How the Last Little Bits of Tea Mixed in with Whole Tea Leaves Impacts Bitterness

I know this may be a little too detail orientated for some, but I was wondering if any of you sift out the small pieces of tea and/or any tea dust from the last of the tea in your container before brewing it up? Being frugal, I used to keep and brew up every last bit of tea, even if it was tea dust. Recently it dawned on me that the fact that smaller bits of tea will steep faster than the larger, whole leaves (due to the smaller bits having much greater surface area relative to the weight of the tea as the larger tea leaves) may have a noticeable impact on the bitterness of the tea liquor.

So, for example, having just decided to finish off the last of one of my teas, and seeing all of the small bits and dust siting in the bottom of its container, I decided to ‘filter’ out the debris by simply tossing it back and forth between one hand and the other, over a trash can, while letting the debris fall away (I think I will have to do it over something else as I dropped a leaf or two in the can; OOPS!). I don’t know for certain, but I bet if there is enough debris in the tea (and it may not take much), it will impart a bitterness to the tea liquor that otherwise would not be present.

I am just curious, do you filter out any tea debris before steeping, and/or do you have any other comments/experiences on removing debris? Thanks!

9 Replies
Cwyn said

I drink a lot of sencha, in addition to puerh tea, and sencha always has tea dust at the bottom of the bag. And it forms more as I spoon out and the delicate leaves break from the spoon. A kyusu with a built-in mesh filter gets most of it, but the really fine dust does make it into my cup. I drink it anyway, and yes it is a little bitter. For a tsp or more of dust, and for puerh cake fannings, I bought the teeny white 60 ml kyusu from Camellia Sinensis store in Canada. They sell it online. It has a very fine filter and is great for a bit of tea.

It’s been awhile, but in general I remember how the packaging sencha (and a few other Japanese teas) came in often had tea dust; my understanding is that is an unavoidable byproduct of how the leaves are harvested and processed (which is fundamentally different than the way most Chinese green tea harvested and processed). I also have a fine mesh filter I sometimes use to help keep out the really fine wet tea pieces from my cup (I use a fine mess filter when I brew up Longjing debris, for example). Still, that doesn’t prevent the dust/debris from being steeped. ; )

Cwyn said

Yes, sencha is so delicate. I guess for me, tea dust from a fine tea is worth drinking, as opposed to tea bags made up entirely of tea dust!

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Uniquity said

My husband regularly nags me because I never drink the last sip of my tea. Despite my best efforts, small bits of tea make it into the pot and from the pot to my cup where the pool at the bottom. I don’t like the bitterness they can cause or the feel of the small specks in my drink. It sounds really fussy, but I just don’t like it and prefer not to have it – If we are sharing a pot, I often pour my cup first which spares me most of the time but the habit is there. My cup will almost always have one last sip with tea dust in it.

If I am using a pot with an infuser (which I usually am) then I shake the tea in the infuser, allowing the smallest bits to fall through the holes much like a sieve. That obviously doesn’t get everything but it does help. I suggest a real sieve with 1 or 2 mm holes would work even better and I have used one at the end of a tin or bag of tea.

This is part of the reason why I have become quite fussy about the quality of my tea, and my preference for large intact leaves. I know there are CTC and broken leaf teas that taste good but they tend to get bitter and leave specks in my drink, both of which make for a bad cup for me.

Jen M said

RE: leaving last sip in your cup
I do the same thing. Hate the teeny pieces of “teastuff” that end up making it through the fine mesh into the tea. There it stays at the bottom of my cup with the last little bit of tea.

Suggestion for your husband: get over it. It’s a tablespoon of water. Life goes on.

Uniquity said

Haha, love it! He’s come to accept it and understands my logic but the dregs don’t bother him so he often forgets that I mind them. It’s more of a spill risk with the cat than anything else now.

Thank you both for your replies.

I’m with you. I think the bits in the bottom of the cup annoy my wife a little more than me; it is the concern over the bitterness that concerns me most; to avoid that, the bits must be filtered out BEFORE the tea leaves are brewed up (as you mention, Uniquity, as when you shake your infuser with the dry tea in it).

I recently realized one of the benefits of using a gaiwan and doing a rinse first is that all (or at least most all) of the smaller bits come out before the first steeping (Gingko mentioned this in her blog as one of the benefits to doing a rinse).

As I transfer a new tea I just got to the storage vessel it will ‘live’ in, I plan to filter out some of the bits using a sieve, the mesh of which will hopefully allow much the bits to fall through.

And on the CTC teas, I haven’t had any of those in quite some time. That may be because I primarily drink Chinese teas, and my experience/understanding is that the CTC teas primarily come from countries like India, Africa, and many other countries (other than China). Appearance of the tea leaves is important to me (as they are to many Chinese), and I too like teas primarily composed of whole leaves (I love watching them move and slowly open up as they steep, when I use a glass brewing vessel).

Uniquity said

@Simplicity, I find that the first steep (or rinse) with a gaiwan does help a lot. Depending on the tea, I sometimes still have sediment but it does help. When I break apart pu-erh though, I often end up with small pieces that I try to remove. It can be difficult to balance my preferences with the contrariness of the tea. :)

Yeah, with pu-erh, it does seem like getting a number of little bits are unavoidable when breaking the tea away from the larger cake/brick/tou-cha; so other than doing what I can go get rid of the dust, I pretty much keep everything else.

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