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I'm an avid tea drinker who drinks several cups of loose-leaf tea every day. My usual steeping technique is to fill a teapot with about 3 cups of boiling water, wait for it to cool to the correct temperature depending on the tea, and then steep about 3 tsp of tea in a very large infuser for 1-3 minutes. The first cup usually turns out great. However, despite the fact that many tea drinkers talk about how they can re-steep their teas 2-5 times with great results, I have not had any success in this regard. No matter how I adjust the time, amount of water, or temperature, the second steeping inevitably comes out fairly bland in comparison to the first.

  1. Does re-steeping require a different technique to begin with? I've read some casual accounts of tea drinkers starting out with something like 2x the tea leaves and 1/2x the time that you would normally use, and then gradually increasing the brew temperature and time with each steeping. However, I have not been able to find any explanation of the specific differences between "normal" steeping and steeping for multiple infusions, if they even exist.
  2. Which teas are more susceptible to multiple infusions? I've heard that pu-erh is the best, but I've also heard people talk about green tea in this regard.
  3. Am I "wasting" tea by brewing it in one go and then throwing out the leaves after one batch? Instead of 3 tsp for 3 cups, should I instead be using 1-2 tsp for 1 cup (depending on the answer to Q1) and infusing 3-5 times?
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    It's all a matter of taste. If you're using a good-quality green tea and the second infusion is bland you're either steeping too hot or too long. Green tea should not be bitter and the flavor should definitely not decrease on a second infusion by much, but the character of the flavor can change a lot. – Mr. Mascaro Apr 3 '15 at 16:02
  • Oops, you're right, my math is off. What I mean is, if I'm brewing 3 cups with 3 tsp of tea, should I instead use 1 tsp * 2 (as per question 1) and infuse 1 cup 3-5 times (possibly decreasing the amount of water each time)? – Archagon Apr 3 '15 at 16:06
  • @jbarker2160 I always follow the vendor's brewing suggestion to the letter. If it says 2 minutes at 170, I wait until the water gets to exactly 170 and then brew for exactly 2 minutes. After the first brewing, it always tastes either watery (if I vary by at most few degrees and seconds, staying close to the original numbers) or bitter (if I go all the way to 190 and 3 minutes for example), with no sweet spot in between. It's as if all the good flavors are "spent" during that first brewing. I'm not sure how I could be doing it "wrong". – Archagon Apr 3 '15 at 16:08
  • @Archagon, good tea never comes with instructions. – Mr. Mascaro Apr 3 '15 at 16:19
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    That's a weird assessment to make. Practically every great tea shop or website I've visited has had in-house suggestions for brewing times and temperatures. I mean, why wouldn't they? They're the experts! – Archagon Apr 3 '15 at 16:24
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As you've noted in your description of your experiments, there are many variables (e.g., amount of tea, type of tea, steeping times for each infusion, etc.). Fundamentally, the type (green/oolong/pu-erh/etc., quality, nature) of tea is a huge factor, and personal preference is a factor but not the only factor (what you describe as "bland" or weak might not be to someone else). I think there are some objective generalizations, though.

The tea you start with matters. A specialty tea dealer will often annotate a given offering with brewing recommendations (e.g., commonly temperature, time, quantity of leaves per cup, as you note); some dealers will also suggest that the tea can be enjoyed through 2-3 or multiple infusions. Such a tea is a great place to start for your own experiments. I find that some teas (e.g., darjeeling, broken orange pekoe) simply infuse too quickly and to fully in the first infusion that they are totally spent. Further infusions are weak and bitter.

Some teas that I find work well for multiple infusions:

  • good quality green-oolongs (multiple infusions; tung ting or formosa)
  • green-white blends like white peony (2 infusions)
  • lightly roasted/toasted green teas, like long jing (dragon well) or gunpowder green (aside: this is probably a good place to start as it can be inexpensive and enjoyable)
  • higher quality pu-erh teas.

Techniques. This varies per the type of tea; but in general, I personally do the following when I intend to infuse loose tea multiple times:

  • Infuse slightly more tea (perhaps 50% (1.5 times) more; certainly not 2-3 times);
  • Infuse for a shorter period of time (perhaps 1/2 to 2/3 as long) on the first infusion;
  • Infuse for progressively longer amounts of time for subsequent infusions.
  • If anything, slightly lower temperature on subsequent infusions.

That tends to make the resulting brew (to my taste) slightly more uniform in result, though there is significant difference in flavour.

