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How many times can you steep tea leaves

40 Replies

One of the great joys of tea is experiencing how a tea’s color, taste and depth opens and changes over brewings. I almost always think of it as the first brewing being like very early spring when the first early buds appear or open. The next two or three brewings are like later spring (for me this is when the tea is sweetest) and then later brewings are like the fullness of summer, as more and more flavors and nuances come out or deepen.

I’m talking here of loose leaves of fairly high quality and small pots of 120 -180 ml brewed at the proper temperature for that tea. You wind up drinking about the same amount of tea as if you brewed a full mug or two full, but it’s a very different experience. And I usually drink Oolongs (or Puerhs). Depending on the tea, you might first wash the leaves with a quick rinse, pour it out and your first brewing might be 30 seconds or a minute. Then add 10 – 30 seconds for each later brewing. Each tea will last a different number of brewings and you will know when the taste is not worth another pour. A quality vendor will give you some idea of how many brewings you can expect from that particular tea.

Just don’t take them out of the pot and dry them! Except for the rare occaision when I leave a Puerh with extra brewings in it that I might return to later or in the evening, when I’m done, I empty the pot.

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wombatpete said

Appealing to the collective wisdom here:
Do you decrease the amount of water for later infusions?
Do you increase the temperature?
Do you increase the steeping time?

Angrboda said

I only increase the steeping time. I don’t touch either temperature or water amount.

Uniquity said

I increase the steep time, though occasionally I’ll also increase the water temp with an oolong.

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Will said

Until it doesn’t taste good anymore.

That’s what I do, or if it steeps 20+ times, then until I get sick of drinking it or want something different.

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wombatpete said

Angrboda, thanks
Additional questions for you all: are additional infusions supposed to be done almost immediately?
What happens if you leave the tea (covered? uncovered) overnight and come back to it later?

Will said

The answer to all of these questions (as well as your original question) is that it depends. It depends on the tea, it depends on how you brew it, it depends on what kind of taste you like, and so on.

For the most part, with fresher teas (greens, greener oolongs, etc.) it’s better to brew the tea within a few hours. Unless you are in a very warm and humid climate, it’s probably safe to brew these kinds of tea again the next day, but it may not taste as good. For ripe pu’er, heavier oolongs, aged teas, you may be able to keep the tea overnight and brew them the next day. But really depends on the tea.

As far as how many times you can steep tea, it’s not just the type of tea, but also the quality of the individual tea, and the ratio of tea to water. Obviously if you use a lot of tea and shorter infusions, you will be able to brew the tea more times than if you use a smaller amount of tea and a longer infusion time.

So if you want a real answer to this question, a good start would be to explain what types of tea you typically drink, and how you typically brew it.

Personally, except with very old or rare teas, I would try to keep most of my drinking of one tea within one session (so within a few hours) — either use a larger vessel, longer brewing times, and less tea so that you are not wasting tea, or else use more leaf and shorter brewing times, but a smaller vessel drinking cup.

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Will said

One other thing – a lot of good teas can be brewed for ages, but at some point, they’ll just start to taste like sweet water. Some people like to brew the tea as many times as they can (even 20-30+), others would rather keep it short and sweet and remember the tea at its peak.

Traditionally, in Chaozhou gongfucha, only the first 3 or 4 infusions (after a rinse) are drunk, and each one should be of equal strength to the previous infusion. I think this is partially to keep things focused, and partially for the reason I mentioned above – you want to remember the tea at its peak.

For me, it’s important to keep a balance between not being wasteful, but not being obsessed with proving I can get a tea to XX infusions.

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My best advice is to experiment with all your teas. Each one reacts differently. I work with tea growers in Hawaii and they even find between batches of tea they produce from different harvests of the same tea yields a different tea with different strength. It is all dependent on the climate when they harvest the leaves. There is no right or wrong way, only the way that YOU like it. Enjoy. You can join my and many other friends’ exploration of tea at http://www.tealet.com/

TOMMMMMM said

I’d have to agree with this. As an engineer, I always want to find the optimal amount of tea/time/temperature for each brew but its just too much work and not enough reward. Most similar teas will be fine with similar time and temperature, just try a few different variables in how you prepare your tea and find what works best for you. Otherwise, you’ll go crazy trying to figure out the perfect cup of tea.

wombatpete said

Tommmm, but that’s the whole point – I’m trying to get suggestions on the basis of experience. The post you say you’re agreeing with suggests exactly what you DON’T want to do – do all the experimentation work yourself.
Exactly along the lines of what you are saying, we have no trouble finding general guidlines all over the internet, in terms of temperature, amount of tea, amount of water, time of brewing, for any number of specific teas… for the INITIAL infusion.
My whole point was to see whether some similar information could be drawn out here for subsequent infusions.

