The Tea Lover’s Guide to Traveling

Or, how you can take your tea game on the road

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Are you a die-hard tea fan? I sure am! When everything is new and strange, it can be extremely comforting to have your favorite brew along with you, made just the way you like it.

When I took my first solo backpacking trip to SE Asia I figured that there would be good coffee and tea there because…isn’t there good coffee and tea everywhere? Well, it turns out, the answer to that is a resounding NO. The coffee there either tastes like burnt toast or sugar. The tea (aside from the Thai iced tea) is basically non-existent. After months (yes, months!) of searching, I finally found some okay loose-leaf green tea at a Tesco…and had nothing to strain it with. Oh the humanity!

If you would prefer not to find yourself in this situation, there is hope! Hope in the form of bringing along your favorite brew and making it on the go! Here’s how:


How to Transport

First, select one or two of your favorite loose-leaf teas to bring. If tea bags are your thing, find your favorite flavors in a paper tea bag version (they are compostable and you don’t have to drink plastic!). If you want to be adventurous and try something new on your trip, I had a lot of fun with Numi’s tea sampler – I got to try a different tea each day!

If you’re bringing loose-leaf, you’ll want to keep it dry and contained. While the obvious solution here is a Ziploc bag, I prefer something that lasts longer, like these Bumkins snack bags.


How to Brew: Hot Water

For starters, where are you going to get your hot water? Here are ways to get it while traveling:

  • Coffee shops: They will either give it to you for free or very cheap and can often fill your own container
  • Hotel lobbies: They often have a coffee and tea station with hot water
  • Restaurants: Just ask
  • Kettles and coffeemakers: Most hotels in the US come with at least a coffeemaker. You can just set it to brew with nothing in it and it’ll make a pot of hot water for you. Some places like the UK may have a kettle in the room.
  • Tea pots and pots of water: If you are staying in an Airbnb or a hostel with a kitchen you can get hot water the conventional way!
  • Microwaves: Obviously you need a microwavable container for this, but if there is a microwave, there probably is a container nearby you can use. Some convenience stores even have them for your use!
  • The tap: In some places like Norway, the tap water gets extremely hot – hot enough to brew tea!
  • Candles: This is a weird one that I’ve used camping. You need a candle or a candle lantern and a metal or enamel mug. Light the candle and either set the mug of water on the top of the lantern (the top is metal and gets very hot) or hold the mug (with the handle) over the candle until it’s hot.

After you get your hot water, there are a number of ways to make the tea. Here are my favorite ways to brew tea so you can pick the one that suits your needs best:


How to Brew: Methods

Bombilla Straw

The Bombilla Straw

This is the smallest item you can bring to brew tea and also the most versatile. If you’re not familiar with bombilla straws, they are a special type of straw with a strainer on the end that are used for drinking yerba mate. You can of course use it for other teas as well – just put your tea leaves right in the cup and sip through the straw when it’s cool enough to drink.

Pros:

  • Can be used as a regular straw as well
  • Easy to use
  • Very small
  • Pretty
  • Tea can be made in any container
  • Hearty brews due to the leaves being able to swim around in the cup
  • The one I linked to above has a bead in the center. Not only is this pretty, but it is a cooler spot to hold on the straw so you don’t burn your fingers on the hot stainless steel!

Cons:

  • You have to be diligent with cleaning it (it comes with a brush), but it’s easy to clean
  • Not for very fine teas like roobios (those holes are only so small). You might get a couple small pieces in your mouth (fiber!).
  • No way to control how long your tea steeps


Basket Strainer

Photo credit:
peta_azak on Flickr

My personal favorite, the basket strainer is the easiest way to a nice hearty brew. The openness of the basket allows the leaves to swim around which means more leaf surface area is in contact with the water, resulting in a better brew.

Pros:

  • The best way to brew tea
  • Easy to prepare and clean up
  • Precise control over brewing time
  • Tea can be made in any container (you can add more for a pot, less for a mug, etc.)

Cons:

  • Takes up more space than a bombilla straw
  • If your mug has a small opening, you have to make sure your basket will fit (I’m looking at you, insulated Klean Kanteen bottle! This one does fit this bottle (the top will stick out). And yes, it took me approximately forever to find one that fits because that opening is so small.)


Ball and Chain Strainer

Who likes tea?

