Steep Time

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Aug 11th 08 2:34 am
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Steep Time

by Teaman2 » Aug 11th 08 2:34 am

I keep running into black tea steep time recommendations from tea shops that state that the proper time is 5 minutes. I don't understand the source of this misinformation. My experience and research suggests that most black teas should not exceed 3 minutes and some teas like Assams should never exceed 2 or 2.5 minutes. To go longer risks the tea tasting bitter. Assams tend to be cut finer and typically are not whole leaf but are broken leaf. This I believe is why it requires shorter than 3 minutes steep time.

Just look at bagged tea (fanning dust inside each bag) instructions from the grocery store and they will state 5 minutes steep time or at best 3-5 minutes. Given the finer cut of the tea leaf in the bagged tea, it will be bitter in nearly every case at 5 minutes... No wonder America never took to liking tea en mass!

When black tea is steeped too long the tannins are released and makes the taste bitter. Try it for yourself. Steep black tea like an Assam for 2 minutes in one cup and 5 minutes in the other. If desired, sweeten equally in both cups, then taste. See which one is more bitter.

What do the rest of you think? If you agree with me, then why are some reputable tea experts still telling people 5 minutes to steep black tea? I think it propagates instructions that result in people new to tea rejecting it as bitter. I see no reason to go 5 minutes. What do I miss when I don't?

My tea steeping guidelines are:

Black: 3 min with boiling water, unless it's an Assam, then 2-2.5 minutes
Oolong: 3 min but at 195 degrees
Green/White: 2-3 min at 165

As for non-tea "tea" like herbal or rooibos tea... 5-7 minutes works for me.

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by Chip » Aug 11th 08 4:26 am

Regarding black teas, I agree Indian blacks are usually best with 3 minutes or less.

But I find quality full leaf Chinese blacks like Keemun and Congou Panyang are best longer, up to 5 minutes, unless one is practicing gong fu brewing.

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by Space Samurai » Aug 11th 08 4:39 am

Black tea is often adulterated with milk, sugar, honey or what have you, so the longer brew time makes sense; one would want a stronger cup.

I like my black tea like I like my coffee, strong and sweet, so I'll steep it for 4 minutes; I get the strong flavor, and a bit of sugar more than compensates for the extra tannins.

However, If I'm drinking a first flush Darjeeling for example, or a pure bud dian hong, or I just want to evaluate the real, unmolested flavor of the tea, I'll only brew it for 2-3 minutes. I think it just depends on what you end goal is.

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by Victoria » Aug 11th 08 4:48 am

I agree, I only go 3 mins on most blacks.

Sometimes a bit less if I see it is infusing darkly, quickly.

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by jbenenson » Aug 14th 08 4:50 pm

Teaman 2: I agree totally with your steeping times, except that I steep green tea 1.5 minutes for the first infusion, then 2 minutes for subsequent infusions. As we all know the taste of tea changes with infusion length. I go for a taste right at the edge of bitterness; if it's bitter I've gone to far. I agree that those who want bitterness are going to add at least sugar to combat it. For stronger tea I always add more tea and never lengthen brewing times. :wink:

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by shogun89 » Aug 14th 08 5:00 pm

Yeah, I usually use about 3 minutes on all of my blacks. Also for those of you that are drinking for the health benefits, remember not to put milk/cream in your tea as it cancels out the antioxidants.

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by Teaman2 » Aug 14th 08 5:05 pm

I'm all for letting people that know what they are doing steep the tea however they like it... bitter with tons of suger and/or dairy products to offset it, non-bitter, sweetner/no sweetners, strong/weak, etc.

My point is that for newbies... They always ask how long do I steep it. If you tell them a length of time that is likely or for sure will result in bitterness, then you are risking them having a bad first impression and they will likely decide they don't like tea. I say... error on the too short of a time if need be or better... give them accurate times that don't make the tea bitter. Inform them what happens when you go longer (getting bitter for some teas) and how people compensate for it. Then they can make their own minds up how they want it. But to pass off a time that is too long as "normal" or "typical" and it gives a bitter brew... you are doing a dis-service to the promotion of tea...IMHO!

