Thursday, August 11, 2011

Lemon Verbena: Multiple Infusions in a Gaiwan

I recently bought a gaiwan which I think is rather cute, in a girly sort of way. One of my interests is bringing the same level of depth and focus to the drinking of herbal teas as is typically applied to the drinking of the best teas from the Chinese traditions. One thing that has struck me recently is that putting more thought and care into how tea is brewed can allow one to experience it in a much richer way. One aspect of this is the brewing vessel; I was thinking about this after reading Neil Gorman's post The Brewing Vessel Matters, and also after recently having tea together with Evan of Pluck Tea.

Some time back I bought a batch of lemon verbena, which is one of my favorite herbs, and it turned out to be an exceptionally good batch. It was grown by the educational farm of the Academy of the New Church (ANC) in Bryn Athyn, PA, and was sold at the Bryn Athyn Thrift Shop (BATS), which, if you are ever nearby, is an outstanding thrift store. My rating of this lemon verbena is one of the only two perfect ratings I've given out so far, the other going to Tie Guan Yin Traditional Charcoal Roast Master Grade, which I obtained through Life in Teacup.

Since I still had a lot of this herb, and it was so good when brewed western-style, I decided to try brewing it in a gaiwan using multiple brief infusions.

The leaf is mostly intact, although this comes out more in later pictures.

This was the first infusion...very light in color. Note how the leaves are not even fully wet in this picture; these leaves are very slow to infuse, which is why in my review on RateTea I recommend making a 10-15 minute infusion if you brew this all at once.

Notice the much darker color. I loved the golden color of this infusion, which persisted through most of the infusions to the end. Most herbal teas seem to produce either more brownish, or paler infusions...rarely do I see something so golden.

This photo shows the leaves after the last steeping. Unlike the tea plant, this herb is typically not heated during its process, but is usually just dried. But there is something rather tea-like about the leaves. At any rate, here are the results of the brewing:

1st Infusion: 30 seconds:

Pale yellow color. Aroma of nutmeg, ginger, and freshly baked bread, a hint of lemon in the finish. Nutmeg aroma is surprisingly strong.

2nd Infusion: 30 seconds:

Rich, intense golden-yellow color. Aroma more lemony, some herbaceous tones come out, still somewhat bready. Flavor rich, slightly sharper, but still rather balanced, with just a hint of bitterness, sourness, and sweetness. Full-bodied. Nutmeg in the finish.

3rd Infusion: 45 seconds:

Still a rich golden-yellow. Even more lemony, and flavor is now a bit crisp and tangy, like lemon zest. Less of the nutmeg and bready tones.

4th Infusion: 60 seconds:

Color similar, becoming slightly more greenish, still very lemony, but the ginger tones are more evident now, like dried ginger, not fresh. I found this infusion less interesting.

5th Infusion: 75 seconds:

Color a bit lighter and more greenish, but still golden. The aroma is more vegetal, tones of lemon and dried ginger are still present. Finish becomes a bit dusty.

6th Infusion: 90 seconds:

Still a lot of color, but aroma is weaker. Mostly dried ginger; little lemon aroma left. Flavor becoming slightly more astringent, although still pleasant. More dusty finish.

I tried making another infusion of several minutes, and while it was still colorful and had some flavor and was pleasant to drink, it wasn't particularly interesting. Overall though, the whole experience was fascinating and definitely worth repeating with other herbs. I only wish that I were able to more easily obtain herbs of this quality. Usually, the only herbs that I have that have whole, intact leaves are ones I grow myself or receive as gifts from friends who have gardens.

Have you ever brewed herbs in a gaiwan?

If you haven't, I'd recommend it. But first, I'd recommend getting some high-quality, whole-leaf herbs. These can be very hard to find in stores, where a lot of herbs are broken up. Try growing them yourself!


  1. Timely post AZ! I just brewed an herb (wild chamomile) in a gaiwan for the first time ever yesterday (and even blogged about it).

    Like yourself, I am very interested in learning more about edible/infusible plants. To help me do this I just started a blog series called Urban Herbs. I plan to steep plants from in or around my yard once per month until I run out of ideas.

    Many of your blog posts actually helped inspire me to do this series. Perhaps you could do more of these too?

  2. You know, it has never occurred to me to brew herbed tea in a gaiwan. Cool!

    Steph W