There are plenty of ways to brew tea out there: you can use tea bags, tea balls, loose leaf tea in a strainer, loose leaf tea directly in the pot, a french press, gaiwan, etc., etc., etc. And I admit, the way that I judge a place that has tea is by how they serve it. If you give me more tea than can be drunk in one cup and do not give me a way to remove the leaves from the water, that is a failing grade. I’m looking at you french presses. Two places that I’ve been to in the area, Caffe Driade and Open Eye Cafe, serve tea in french presses and it just doesn’t work. Unless you just put in enough water to serve one cup of tea, the rest of the tea that doesn’t get poured out oversteeps and becomes bitter. So that leads me to understeeping the first cup, trying to drink it too fast, and both not enjoying and burning my mouth on it; then, trying to quickly pour a second cup that is brewed fairly well; the rest of the tea in there is basically undrinkable. I had a similar experience at Mill Mountain Coffee; however, since the leaves were just floating free in the pot, I was able to fish them out with a fork.
Tea bags and tea balls are far better than trying to brew tea in a container from which you cannot remove the leaves. Some people refuse to use tea bags because they swear that they can taste the paper and the lower quality tea that is used. I can’t taste the paper; I just don’t use them because the kind of teas I like aren’t often found in bags.
I have found one tea, so far, that I can taste the difference between brewing in a tea ball and brewing in a pot. The difference comes from the fact that the leaves have more room to expand in a pot rather than the tea ball. More room to expand means more surface area for the leaves to come in contact with, and therefore a fuller flavor is released. The first tea in which I’ve definitely noticed this difference is the Houjicha Gold that I have; its a roasted green tea from Japan. In a tea ball, it has barely any flavor, but when you brew it in a pot you can taste its roasted smoothness. It really is a good tea, but I never would have known it without my teapot.