We get questions regularly about re-steeping tea. I thought I'd put a little info out for everyone to help answer some of the questions.
High quality loose leaf teas are capable of being re-steeped. Tea bags purchased in the grocery store don't re-steep very well.
Best teas to re-steep: Oolongs, Pu'erh, Green, White, some blacks. Teas with a large leaf or buds have more surface, so they re-steep better. Some fruit tisane's and herbals can be re-steeped, but most lose a lot of their flavor on the second steep.
You can generally re-steep (western):
Oolong 3-6 times
Green teas 2-3 times
Black teas 2-3 times
Pu-erh, depending on the grade, can go from 3-5 times
White tea 2 times
Caveat: no oversteeping or water temperature that is too high
Many oolong connoisseurs feel that the best flavors aren't produced until at least the 3rd steep. However, they typically use the Asian-style steeping method to get the best flavors from their tea. What?!? There are different steeping methods? Yes, and they are very different, indeed.
Asian-style steeping method
Ever wonder why you see a lot of tiny little teapots on websites? It's because many Asians use a different steeping method than what is typically done in the west. This alternate method is achieved by steeping tea in small teapots or tea vessels that have a capacity of 3 to 8 ounces. Enough tea leaf is used to roughly fill the vessel half-full. Water of the appropriate temperature is added to fill the teapot to capacity.
The tea is steeped for only for 20, then 30, then 45 seconds, etc. and poured into cups to drink after each steep.
This steeping method enables one to better enjoy the flavor of the tea as it changes with each steep and keeps your cuppa at the optimum temperature.
The tea continues to be re-steeped until the leaf is exhausted of flavor. This is not a matter of frugality but a tea steeping method that draws the best flavor from the tea.
Depending on the tea used, some tea can be re-steeped as many as 15 times. This method allows the tea leaf to slowly release its flavor over a series of short steeps by using a large amount of tea to a small amount of water for each steep.
Each successive steeping of tea will taste full and rich and slightly thick – not watery or thin – until the leaf eventually becomes exhausted of flavor.
Western-style steeping method
Westerners typically use a large teapot with a capacity of 24 or more ounces with about a teaspoon of tea per 6-8 oz of water added to the teapot. For example, about 4 or 5 teaspoons of tea would be used in a 24 oz teapot.
The teapot is filled to capacity with water and the tea is steeped for 4 or 5 minutes (black) or 2 to 3 minutes (green or oolong). Typically, the tea is only steeped once, since an average quality leaf in a tea bag is exhausted with a single steep. Luckily, high quality loose leaf tea is capable of additional steeps. In either case, over steeping with too much time or using higher temperature water than recommended can cause your tea to become bitter. Poor quality tea leaf also tends to be bitter, no matter how careful you are.
Tea steeped by each method is quite different in character. Once you become aware of these different traditions, it causes you to appreciate how these different methods create a very different cuppa tea.
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