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Paul B.

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Do you follow brewing time suggestions for loose-leaf tea?

by Paul B. » Sat Oct 14, 2006 2:57 pm

When brewing loose-leaf tea, do you follow the brewing time suggestions often indicated on the packages, if you haven't bought them in bulk?

Ever since giving up coffee in January, I have experienced a number of unanticipated side-benefits - one of which, surprisingly, was the switch to drinking exclusively loose-leaf teas. No more bagged tea dust for me. Now, it's either white, green or the occasional Oolong, but always loose-leaf.

Anyway, many of these teas come with steeping/brewing time indicated in minutes; generally the darker teas are given a time from 6-7 minutes while the greens supposedly are to get as little as 2-3 minutes.

Frankly, I have to say that I never follow these directives, preferring instead to keep the leaves in my tea cup for the full duration - right down to the last drop. I also use boiling water for white and green teas instead of "almost boiling", which is what seems to be a frequent recommendation. I find I get more astringency and flavour by leaving the leaves (bel-leave me, that was a totally unintended pun) in the cup, effectively cranking up the "brewing time" considerably.

Thoughts?
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Cynthia Wenslow

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Re: Do you follow brewing time suggestions for loose-leaf tea?

by Cynthia Wenslow » Sat Oct 14, 2006 11:38 pm

I will have to agree with you here, Paul. I always leave the leaves (loved that!) too.

My best friend, who was partially raised by an English grandmother, calls me a heathen for my tea brewing ways.
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Robin Garr

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Re: Do you follow brewing time suggestions for loose-leaf tea?

by Robin Garr » Sun Oct 15, 2006 12:13 am

Paul B. wrote:Frankly, I have to say that I never follow these directives, preferring instead to keep the leaves in my tea cup for the full duration - right down to the last drop. I also use boiling water for white and green teas instead of "almost boiling", which is what seems to be a frequent recommendation. I find I get more astringency and flavour by leaving the leaves (bel-leave me, that was a totally unintended pun) in the cup, effectively cranking up the "brewing time" considerably.


Paul, I guess in tea as in wine, it's ultimately a matter of drinking what you like, and that's certainly your prerogative.

I've got to say, though, that extending brewing time and using hotter water than recommended does go against the conventional wisdom and diminishes the flavor profile that the tea producer's experts likely intended.

You seem to like wines that hurt, and maybe you're the same way about tea, but for those of us who like balance, subtlety and delicacy, I'm going to suggest following the instructions.

I don't know if you've been following the Pu Erh tea thread that's been mostly Otto and me comparing notes, but I've found that with this ancient, earthy fermented tea, you get really interesting results by brewing the first small cup for just 60 seconds, as in the Chinese procedure featured in a recent NY Times story, then enjoying a few more cups with longer and longer steeps in order to enjoy the differences. But even there, after four or five minutes, the tea becomes unacceptably tannic to me ... not that I can't abide tannins, because lord knows, I can be a real tannin pig when it comes to young red wines. But it's just a matter of balance, and I don't like tannin totally dominating the flavor of a tea (or a wine) any more than I want so much brett or TCA or labrusca grape jelly that I can't taste anything else.

If you love it, drink it. But if you raise the option for public discussion, I can't really recommend this approach for most people.
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Re: Do you follow brewing time suggestions for loose-leaf te

by Otto » Sun Oct 15, 2006 7:22 am

I also like strong tea, so with many teas I like to leave the leaves in the cup. But where we differ is that the fine greens and oolongs I brew at only 70-90C (or as low as 60 C for some of the best yellow teas). These teas aren't fully fermented so boiling water will burn the tea making it harsh. I like strong, but not harsh.

But the guidelines on the packet tend to be very good. If it says to steep it for 4 mins, I think at that point it is at its most aromatic and shows just perfectly and balanced. Most teas won't lose the aromatics (for my taste) with a longer steeping, but will gain structure (which I happen to often like). I usually brew a cup following the guidelines and then start experimenting. Most times I'll admit that I like to leave the leaves in the cup for the 10-15 or so mins that it takes me to drink a cup, but not always. Like with wines, just experiment. :)
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Re: Do you follow brewing time suggestions for loose-leaf tea?

by Paul B. » Sun Oct 15, 2006 12:43 pm

Robin Garr wrote:You seem to like wines that hurt, and maybe you're the same way about tea, but for those of us who like balance, subtlety and delicacy, I'm going to suggest following the instructions.

