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Should You Stir, Swirl, or Dunk During Tea Steeping?

Stirring, swirling, and dunking during tea steeping seem to be common activities. Are they done out of habit or necessity, though? A little bit of tea experiments might be needed here.

Jasmine Tea Ball Infuser (ETS image)
Jasmine Tea Ball Infuser (ETS image)

What Are Stirring, Swirling, and Dunking?

Basically, these are all ways to move the tea pieces around in the tea steeping vessel. Which you do will depend on the tea piece shape and the vessel being used. A general guide:

  • Stir – Obvious enough. You use a spoon or stirring stick to swirl the tea pieces and water around in the vessel. Can be done if you are using a teabag, especially the kind without the string and tag attached, such as Barry’s and PG Tips. Most common when steeping in a cup or mug or other vessel that does not have a lid. But you can also lift the lid off your teapot and stir the contents.
  • Swirl – You lift the steeping vessel and gently move it in a circle so that the water inside sloshes around with the tea pieces. Used mostly with loose teas and/or in a steeping vessel with a secure lid, such as a Brown Betty teapot.
  • Dunk – Used with teabags, tea balls, some types of infusers. You lift the bag, ball, or infuser up and down in the water, usually not letting it come back up out of the water. Most common when steeping in a cup or mug or other vessel that does not have a lid.

What Effect Do Stirring, Swirling, and Dunking Have on the Tea Steeping?

Such gyrations and goings on have been, well, “going on” in the tea steeping process for nigh onto – oh gee, a whole bunch of years. In fact, who first stirred, swirled, or dunked is totally unknown. It might even go back all the way to that first tea steeped in China (Shen Nong, as legend tells it). The idea here is that if you move the tea pieces, bags, balls, infusers around in the water, they will steep faster. But is that true? And if it is, is it a good thing, or does that increased speed adversely affect the tea’s flavor? All good questions.

In my personal experience, bagged teas steep stronger if you dunk, stir, swirl, whatever. It increases the interaction between the tea leaf pieces (no matter what size they are – dust, fannings, broken leaf) and the water. Otherwise, the bag and the water hardly interact, despite claims of “flo-thru” designs, etc.

As for steeping more premium teas such as Silver Needle, Adam’s Peak, pu-erhs, Ti Kuan Yin, etc., you can stir or swirl (the teas are usually steeped loose in a small teapot or vessels such as gaiwans) but don’t leave the lid off too long. It’s a bit like opening the oven door while trying to bake something. The interior of the oven cools and so does the water in that teapot, gaiwan, etc. So keep that stirring to a minimum. However, if you can swirl with the teapot/gaiwan lid still on, then you don’t have to worry about that factor. Again, drawing from my own experience here, I don’t find it necessary to stir or swirl these teas, but I also find that doing so doesn’t hurt.

Tea cup is empty. Time to go do some steeping…and some stirring or swirling, but never any dunking (I always steep my teas loose).

See more of A.C. Cargill’s articles here.

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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