Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Reader Question: Steeping Times

Vtknitboy posted a comment asking about steeping times for tea. I thought this was such an interesting and important question that I'll respond in a post, rather than simply reply to the comment.

Steeping time is only one of the issues you should look at in order to prepare a good cup of tea. Also consider the amount of leaves used, water temperature, and type and size of equipment (gaiwan, porcelain teapot, or yi xing teapot all affect the tea differently). Finally, the result you intend to achieve obviously affects the steeping time as well. For example, why would you want to steep your tea 4 minutes simply because someone told you to do so, if you enjoy the tea better when you steep it for 2?

The point is, tea is not an exact science and shouldn't be treated as such. As I told the OMG class on Sunday, don't be boxed into making a tea this way or that way. React to each particular tea based on the tea, your feeling at the time, and whom you are making tea with or for. Give it your best try and don't be afraid to fail. That's a learning opportunity!

So many customers have asked for it that we make brewing suggestions to help people get started and have a reference point, but I do not believe in exacting instructions when I make tea myself. To me, if you measure every time you're trying to recreate the same experience over and over, however, part of the enjoyment is to learn what you and the tea can achieve together in changing circumstances. For the same reason I don't believe in precise steeping times such as 3 or 4 minutes. Since each person is different, something that's perfect for someone else may not work for me at all. In my classes and my book I urge people NOT to follow step-by-step exacting instructions. Instead, learn from experience and at some point brewing tea will become second nature and you and your tea will make a connection that will be more rewarding than following someone else's prescription.

One final point I stress in my classes is that you are making the tea for youself and very few people know you better than you! So ignore the experts if the result doesn't suit you. Do it the way you feel it should be done and most of the time you will be more satisfied.


caleaceaiului said...

Exactly my thoughts .
It's a pity that there is such a great distance between us, I would love to join your classes.

I also adjust the quantity used based on how I feel. For example , sometimes I brew red teas stronger than 'usual', or sometimes lighter 'than usual'. Same goes with temperature.

It's a continuous learning process, and after I'm learning a tea , I brew it according to my mood. There are certainly times when I don't get it right, but as time goes, I do it more ofter right than wrong.

Vtknitboy said...

thx for the feedback! i have no problem steeping green, oolong, and black teas; and yes i do vary steeping times based on my "mood" and need! it's just getting the pu-erhs to where i can experience more flavor and nuances.

i did a taste test (a couple of months ago) where i steeped some pu-erh for 8 mins. at each minute interval i poured some out into a tasting cup. for me, mins 1-3 were "weak" and had little flavor. mins 6-8 were very strong and thick, woodsy, but too much for my taste buds. mins 4 & 5 were (as Goldilocks said) "just right"!

now i'll try my pu-erh again in my yixing pot, but steep ala oolong gongfu style and see what i come up with!

thanks again,
vtknitboy on twitter & ravelry

Jason Witt said...

This is kind of like saying, "set them free and they'll come back to you." It makes me think of how tea students aren't allowed to diverge from their teachers' lessons on exact steeping methods until they become masters themselves. Only then are they allowed and expected to be creative with their own signature methods. Of course in the modern day no one needs to stick strictly to the masters' methods like it may have once been virtuous to do. --Spirituality of Tea