Monday, December 20, 2010

Do you infuse black tea only once?

Ever since getting into high-quality loose-leaf tea, I've often made multiple infusions of my tea leaves. Being frugal, initially my motivation was to get more mileage out of my leaves (and money), but I soon found that this process opened up new avenues for exploring different facets of the aroma and flavor of a each tea. I also found that making multiple infusions tends to work better with some types of teas than others, and by and large, my personal experience meshed with what I read, which was that black teas tend not to work well with multiple infusions, but it generally works well with greens, oolongs, and Pu-erh. I dispute the assertion that it works well with whites; as a general rule I like to infuse my white tea only once.

Why doesn't black tea work well for multiple infusions?

I don't know. Presumably, the chemicals that produce the key pleasing qualities of the aroma of black tea diffuse quickly. I'd be grateful for any insights on this point.

Are there exceptions to the rule?

Some people classify Pu-erh, especially Shu (ripened) Pu-erh, as a black tea, but I don't think this categorization makes much sense, especially if one is talking about aged Pu-erh, and it certainly does not make sense for Sheng Pu-erh. So I don't think this is an exception. On RateTea I've created a completely separate category for Pu-erh, which is broken up into raw and ripened, sheng and shu.

I recently made multiple infusions of a Japanese Black Tea from Far West Trading Company; while it "worked", the results did not impress me, and although I liked the tea, I preferred to brew it with a single infusion. This result fit with the overall pattern that I've observed: some black teas can be steeped twice, but the results are rarely as good as making multiple infusions of a green or oolong. And again, it's only twice, in contrast to the 3-7 (or sometimes more) infusions you can get out of a good green, oolong, or Pu-erh. Another tea which was a past favorite of mine, I found fit this same pattern...but even then, I would hardly classify this tea as a black tea; it was the greenest "black tea" I have ever tried: Barnesbeg FTGFOP1 First Flush, greener in color than many green teas. And even then, when making two infusions (only two) produced a drinkable cup, I still preferred making just one.

Have you found any black teas that work well with multiple infusions?

Let me know. I'm curious to get others' feedback on this question.


  1. I don't know why but Georgian hand made black teas infuse well up to 3 or 4 steeps.

  2. That's fascinating; maybe something about it being hand made? I have never tried any Georgian tea, in fact, I haven't even seen any for sale to list on, but I bet I could find it if I sought some out.

  3. Golden Bi Luo can withstand many steepings, about 6-8. However, I find that wit black teas, the taste profile doesn't change much from steeping to steeping, rather, the taste weakens with each subsequent steeping. Kind of related, I've been getting a lot of questions about teas (after purchase) asking how many times they can steep a tea they've bought. My answer is the same each time, keep steeping until you no longer enjoy the taste.

  4. That makes sense...and it would be a matter of personal taste because different people like different aspects of a tea.

    Usually if a tea is becoming weaker with each infusion and I don't like that, it's easily remedied by using longer infusions until there's just nothing left.

    One problem I have with black teas, however, is that some of them become astringent if you use this approach. I find this is often true even of lighter Darjeelings which I would not describe as tannic...there can be a sort of muted astringency if you let a cup steep a long time. I also find that many of the fruity and floral tones (which, in some teas, is what I like the most) depart after the first infusion. And unlike green and oolongs, I find that it is rare that new qualities emerge in later steepings. For example, I find greener oolongs often acquire a very pleasing herbaceous quality, which I sometimes describe as tasting like celery or parsley, on later steepings.

  5. For me it usually comes down to leaf size and the amount used.

    I will typically steep my Darjeelings twice, knowing that my second cup will probably be worse than the first.

    Long-leaf Chinese blacks, such as Golden Yunnan are, in my opinion, ideal candidates for gong-fu style brewing. My current favorite example is a 2009 Sun Moon Lake black tea from Taiwan (of which I am almost completely out :( That tea usually yields at least 5 great infusions.

  6. Rishi Tea has a Hong Yue from Taiwan that stands up to 8-10 steepings. I was never much of a black tea fan but this tea is great!