You can get some surprising results when you understeep your tea. A lot is made of timing your tea, but how critical is it really? Will you get a better taste with a shorter or longer steep? Recently, I got a surprise by pouring my black tea “before its time.”
They say accidents are the mother of invention. No, wait, that’s “necessity.” Anyway, sometimes my need for tea gets a bit, shall we say “urgent”? Or I just get distracted and forget that the tea timer hasn’t “dinged” yet. I start pouring, and since I usually do this with a black tea and usually pour the tea into the cup after the milk is already in it, the option of returning the tea to the teapot is not there.
So, there I was hard at work researching something or other about tea online, tweeting on Twitter, posting something to Facebook, checking email, all while keeping an ear tuned to the tea kettle on the stove. When the lid began to dance, I knew the water was boiling. The teapot was already pre-warmed and contained the proper amount of tea leaves, so I poured in the water without delay and hubby set the timer.
Teas vary in their steeping times. Generally, white teas steep for 4 minutes, green teas for 3 minutes, oolong teas for 4 minutes, and black teas for 5 minutes. Of course, a lot of things can affect this, such as which green tea you’re steeping (some steep for only 30 seconds). This tea was a 5-minute black tea and one that I have steeped before numerous times. Around the 4-minute mark, something in my brain said “Tea is ready” even though it wasn’t (or more exactly that the timer hadn’t dinged). I had my teacup prepped with milk and sweetener and started pouring.
“Wait!” hubby cried, “it’s not ready yet!” I muttered “Oops!” and looked at my now-full cup. Oh, well, I just shrugged, stirred the cup’s contents and took a good mouthful. It tasted — weak? pathetic? like warm milk? — good! Not as strong as usual, but in some ways better.
Black teas are fully oxidized. The leaves are allowed to fully darken before they are dried and processed. This plus some of the processing techniques, especially the CTC (crush, tear, curl) machine kind, makes tannins more prevalent in the steeped liquid which then tastes more bitter. Steeping a shorter time gives these tannins less time to leach out into the liquid and keeps that liquid from being as bitter. So, my “Oops!” moment was actually a good lesson.
We’ve since applied the understeeping principle to some of the other teas we’ve tried, especially where a time range has been given, for example, 2-4 minutes. Steeping even less than the shortest time recommended by the vendor can give a resulting tea liquid that is different in flavor, often more delicate and without harsh properties. Japanese greens, various Oolongs, and even the mysterious pu-erh are examples. This just adds to our tea adventures and can add to yours.
Try your favorite tea understeeped. If you like it better that way, make a note of it on the package for the next round.
Of course, if you can understeep a tea, you can also oversteep it, but that’s another article. Enjoy!
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