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An infusion basket is a kitchen tool which is used to make tea and to impart flavor to soups, sauces, and other foods. There are several different styles of infusion basket available, and most cooking supply stores carry a couple of options for people who need them. It is also possible to order infusion baskets from a wide range of manufacturers; specialty tea companies are a good source to start with.
A basic infusion basket is a basket which is designed to fit into a cup. The device typically has a rigid flared opening, so that it will rest on top of a cup, rather than sliding into it. The basket is made from mesh—some infusion baskets are made with a fine metal mesh, while others are polymesh baskets made from plastics. In all cases, the mesh allows flavor to seep out without carrying pieces of tea or herbs with it. A handle may be included to allow for easy manipulation of the infusion basket.
Some companies make infusion baskets which pair with specific cups. Many Chinese potteries, for example, make clay infusion baskets which match their teacups. The teacup may also come with a lid to keep liquids hot while they steep. In other cases, an infusion basket is made in a generic size so that it will fit a wide assortment of dishes.
To use the device, the basket is filled with tea, herbs, or other desired flavorings and it is inserted into a cup. Hot water is poured over the infusion basket to soak the flavoring, and the basket is removed when it has been sufficiently steeped. Infusion baskets are ideal for looseleaf tea, since their wide construction allows tea leaves to float freely, fully unfolding and flavoring the cup of tea. Some cooks also use infusion baskets to flavor soups and stews, either by soaking them in a separate cup or bowl and adding the contents of the bowl to the food, or by pouring hot water through an infusion basket directly into the cooking dish.
Both metal strainers and polymesh baskets have advantages and disadvantages. Polymesh tends to stain and pick up flavors, which can be undesirable when working with delicate teas. Metal, on the other hand, can get hot when it is left in a teacup, leading to considerable pain for the unwary consumer who tries to pull a metal infusion basket out. In either case, an infusion basket should be washed with warm water and mild soap, and it should be allowed to dry completely before being put away for storage.
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