The economy is down, but you don’t want to miss out on that special tea you love so much. So, you skimp a bit on the amount of tea leaves you use when steeping. Very understandable. Your tea purchase goes further. There’s one catch: you’re also skimping on tea flavor and therefore short-changing yourself.
Steeping tea is a process where the cell walls of the tea leaf pieces — whether full-, broken-, fannings-, or dust-sized — break down and release their substance into the water. Fewer pieces means less substance and therefore weaker tasting tea. Steeping longer just releases more undesirable substances like tannins, per such tea experts as Nigel Melican of Teacraft and Ian Bersten of Tea-Cha.com. These can make your tea bitter and/or astringent.
The consensus among tea experts and connoisseurs is that a fair amount of leaves steeped properly will give you the best taste and assure your tea dollars are well spent. If you want a real treat, try the gong fu method, where a small teapot is filled one-third to one-half full of tea leaves and then steeped multiple times, which can really give you great value.
For a nice potful of a black tea like CTC Assam, you need a teaspoon full of dry tea per each cup of water. My 6-cup teapot takes 6 teaspoons, and I even toss in an extra one for extra punch. Boiling hot water and a modest steep time of 4 minutes can give you a strong flavor without the usual bitterness. If you use a device such as the Tea-Cha Pet, you can steep even shorter, but don’t skimp on the tea leaves.
If you use a gaiwan for your green and white teas, put in enough to cover the bottom (unless you are steeping a pearl-shaped tea in which case you can use 2 or 3 pearls). For pu-erhs, again use a fair quantity, depending on the kind. A single tuo-cha will give you a nice small potful and can be steeped multiple times, for example.
Of course, you’re going to have to play around with your teas a bit to get the right amount of leaves to use, but the general rule of thumb is: use more leaves, the right water temperature, and a shorter steep time. I’d like to say you can’t go wrong, but hey it’s life — something can always go wrong. You can be more assured of things going right, though, if you avoid skimping on the tea leaves!
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