Friday, June 11, 2010

Very Long Steeping Times

Do you ever let tea steep for a very long time? Much longer than a company or common knowledge recommends? I find myself doing this rather often, and not always by accident. It's something that doesn't work with every tea, however, and it only works well when you want a specific kind of experience.

What kind of tea does this work with? What qualities does it tend to bring out?

I find this works best with oolong, green, and white tea, and sometimes Pu-erh, but I generally avoid it with black tea. I also avoid it with stronger teas. It works best with teas that are on the weaker side, and are low on bitterness and astringency. It's particularly good when you want to bring out more bitterness.

Pictured below is a cup of Teavana's Three Kingdoms Mao Feng, my favorite example of a tea that I think is greatly enhanced by long steeping times. I have found I prefer brewing it for 8 minutes rather than Teavana's recommended 1 minute (picture is of a cup that has been brewed for 8 minutes):

I found this tea to be too weak, and a bit boring, the first time I tried it. It's not my favorite green tea by any stretch of the imagination; right now, a Ceylon Green from Oliphant Estate holds this title. I like teas, like that Ceylon, with more kick, more bitterness, more depth to the aroma, and more overall strength. But all of these characteristics are ones that can be brought out by longer steeping times. Upping the infusion time on the Teavana Mao Feng to 3 minutes wasn't enough to me. I settled upon 8 (or more), resulting in a cup of tea that had a very pleasant bitterness and felt darker and deeper. In some respects, the smoothness of a tea actually gives you more flexibility: if there is little bitterness and astringency, you can always brew longer.

Is there a downside of long brewing times?

There are many downsides. Besides the obvious problem of bringing out, at times, overwhelming amounts of bitter, sour, or astringent qualities, there are a few other drawbacks. Generally, if you steep a tea for a very long time, it's done; you will only get one infusion. I find, at times, when doing multiple infusions, I like to use a very long infusion for the last one, to squeeze the last bit of flavor out of the leaves. But other times I just like to make a single, long infusion.

The main downside of this, compared to making many brief infusions, is that all the aroma components get combined (jumbled!) together into a single cup. When making multiple brief infusions, each cup of tea has unique nuances to the aroma and flavor. These are bowled over when you use a single, long steeping time. However, the single resulting cup is often very complex, as it has all the components that often come out individually in each steeping, so this combining can be viewed as either an asset or a downside, depending on your perspective.

Try it out if you haven't, and let me know what you think.

And for those of you who already do this, I'd be curious to hear...what teas do you like to steep for a very long time? How long?


  1. High quality Assam tea, if steeped for 4 or 5 minutes can sometimes be awful. Too astringent and too bitter.
    But sometimes a longer steeping can eradicate the bitter qualities, which are from the caffeine.
    Assams, over time, will release a chemical into the brew that counteracts bitter qualities.
    So, if you accidentally leave an assam for five minutes, wait until it has been steeping for 8-9 minutes and see if there is a change.
    Usually only works with full leaf assams. CTC assams might but I have not tried it.

  2. That is really odd and fascinating. I have definitely noticed that many Assams acquire a huge amount of astringency if you oversteep them...but I've never tried continuing to steep. I tend to avoid CTC Assams.

    One trick I've found, if oversteeping a black tea like Assam that becomes overly tannic, is to add lemon. Just the tiniest dash of lemon eliminates most of the harshness...but too much totally changes the character of the tea.

  3. Hi Alex, nice blog - interesting for me to see such a 'niche' blog. I've only just discovered blogs quit recently after starting one myself...

    I'm an Englishman living in Slovenia. I don't drink much black tea, except when I need a pick-me-up.
    I drink a lot of a tea called Theriaca - have you heard of that? It's a herbal tea with about 20 different rare ingredients. Very good taste and also extremely healthy.

    Now that I think of it, I might add a page to my blog about it!


  4. Hi Ben!

    There are a whole bunch of other tea blogs out's actually a surprisingly large niche...each has their own perspective / focus too.


    I have not heard of Theriaca...but I just looked it up and it looks pretty diverse and to have an interesting history. There's a decent Wikipedia page under Theriac. Let me know if you write about it and feel free to post a link here in the comments. Also...if you know of any commercial sources of it, please contact me on and I can list it there and possibly make up a page on it there too!

  5. I have to admit to being a whimp when it comes to my tea. I don't like any bitterness so I tend to avoid the teas that are prone to it or use cream and sugar with them.