Time for another cup!

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by doyoulovedee » Aug 14th 08 5:22 pm

i agree with you teaman2. i'm still pretty new, and i thought i had a bad tea. it tasted awful, and i didn't understand, i was doing everything the packaging said. i gave up on it for awhile, then finally went back to it, but steeped it for about 3 minutes.

and then... i'm sure you can guess.. it tasted yummy.

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by Grubby » Aug 14th 08 5:24 pm

I go from 2-6 minutes all depending on the tea and how i like it, and i never get bitter tea.

For some black teas 5 miutes could be a perfectly reasonable guideline, so its not fair to discount a vendor just because they give those guidelines. Not everyone gives the same guidelines either. For example i bought some FBOP Ceylon in a store, its instructions was steep 2-3 minutes with boiling water, which i find very appropriate.

I do agree that suggesting 5 min. for fannings or dust seems rather uninformed, to use a polite expression. On the other hand i wouldn't be surprised if there was some fannings grade tea that was excellent with 5 min. brewing!

The important thing to remember is that there isn't right and wrong here, and the vendors should be giving brewing RECOMMENDATIONS instead of INSTRUCTIONS.
However this complexity certainly doesn't make it easier for newbies!

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by Bubba_tea » Aug 14th 08 7:56 pm

Does the same apply for gong fu brewing? I've been gaiwan'ing my dian hongs, but only starting out around 60 sec for the first two with 5gms for 5 oz of water.

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by Salsero » Aug 14th 08 8:29 pm

Bubba_tea wrote: Does the same apply for gong fu brewing? I've been gaiwan'ing my dian hongs, but only starting out around 60 sec for the first two with 5gms for 5 oz of water.
That sounds long to me, but I don't gong fu blacks. If it tastes good, you've nailed it. If it is too rough, astringent or bitter, cut back on time.

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by Bubba_tea » Aug 14th 08 8:48 pm

How are you brewing your blacks? In a larger pot?

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by jewelbug » Aug 14th 08 8:48 pm

Teaman2 wrote: My point is that for newbies... They always ask how long do I steep it. If you tell them a length of time that is likely or for sure will result in bitterness, then you are risking them having a bad first impression and they will likely decide they don't like tea. I say... error on the too short of a time if need be or better... give them accurate times that don't make the tea bitter. Inform them what happens when you go longer (getting bitter for some teas) and how people compensate for it. Then they can make their own minds up how they want it. But to pass off a time that is too long as "normal" or "typical" and it gives a bitter brew... you are doing a dis-service to the promotion of tea...IMHO!
Great point. Now, I'm not a newbie to drinking loose teas, but I'm no expert. I just joined this forum, realized how much of an expert I'm NOT and am giving myself a fast education just reading through old threads.

But a perfect example of what you're talking about: This morning I brewed Adagio's Spring Darjeeling for the first time (a sample I got ~2 weeks ago). I followed the guidelines on the tin--5 min, boiling water. When finished, the tea, but especially the wet leaves, smelled like cooked spinach/veggies and the tea was "eh." Now, I read here that maybe 5 min is too agressive, and maybe especially so for this particular tea because its Indian. So tomorrow I'll try again with new parameters and see what the difference is--now it could be that I'm just not a fan of Spring Darjeeling either way, but something tells me that I'll like it much better tomorrow than I did today...at least I know to give it a second shot. But someone without the benefit of an educational forum at their fingertips could dismiss the tea completely, and that's sad!

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by Salsero » Aug 14th 08 9:12 pm

Bubba_tea wrote: How are you brewing your blacks? In a larger pot?
Generally I do Euro style brewing with an infuser basket for most blacks. For Assam, on the other hand, I often use an oversized (11 oz) yixing pot but brewing Euro style. I find that the yixing smooths out the rough Assam considerably.

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by Bubba_tea » Aug 14th 08 10:49 pm

Do you measure gms / oz for your brews with the infuser?