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To steep or not to steep? That is the question………
Posted on Sep 29, 2016
Are you someone who expresses shock and disbelief at the thought of using the same tea leaves to brew a second cup of tea? Please don't be. If you are using premium quality loose leaf tea, many teas may be re- steeped several times.
So don’t throw away your tea leaves after the first brewing. Tea leaves retain their flavour after steeping and in fact, in China, quite often the first infusion is disregarded in favour of the subsequent steepings. (This is called ‘washing’ the tea).
Teas that steep well are whole leaf teas with large leaves or buds which have a large surface area. So you do need good quality loose leaf teas. You will not be able to re-steep ‘cheap’ teas or tea bags as these tend to be made of chopped leaves and fannings which lose their flavour early on in the steeping process.
Which teas can be re-steeped?
Chinese Pu erh and Oolongs are the best steepers, followed by Green and White tea from China. Black teas hold up less well to multiple infusions, perhaps because they have been more oxidised, but large leaf China black teas, like Yunnan Golden Buds, will re-steep well.
Pu erh teas are fermented for years like a fine wine to produce their distinctive flavour. Generally, the older the tea, the more times it can be re-steeped. Once you have learnt to appreciate the taste of Pu erh, you may find you can brew 10 cups from one serving of tea.
Oolong teas re-steep well. They have a range of complex flavours which change from steep to steep. You should be able to get between 4 - 6 steepings if not more, from a good quality Oolong like Iron Goddess of Mercy.
Most loose leaf Green teas will steep up to 3-4 times, and some a lot more. As with the Oolongs each cup may have a slightly different flavour.
White teas have a simple, smooth, spring like, clean flavour, that will give 2-3 steepings.
Some better quality Chinese black teas will steep 3-6 times depending upon how strong you like your infusions. Even though the better quality teas cost more, they may be less expensive when you consider that you are re-using the leaves.
In general, you may continue to re-steep your tea until the leaves are exhausted of flavour. But make sure you drain the liquid from the tea leaves completely between steepings otherwise you may end up with a bitter tasting tea.
The best way to enjoy the range of flavours when re-steeping is to use a small teapot, gaiwan or tea vessel that has a maximum capacity of 4-6 ounces. Place the tea leaves in the pot, fill the vessel to capacity with hot water and steep for 20-45 seconds or more, according to your preference, and pour all the brewed tea into the cups. Each successive steeping of tea should taste full and rich until the leaves are exhausted of flavour.
To be fair, there are no hard and fast rules for re-steeping. Try it and see what you think.
And don't throw away the leaves after they've lost their flavour, they make an excellent compost for the garden!