Other things to keep in mind: if you're using tea with caffeine, most will come out in the first infusion; if you're using 2-3x the tea, this is significant! As you also note, the character of the brew can be very different through the several infusions. This can be part of the enjoyment, as each infusion will extract different ratios of "stuff" into the resulting brew. For lower-quality gunpowder green teas, for instance, I actually prefer the second brew over the first.

Instead of multiple infusions, you might also simply

  • consider brewing a larger pot all at once into a thermal carafe, then enjoying it a cup at a time.
  • consider brewing just a cup at a time, which will have a better result for certain teas (a pathological example: bags)

I would not recommend some things that you said: most specifically, I don't think you'll get benefit from infusing at a higher temperature for subsequent brews; this is likely to give you bitter or off-tastes; you're "burning" the tea and extracting stuff you don't want.

  • Thank you for the thorough rundown! It looks like I was mistaken in regards to raising the temperature; that's good, because it means I can just keep the hot water in my vacuum flask instead of having to boil and cool an entirely new batch of water for each infusion. When brewing for multiple infusions, do you generally use less water per "cup"? (My own teacup is approximately equivalent to a standard cup in volume, and I expect that it's probably too much.) Also, how much longer is each successive infusion? A few seconds? 10? 30? – Archagon Apr 3 '15 at 17:45
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I don't have specifics but from my experience something like a green tea (I like genmaicha although I may have spelled it wrong) I used to just dump about a spoonful into my mug, and fill with hot water (at whatever temp it came out of the instant-hot-water-tap). I'd filter the tea with my lips as I was drinking it and then just refill with hot water a number of times. It could be that the cheap-o tea I had was particularly suited for this, or perhaps just that I didn't notice any bitter flavour but I found it enjoyable.

A black tea that I picked up recently though and have started using for multiple steepings I have found gets bitter quickly and I have to be really careful of the brew-time. A bitter first brew usually means less flavour on the second brew. Also, in terms of temperature... I now boil my water, fill my (empty/cool) mug to allow the coolness of the mug to temper the heat of the water and then sometimes forget about it for 5-20 min before brewing my tea.

To be fair - while I like tea a lot, I don't think I have a particularly refined taste for it although I'm working on it.

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I do this an awful lot, I drink a lot of tea, and since I started getting better quality loose-leaf instead of teabags - I wanted to get the most out of my tea. My daily mug is a three-cup one, so I'm used to brewing that amount as well. I can usually get three mugs brewed tea, and two more boiled - though some brands will give three to five steeps boiling, for 8-10 steeps for one basket of leaves.

For the first brew, I follow the directions exactly - if you're using an amount measured for your water, there's no reason to change. I have a few times used more, with the intention of steeping less time and more often - not really a good idea, it tuned quite bitter and overly strong even when steeped for a very short amount of time (seconds, for the second steep). I have also used less, which sometimes works alright (especially for very strong teas) - but I do tend serve mine sweet and also to be fairly tolerant of variations in tea, from milk tea to barely colored water, so your preferences may vary. But one teaspoon per cup, and the recommended brewing temps, should be a good amount to start with - as long as you recall you can monkey with either to suit your own preferences.

On each subsequent brew, you will want to steep the leaves somewhat longer. Since I usually am brewing at my elbow, start with the time I took for the first brew - and start checking for color, then for scent, until it's reached a desirable level of flavor. This can take varying amounts of time depending on your tea, so I don't time it (not like, two extra minutes or something - though it you brew consistently you can probably figure out your preferred times), but I always judge by color and taste. It may not taste the same, you understand, as your first cup - but it can be an acceptable cup of tea on its own.

I think cultural customs that rely on multiple brewings tend to steep very lightly and shortly, and use a lot of tea relevant to the water - and the tea certainly changes in flavor over several brewings, as the different compounds dissolve out of the tea, which to them is a positive attribute. For those that like a full flavored cup, or a consistent one, there will be fewer but stronger brewings of tea, and less tea per water at temperatures and times designed to get the most out of the tea so it is more easily controlled (this is where your "expert instructions" come from, calculated to brew the most out once not maximize rebrewing) - different culture, different expectations. I also don't think black teas hold up very well to this kind of overloading and understeeping, they dissolve flavor quickly and tend to become bitter for me - but teas with more delicate flavor to being with, greens or puer-eh or even some herbals, will probably hold up better.

