After using your new teapot or infuser for a while, you may start to notice a brown tinge and pungent smell coming from it. What you are seeing and smelling is tannic acid, a phytochemical present in the dust that comes loose from your tea bags.
Tannins are a type of phytochemical found in many fruits, vegetables and herbs. Foods like grapes, berries, walnuts, chickpeas and – of course – tea are rich in tannins. The plant produces them as a defence system, and they have both a positive and negative effect on your body.
When you take a sip of tea and are left with a bitter, dry coating inside your mouth afterwards, you are tasting the tannic acid. The tannins are meant to deter an animal from eating the vegetable, fruit or herb.
Don’t worry. The tea is still safe to drink in moderation.
In small amounts, tannins can act as an antioxidant. A 2015 report from the International Journal of Pharma Research and Review found that tannins have the potential to decrease the risk of heart disease and help prevent the formation of tumors and certain types of cancer. With this being said, consuming too much tannin allows the phytochemical to bind with enzymes in your digestive tract, making it harder to digest food.
There are a couple quick and easy ways using common household items to remove the tannins and get rid of the acidic buildup inside your tea accessories.
Three ingredients to clean your teapot and infuser
The first, and easiest way, to remove tannic acid buildup is by using vinegar. Create a mixture with equal parts of water and vinegar, and let the mixture sit in your teapot overnight. Likewise, you can also submerge your tea infuser into the same mixture to get rid of any buildup. The vinegar’s acidity counteracts that of the tannins, and removes the stains.
Although effective, this mixture can leave a strong, vinegar-ridden taste in your teapot. I would suggest soaking the inside of your accessory for an hour or two with boiling water to get rid of the aftertaste.
A similar household product you can use to remove tannic acid is baking soda. Mix one or two teaspoons of baking soda in hot water and let that mixture soak in your teapot for a couple of hours. You can also use a toothbrush to scrub the side of the accessory and ensure that all the stains are gone.
A very simple way of cleaning away light stains is be making a tea accessory version of an exfoliant using a lemon covered in salt. The salt and the lemon combine to create a powerful cleaning agent and remove the tannic stains. I found that this method is most effective when done regularly so the tannins do not get a chance to build up. Try cleaning your teapot and infuser every four weeks this way as regular maintenance of your accessories.
An alternative to cleaning agents
If you don’t feel like using mixtures or cleaning agents, you can also use steel wool. Like a powerful sponge, steel wool breaks down any stains that cover your tea accessories. Cleaning your teapot or infuser with this cleaning tool might take a couple rounds of scrubbing, but a little elbow grease lifts the stains eventually.