Thursday, June 23, 2011

Multiple Infusions of a Tea Bag: Novus Tea's Dragon Well Green Tea

Many casual tea drinkers resteep their tea bags, but people who are into more serious, gong fu style brewing, generally do not apply their art to tea bags. But there is no reason that tea bags cannot be brewed in this fashion, so as to bring out nuances and subtleties in the same way that these qualities emerge when brewing loose-leaf tea with multiple, brief infusions in a gaiwan or yixing teapot. While I agree with die-hard tea enthusiasts that brewing loose-leaf tea in a small brewing vessel is preferable to using tea bags on many counts, it is still possible to bring out the qualities of a tea bag more or less, based on how you brew it.

An Aside: Why am I drinking tea from a tea bag?

I frequent coffee shops where, out of politeness to the business, I generally drink whatever tea is served. One coffee shop that I like for its quiet atmosphere and reliable wireless is Cafe Clave, located in West Philadelphia. A musicless shop (unless live music is playing), the soundscape in here is much like a library. I like to go here when I have highly technical things to work on that require focus. It is actually significantly quieter than my apartment, which is on a busy corner and often has nearly constant truck traffic.

The brewing experience:

Infusion 1, 1 minute: Aroma strongly suggestive of chamomile, with similar fruity and grassy tones, a pleasing hay or straw-like quality. However, cooler, crisper, and lighter than chamomile. Seems strongly caffeinated.

Infusion 2, 2.5 minutes: Aroma similar to first cup, fruity and suggestive of chamomile, less of the grass or hay tones. Darker infusion, deeper flavor. Still cool and crisp. Finish still very similar to chamomile; still seems to have significant caffeine.

Infusion 3, 3 minutes: very similar to, almost indistinguishable from the second cup, but with slightly less-evident caffeine.

Infusion 4, 5 minutes: Surprisingly strong tones of mint, reminiscent of peppermint or pennyroyal, emerge in this infusion. Chamomile-like qualities are gone, very slight, almost metallic grassiness lingers on the tongue in the finish. Overall character is thin and watery, and flavor is muted, but the flavor seems to sink to the bottom of the cup; flavor at the bottom of the cup is noticeable stronger. Afterwards, the tea is spent and the tea bag has almost no aroma left.

Final thoughts?

This tea was surprisingly complex, and lasted surprisingly long (with less leaf than one would typically use for gong fu cha). I am impressed...and eager to try the process again next time I am confronted with a tea bag with reasonably high-quality tea. I also briefly summarized this experience with my review and rating of this tea on RateTea. It goes to show you: I may not like tea bags, I may write about how I don't like them, and I still believe this. But I think that even with a tea bag, you can definitely have a better tea experience if you approach brewing the tea with as much care as you would if you were brewing loose-leaf tea, especially if your tea bag contains high-quality tea.

If I have an opportunity to do this particular tea over again, I will use a much briefer first infusion. I will also say, I hope to try more of Novus' teas when I return to Cafe Clave. This is the third that I've tried; the other two were solidly good, and I wonder if I would like them more if I took more time to experience their nuances through careful brewing.

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