Steeping Times

Chi Tse Beeng Cha aged pu-erhThe World Tea Expo in Las Vegas has been a phenomenal (and somewhat overwhelming) experience. It will take quite a while for everything to sink in. There were some fascinating trends discussed at the show, and I also learned a lot about just how differently people enjoy their tea.

As I’ve mentioned in the past, I am not a tea Nazi. It matters not to me whether you make your green tea with boiling water, steep your Darjeeling for ten minutes, or whisk your matcha with an electric frother. However you enjoy your tea is the right way for you. Personally, I like my tea steeped much less than most of my friends. A couple of minutes is plenty for most robust black teas in my humble opinion, and I give many of them less than that.

Opening day at the Expo for me was the World Origins Tea Tour. We had presentations from representatives of eight different countries, and tasted teas from each one. The conference organizers were clever enough to put the seminar rooms directly across the hall from the restrooms and give us a 15-minute break between countries. Speaking on behalf of the entire audience, I’d like to give the World Tea Expo a hearty “thank you” for that move! I’d also like to compliment the staff on providing 140 people with 30 different teas to sample and getting them all out to us promptly, and prepared perfectly. In case you didn’t do the math in your head on that previous sentence, they served 4,200 cups of tea at the right temperature with both dry and wet leaves to pass around the table. That’s pretty darned impressive.

The audience members at the World Origins Tea Tour asked lots of questions, and many of them were about how the presenters preferred to make their tea. The first country presented was China, and the speaker said that he rarely steeped tea for himself more than about 30 seconds. I’ve been known to steep a nice aged pu-erh (or pu’er or puer or puerh or…) for 30 seconds, but have never actually tried such short steep times on other teas. He drove me to experiment. He also drove me to ask more questions around the show floor.

I came across a brochure that said the traditional way to prepare pu-erh tea was a ten-second “wash” (rinse the leaves in hot water and discard the water) followed by a twenty to thirty-second steep. I also came across a company that was handing out samples of some beautifully packaged single-serving pu-erh discs. The samples suggested a four-second steep time. Yes, I said four seconds. I asked the woman running the booth if that was right, and she said it was. She placed some tea leaves in the infuser of a glass teapot and poured boiling water through the infuser into the pot. The total steep time of the tea was the few seconds it took for the water to drain through the slits in the glass. She poured some for us, and it had plenty of flavor: rich and complex without being overwhelming.

A whole new world has opened to me. I’m going to be playing around quite a bit with über-short steeping times to see what I get. I’m anxious to get back to the Tea Bar and experiment with some of my friends.

As a side note, by the way, we were staying in the LVH (formerly known as the Las Vegas Hilton) in the block of rooms reserved for the Tea Expo. As with my previous experience at Bally’s, the front desk refused to provide any means of heating water in the room so that I could make my own tea. I went to the front desk and asked to speak to the manager. I explained that if their hotel was hosting the WorldTea Expo, they really should let us make tea. He explained that we could rent water heaters, but they only had two, and it cost twice as much to rent one as it would cost to run out to the store and buy one.

Unlike Bally’s, however, the LVH manager said that I could call room service and request hot water a few times a day if I wished. They would rush it up to the room at no charge and do their best to keep it hot. That still leaves them a notch below every cheap motel in Montana (which all provide free coffeemakers and wi-fi), but several notches above Bally’s. I know the decision not to offer a microwave in the room was made way above this manager’s pay grade, so I don’t blame him for the situation. In fact, I’d like to offer him a hearty thank-you for his exemplary customer service.

About Gary D. Robson

Gary Robson: Author, nonprofit communications consultant, and tea shop owner. I've written books and articles on many different subjects, but everyone knows me for my "Who Pooped in the Park?" books.

Posted on 14 June 2012, in Styles & Blends and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. I’ve found that those ultra-short steeping times also work extremely well with wulongs, particularly the high-roast kind like Da Hong Pao or some Dan Cong/Phoenix. And, since you mentioned brewing greens with boiling water, that’s how I do it–boiling water but maybe 10 seconds for the first steep.

    • Indeed. Just today I tried a longjing dragonwell steeped a scant minute (although I used 175 degree water) and found that the nuances came out very nicely compared to the usual 3:00 to 3:15 that I’ve always used on the Chinese greens. I had an amber oolong steeped about 30 seconds last week, and I need to get my hands on more of it to experiment with steep times.

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