Actually, for me it's not about enjoying painful wines or teas, though it can seem so to those attuned above all to balance and subtlety; instead it's all about what I call "gutsy structure", which is different. A wine that hurts would be more along the lines of one that's overtly offensive to drink because it's gone totally oxidized (e.g. varnishy/vinegary/sherry-like). I don't think that even monotone grape jelly or fierce tannins fall into that category.

I haven't checked the Pu-Erh thread in detail. I've pretty much switched over to green and yellow teas anyway, though occasionally I do like a strong cup of something red or black.
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Re: Do you follow brewing time suggestions for loose-leaf tea?

by Jenise » Sun Oct 15, 2006 2:23 pm

I only use loose leaf, Paul, and if there are directions on the package they're in Chinese! So no, I just follow my instincts about what each tea type needs.
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Re: Do you follow brewing time suggestions for loose-leaf tea?

by Robin Garr » Sun Oct 15, 2006 2:47 pm

Paul B. wrote:it's all about what I call "gutsy structure", which is different.


Maybe it's a difference in the connotation we give words, then. Structure is all-important in any beverage, I agree, but I'm not sure I fully understand the term "gutsy structure," which suggests a pile of steaming entrails on the butcher-shop floor. :twisted:

A wine that hurts would be more along the lines of one that's overtly offensive to drink because it's gone totally oxidized (e.g. varnishy/vinegary/sherry-like).


Again, I guess I'm just hung up on the dictionary definition of words here. "Hurts" in my book is defined as "causes pain," and pain is not a thing that most people seek, unless they are clinically diagnosed as masochists. Sherry-like oxidation is disgusting, I agree. But I don't think most people find it literaly painful. Extreme astringency, on the other hand, or teeth-etching acidity, are fairly described as "painful," albeit perhaps only mildly so.

I don't think that even monotone grape jelly or fierce tannins fall into that category.


Why call them "fierce," then? It just strikes me as a little odd to <i>seek out</i> beverages that earn such descriptors. I'd rather demonstrate my manhood by swallowing raw oysters or something. :oops:
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Re: Do you follow brewing time suggestions for loose-leaf tea?

by Paul B. » Sun Oct 15, 2006 8:02 pm

Robin Garr wrote:I'm not sure I fully understand the term "gutsy structure," which suggests a pile of steaming entrails on the butcher-shop floor.

Mmmm! Anyone for tripe? :mrgreen:

I think it is a question of connotation. Gutsy in this sense to me connotes a no-nonsense, no-piddling, straight-up, feisty kind of character - much as that which we can ascribe to people who are straight talkers and say what they think. I like to use that idea to denote a similar character in the wines and teas that I enjoy. The opposite, by contrast, would be your stereotypical lowest-common-denominator, politically-correct, offend-nobody blandness that can be called "aggressively mediocre" as Mike B. so beautifully and poignantly put it recently in this thread.
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Re: Do you follow brewing time suggestions for loose-leaf tea?

by Bill Spohn » Sun Oct 15, 2006 8:44 pm

Paul B. wrote:When brewing loose-leaf tea, do you follow the brewing time suggestions ?


Loose-leaf tea? Sounds like a Hilroy exercise book ;-)

Problem is that there is a sequence of extraction in steeping and the tannins come out if the leaves are steeped too long. I don't mind strong tea, but I do mind bitter tannic tea, so I gauge how far along it is not by any rote rule, but by tasting, and then decant the tea from the leaves.
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Re: Do you follow brewing time suggestions for loose-leaf tea?

by Paul B. » Sun Oct 15, 2006 10:13 pm

Bill Spohn wrote:Sounds like a Hilroy exercise book ;-)

Now THAT was a blast from the distant past!

Do they still make those? :!:
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