment (tumbler) and not between the infuser screen and the lid. Tea leaves getting caught in the cap's screw grooves may have caused the leaking.

    2. The Tea Traveler™ is specifically designed not to leak. Here is how it works. To use it properly the tea leaves are put in the primary compartment (tumbler), the infuser screen is screwed on and the hot water is added. The hot water causes minor expansion in the tumbler which locks in the infuser screen, hence the significant energy to remove the infuser screen once the hot water was added. Teas Etc has manufactured these since 2007 and I am not aware of any leaking issues.

    One more suggestion, brewing “Chinese style” works great in the Tea Traveler™, just use a little less tea leaves and drop your water temperature a bit. I’m a sipper (as compared to a gulper) and have been able to use it with Bi Lo Chun, which is a pretty touchy tea when it comes to water temp and brewing time.

    Thanks again for taking time to review the Tea Traveler™ - great meeting you at World Tea Expo!

  2. June 17, 2010 at 10:53 AM

    Newman,

    Thanks for taking the opportunity to respond to my review. It was great meeting you at the expo and I do thank you for taking the time to speak with me and also for the Tea Traveler.

    My review does indicate the suggested method for brewing as you've noted. While I did brew in this fashion using the Tea Traveler, my preference and natural reaction was to place the loose leaves above the water and inside the infuser compartment.

    I didn't note any leaves within the screw grooves ofthe unit, but I'll brew in both methods again tonight and update with my findings. The leaking came from underneath the infuser screen and not from under the top cap. Regardless, as noted the leak was not an active one, but only occurred when the unit was bumped or nudged. Additionally I did note that it may simply be the unit I was provided, and may not be endemic to all Tea Traveler units shipped.

    Thanks again for dropping by to point out a couple issues with the shootout. I'll update with additional findings soon.

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