Ever ones to experiment with our teas, hubby and I came up with a different way to approach multiple steepings of oolongs. It’s a bit unorthodox. Some might even call it oolong blasphemy.
Multiple steepings are usually short and quick. We find that the teas are often too hot to drink immediately after steeping and therefore do not convey their full flavors. So some cooling time is needed after which we can detect the subtle nuances more clearly. Timing is crucial here, though, for if the tea cools too much, those nuances can be lost or a bitterness creep in.
These teas are usually steeped in water heated to just below boiling (some vendors say to boil the water and then let it sit for one minute). The steeping times can be as short as 30 seconds and as long as 2 minutes. Trust me, in the world of tea steeping, especially for those of us who steep mainly black teas where we boil the water and then steep for 5 minutes, such a short timeframe for oolongs seems like an Olympic sprint: heat water, pour into vessel over tea leaves, set timer, DING! done already, strain into cups, heat more water, pour into vessel over tea leaves, set timer, try to sip first steeping, still too hot, DING! dang that was fast, strain into other cups while first steeping is cooling, heat more water… I think you get the idea here.
Sure, we can do the obvious: wait until that first steeped liquid cools to the right temperature before heating more water and doing another steeping of the tea leaves. Much too practical and it gives us little sips of tea that have to be consumed fairly quickly. I must confess that hubby and I prefer our tea in larger quantities. Much much larger.
A better solution is that blasphemous one we alluded to above. Go ahead and do that Olympic sprint steeping session (for most oolongs 7 or 8 steepings are possible), and each time you strain out the liquid from the steeping vessel, strain it into another larger vessel that can hold the accumulated amount. We recently did 7 infusions with 6 ounces of water each for a wonderful oolong we were trying a second time (initially, we used a more normal approach) and so needed a container that could hold 42 ounces. You have several advantages here:
- The tea that was just steeped will be cooled a little and will cool the hotter tea from that next steeping that is poured into it.
- The final liquid will be at about the exact right temperature for a maximum flavor development and will also not scorch your tongue.
One reason this might be seen as blasphemous is the change in flavor between infusions. Our method wipes that out, with each infusion blended with the others to form a composite flavor. For the initial tasting of a new tea, therefore, we would never use this method. But for subsequent steeping sessions, we prefer this every time. We can then pour a nice cuppa and sip on it at our ease.
Now, even though this has been mainly about oolong tea, it applies equally well to any tea that can be steeped multiple times.
A couple of good oolongs and even a green tea and a white tea to try this way:
- Spring Pouchong — From one of the most beautiful tea producing places of the world, Pinglin Township in Taiwan with a pristine waterway surrounded by thick forests and accessible by one tiny road lined on both sides by small workshops where the Pouchong is produced and packed. Pouchong comes from special bushes that grow on only a few tracts of land around the town, the leaves are plucked and only allowed to oxidize for a limited amount of time before being wrapped in paper and dried. This tea is processed entirely by hand and is an exceptional tea, with fragrances of flowers and melon, and a rich, yet mild cup. Steep in water heated to 165-190° F for 1-3 minutes. Repeat several times.
- Ti Kuan Yin Iron Goddess Oolong — Semi-fermented with a unique flavor, not to be picked too early or at too tender of a stage, and then produced immediately. Tea leaves are wilted in the direct sun and then shaken in tubular bamboo baskets to bruise the leaf edges so they oxidize faster than the center. After 15-25 minutes, the tea is fired, locking in that unique flavor. The taste can at first be bitter, then sweet, and finishes with a fragrance that lingers on your palate. This tea steeps up light with a pale green-yellow color. Steep in water heated to 165-190° F for 1-3 minutes. Repeat several times.
- Pearl River Green Tea — A top quality green tea with an even, curly leaf achieved by only the best leaves, so they are hand-sorted out, one by one. The leaves are only plucked in the pre-dawn when covered with a misty dew to improve the taste, delivering a full flavor and a delicate pungency and body with a bright forest green color. Steep in water heated to 150-180° F for 1-4 minutes. Repeat several times.
- Pai Mu Tan White Tea — A rarity even today, but during the T’ang Dynasty (618-907 AD) white teas were reserved for members of the Imperial Courts. White tea undergoes very little processing and has a delicate flavor, pure enough for society’s elite. The fresh leaf is delivered to the factory on foot, then withered, lightly rolled, and dried naturally, resulting in a leaf color from pale green to silvery, with lots of tips, and the liquid is slightly pale with a smooth flavor and fresh aroma. Steep in steaming water for 1-4 minutes. Repeat several times.
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