This post is about a new technique for brewing tea with multiple infusions that I discovered by accident...but first I want to clarify something about the term "multiple infusions".
When people think of multiple infusions, they usually think of one of two things. The first is the method of Gong Fu brewing, which usually involves brief infusions (often on the order of 15-30 seconds but sometimes longer) using a larger quantity of leaf. The second is a more "western-style" brewing, which amounts to brewing with a quantity of leaves closer to 1 teaspoon per cup, brewing times on the order of 2-3 minutes, and then repeating for even longer.
I find Gong Fu brewing yields very different results from western-style brewing with multiple infusions. If I had to summarize the difference it would be that Gong Fu leads to more nuance, with subtle differences between each cup that are lost in longer infusions. However, Gong Fu is more involved: I'm more likely to use western-style brewing in my day-to-day tea drinking, as I find it easier and more convenient. I experiment a lot with brewing. By accident, I discovered a new brewing method that is both very convenient with my lifestyle and yields good results.
Letting tea leaves sit between infusions:
It started when I would only feel like drinking one cup of tea, but knew the leaves were good for more infusions. I had made a cup of tea in the morning, Upton Tea Import's Oolong Se Chung, which I find to be outstanding for multiple infusions. I had brewed a single 3-minute infusion, drank the cup, and I later returned to want another cup of tea, after the once-used leaves had been sitting for a few hours.
I made a second, 5-minute infusion, and I was surprised to find the resulting cup extraordinarily flavorful--much more so than an otherwise identical infusion made more shortly after brewing the first one, as I usually had done. The cup was more aromatic, with tones in the aroma I had not yet noticed or experienced with that tea, and it had a richer flavor, was more full-bodied, and had more depth to it.
I have since deliberately tried this technique out with other teas and the result is similar. I find it works very well with large-leaf, whole-leaf oolongs, and less well with green teas. Today I tried this out with Golden Osmanthus Oolong / Huang Jin Gui from Life in Teacup, a Se Chung oolong which is similar in overall character to Upton's. This cup, still brewing, is pictured below:
The result was delicious; I just finished it while writing this entry. I also find that this technique works very well with Dong Ding oolong. I have found that for best results, I like to make the pause at least an hour in length, and use it before the last infusion. In some teas, I have noticed greatly enhanced flavor when letting the leaves sit for as long as four or more hours, as compared to only one.
My theory to explain why this technique works:
Multiple infusions work primarily on whole-leaf teas with large, thicker leaves, because the diffusion rate of water and various aroma and flavor chemicals is low. After brewing tea, the used tea leaves are still wet, with the leaves themselves saturated with water, and a thin layer of water on top of the leaves as well. I suspect that diffusion is still happening as the wet leaves are sitting; when the leaves are finally infused, more of the flavor and aroma is able to be released into the cup.