TOMMMMMM said

Fair point, I meant to address the subsequent infusions, but I think my point still stands in that it depends on how long your initial infusion was (do you like your tea strong), how much tea you use per cup, etc. I think that varies widely among individuals and a rule of thumb that they use for re-steeping wo’nt hold true for someone else yielding different re-steeped results.

IMHO, I never increase temperature, always use the same temp and will just steep longer rather than decrease amount of water.

wombatpete said

That makes sense, of course. I’ve been reducing the amount of water, too, but that’s based on a sense of the extent to which I’ve “used up” the tea in the previous infusion(s).

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wombatpete said

Thanks all, esp. wWill, that was helpful.
I will experiment, but, of course, I didn’t need to ask you guys for that. I was curious what you already know or have found.

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Wonks said

I agree with Will (which is weird because that’s my name). One thing that everyone needs to remember- don’t drink mold, don’t put wet leaves in baggies, and don’t put yourself (or your tongue) at any risks.

I think questions like these are awesome….. tea is one of the oldest infused drinks and such simple questions are so debatable. I think little things like this really show us how far we’ve come in our own tea experiments and skills. After all, a tea master is really just someone that uses their judgement to make perfect tea that touches the soul.

As far as me personally, I don’t allow leaves to sit in my yixing as long as I do ceramics since the yixing is much more confined and the surface of ceramics isn’t made to become saturated like yixng is. So I think that’s a general rule that’s unspoken….. so you’ll get varied answers from gongfu fans to mixed tea lovers.

One thing that I have come to notice is cut leaves tend to become disguisting if left very long since they become bitter and mooshy fast. Whole leaves that are “proper” can take a lot of negligence from my experience. What does this mean to me? It means I would rather pay slightly more for a higher quality harvest and save them longer/steep them more than to save some pennies and get crap that doesn’t resteep well nor saves for very long after the first steep. I feel this is great advice for newcomers and enthusiasts that have a hard time justifying exquisite teas.

Will said

Good Yixing is supposed to be able to keep tea for longer than it might in a porcelain vessel. Your mileage may vary, and of course, mold will damage Yixing pots more than it will porcelain, which you can just wash out, no matter how nasty the tea inside gets.

I have heard it said by people with more knowledge and experience than myself that “it depends on the tea” as far as whether a tea is suitable for brewing over multiple days. However, no one has ever offered a concrete set of guidelines.

As long as you’re pouring boiling water over it at least once a day, you can keep a tea going for quite some time if you want.

Tim has kept certain teas going for several weeks at a time, or longer:

http://themandarinstea.blogspot.com/2008/09/what-is-detail-tasting.html

Wonks said

That is borderline gross and cool. As far as yixing vs yixing, I think that we could really get into a scientific realm when it comes to saving. I know there’s a dramatic density variance between clays (sometimes natural, sometimes as bad business practices). I would be curious to see how the surface tension compares between the various densities and how that relates to mold colonization.

Will said

I don’t think it’s anything that technical. I think it’s just a matter of increased thickness (in most cases), and a better seal. The additional porousness might help or hurt — not sure.

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For me it’s 1 to 21 :)

Zeks said

21 is really hard to reach even if the tea is good enough to actually withstand it :)

Uniquity said

I made it to 6 with Verdant’s Laoshan Black yesterday and I was getting pretty tired of it by the end. I apparently need a lot of variety!

Zeks said

I tend to stop at 5-6 too. By then, a few hours have passed and I am ready to move on to something new

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mrmopar said

i have a dayi cake that i have had 10 infusions of in 2 days and it looks like i will get another. i say steep it till it loses flavor. depends on the tea and personal preference.

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