Probably the most commonly used brewing method outside of the tea bag, this type of strainer is usually a ball shape with holes that you fill with tea, drop into your mug, and fish out later using the attached chain.

Pros:

  • Lightweight
  • Takes up hardly any space
  • Precise control over brewing time
  • Easy to fit in a variety of containers
  • Tea can be made in any container…BUT your ball has to be large enough to contain more than one serving of tea. This one is large and fits the Klean Kanteen Insulated bottles

Cons:

  • The leaves are the most constrained of any of the brewing methods, resulting in a less hearty tea
  • Can be messy – I’ve accidentally spilled tea everywhere using these numerous times
  • Like the bombilla straw, the holes only get so small, so you might end up with some tea bits in your cup or mouth


Brew-in Thermos

There exist certain types of insulated thermos bottles that have a built-in tea strainer. And they are magical. They do have some issues though. Read on…

Pros:

  • If you are using glass, it is the prettiest way to brew tea, hands-down
  • Precise control over brewing time
  • It’s already in a to-go container!
  • Tea stays nice and warm for hours. 🙂

Cons:

  • Can only brew tea in this container unless you get the type that comes with two baskets so you can use the larger basket to brew in a mug
  • Many of these are made of glass. Glass can and will break unless you are very careful with it.
  • Very difficult to find infusers that are 1) not glass, 2) not plastic, 3) do not have a plastic brewing system, and 4) do not have plastic in the lid at all. Why is plastic in the lid important? Because plastic retains smells, so if you brew chai followed by green tea…your green tea might smell or taste slightly of chai. Yummy.

But. After extensive research, I found this one that comes with TWO strainers, and has no plastic in contact with your beverage. And if you want something more waterbottle-y (strainer has larger holes though), try this one.

If you want a nice glass one, this one is excellent.


Make Your Own Tea Sachets

Cup Hot Drink Drink Teacup Tee Tea Time Tea Bags

Another super easy and portable solution is to simply make your own tea sachets. You can do this either beforehand or on the go. Simply bring along your loose-leaf and fill your sachet, plop it into your mug of choice, take out when you’re done, hand wash, and reuse!

REUSE IT! You can purchase cotton pillowcases and other cotton scraps from your local thrift store and sew your own!

Pros:

  • Super light
  • Super easy to use
  • Can control how long your tea steeps

Cons:

  • Measuring may be an issue – either bring a spoon or know how much to fill the bag up by looking at it


Travel French Press

Yup, you can use a French press to make tea! This is a great one for camping and backpacking. You can literally bring a French press, fill it with water, and put it DIRECTLY ON THE STOVE OR IN A FIRE. Isn’t camping great?! You can combine fire and tea!

Obviously, you wouldn’t do this with a glass French press. No, for our camping and travel tea (and coffee!) brewing needs, we are going titanium! Snow Peak makes a titanium French press that has got you covered!

Pros:

  • Lightweight (6.3 oz)
  • Easy to use
  • Precise control of brewing time
  • Makes for a great brew since the leaves can swim around
  • Pretty easy to clean
  • Vessel can be heated directly on the stove or FIRE
  • Can be used for coffee as well

Cons:

  • Expensive ($45)
  • Takes up a decent amount of space in your bag, but you can stuff it full of socks to optimize packing


Travel Tea Brewing Tips!

Drink Cup Of Tea Book Table Reading Mug
  1. If you’re getting your hot water from a hotel or coffee shop, keep in mind that this water usually is boiling temperature and thus best for teas that like being brewed at boiling temperatures like black teas. If you want to bring a tea that is best brewed at a lower temperature, just grab that hot water and wait a bit for it to cool down enough for the type of tea you want to brew (you’ll have to guess a bit on temps though).
  2. If you tend to get distracted while your tea is brewing, set a timer on your phone or microwave so you can’t forget!
  3. For the most part, the TSA and customs couldn’t care less about your dried loose-leaf tea or tea bags. So don’t worry about them getting seized!
  4. I get my tea from: Mountain Rose Herbs (they’re in Eugene, OR!), Tea Chai Té (in Portland, OR, where I’m from and easily my favorite tea shop!), and Old Barrel Tea Company (in New Mexico! They are the tea company mentioned in my Souvenirs post)

Have fun brewing!

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