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Short Steeps

by Lydia Kung

From observing how my hosts brewed teas during my visits in April, I was reminded again that the steeping time we customarily use is not always the best or only option. Granted, it takes some props and preparation to have hot water at hand. Not all of the paraphernalia one sees at formal tastings are essential, and certainly not the flourishes in the presentation, but a quick, short steep often brings out the dynamic bloom inherent in many teas.

In this context, we might revise our usual habit: instead of thinking of preparing just one cup, one brew, one serving, we can extend the experience with more infusions, a practice especially applicable to higher end teas. After all, what better way to get the most out of these than to extract the most from what the leaves can yield and to enjoy the dynamic, the evolving flavor from infusion to infusion.

Conceptualizing teas this way justifies bringing out the best tea ware one can afford to collect.

The photo above was from a spring teas tasting in Shanghai, and each tea was presented with a different set and style of cups and pots/bowls, all of which enhanced the experience.

I noticed that more tea (5 to 6 grams instead of our usual 3) was used in a covered bowl, with very hot water for all tea types, but steeped for a very, very brief time. For Keemun Maofengs, for instance, I have already mentioned that the first brew was poured after less than half a minute, yielding a fresher, livelier cup.

For green teas, I watched as the lid was swept gently across the surface, and almost immediately after – say, a mere 10 seconds, the liquid was poured. (Note the proportion of leaves to water in the bowl at right.)

This did not constitute “washing.” Admittedly, the first cup tended to be lighter in flavor. The point is to “awaken” the leaves and to release the aroma. The 2nd and 3rd pours were full and flavorful, but all were from steeps of under a minute.

June 21, 2019