For myself, once I've reached the point, usually on the third or fourth steep, where the tea hasn't reached the point I'm pulling the leaves before it cools to drinking temperature (three cups of boiling water in a thick mug cools slowly, okay), I set the tea leaves aside, and brew once or twice on the stove top - an extended boiling water infusion, five or ten minutes each. It doesn't get bitter, not the way fresh leaves do, since the prolonged steeping has already drawn out much of the flavor compounds, it tastes - like a teabag, kinda weak and generic, usually. Honestly, the last steep is sometimes little more than colored water (depending on the tea). But others have noted bad experiences with boiling infusion tea (depending on expectations), so again your preferences may vary.

As for teas that are good for multiple infusions - green teas are often touted as very good, especially ones like gunpowder where the tea is tightly folded and packed - so it's still unfurling during subsequent steeps. Puer-eh teas are excellent, especially in brick form - the tea takes time to hydrate, but it also brews strongly and so lasts several steepings easily (and it tends to steep sweet, that is, not get bitter easily unless you get the raw stuff). Maybe watch your brewing to taste, the directions are sometimes quicker and cooler than makes a comfortable tea for me (45 seconds of brewing does not make a strong tea to my taste unless vast amounts of tea are used, like a third of a cup). There's some blend of black tea that brews like ten times per serving - I don't actually know what it is because I found it in a set of sample blends, so they're advertising the blend mix, not the individual tea leaf. Herbal teas - yes, steeping like tea will give several good infusions since the flavor extracts slowly - some will even make several boiling infusions (and again, they don't get bitter even if steeped long or hot).

Keep in mind that what you consider a good cup of tea might not match other's expectations. I usually find Japanese and Chinese style teas 'delicate' and not flavorful enough (brewed at precise low temps and quick times), and brew at higher temps and for longer - while obviously their method is a lot easier to get multiple brewings out of, since they're getting less flavor extracted per serving, and I'm burning through two or three of their 'brewings' per brew of my style. On the other hand, south Asian teas (India, Thai, Middle East) tend to make strong bitter infusions by boiling the tea, and mellowing the flavor with sugar and milk and optionally, spices. These will not rebrew at all, since the extended boil is intended to extract everything, everything that could be in your tea leaf and waste nothing.

My five infusions per serving is based on a medium weakish tea, flavorful but not boiled strong - and it definitely progresses in flavor over the series of brewing, becoming... more generic in taste? like I said, the first is a good quality loose leaf, the last is a generic teabag... I end up with five instead of three because I brew a bit lightly and I will still drink the later, weaker brews. Someone who brews more strongly or doesn't like the weaker flavors will get three brews. Someone who does both - might struggle to get two brews from the leaves.

Are you wasting tea by your method... again, it depends on your brew method. If you're brewing to instructions, then no it isn't wasted...it is just spent. If you're doing a boiling infusion style tea (where you want strong, bitter flavors), you can definitely use less tea and higher temps (boil it), or longer times (oversteep it) for very nearly the same effect. Once your tea leaves have reached a point where you aren't getting a good cup out of them, you aren't wasting them by discarding. There might still be a bit of 'flavor' in your leaves, but it might be more trouble than it's worth to you to extract.

If you're really determined to get the last of the tea flavor out of your leaves, and your sequential brews are too weak for your tastes, you can try adding more tea. A teaspoon, or even a half, of fresh tea added to your second brew of leaves might make a cup that is comparable to your first cup - and at four teaspoons for six cups of water, you're still coming out ahead. Or, if you drink the same (or even similar) teas a lot, you might be able to brew your tea leaves in a larger batch on each go - maybe two batches of twice-steeped tea will make a single batch of thrice-steeped tea (6 tsp per 15 cups if you get two brews before combining).

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Everyone steeps there tea their own way. If your way of steeping works for you, you don't have to worry to much about it. Experimenting with different ways of steeping is fun though, and if you see it as an adventure of discovering more about tea, then I can highly recommend the more traditional way of steeping multiple infusions.

What teas are most suitable for multiple infusions? All teas in fact suitable for steeping many infusions. The only tweak you have to make is to use more leaves and less water per infusion. In other words a higher 'leaf-to-water' ratio.

However, this makes the most sense for pu erh and oolong tea. These tea types of more 'layered flavours' and it's truly fun to taste how the tea flavour evolves with every steep. If you would brew these teas in a large teapot, you wouldn't discover this layered flavour profile.

Teaware Since you need less water per steep and want good isolation, you'll need to get a smaller teapot or gaiwan. Porcelain and clay ones isolate heat the best.

At last, the traditional way of steeping is in fact called the gongfu method. If you're interested you can also read the full details here on my site: https://www.teasenz.com/chinese-tea/gongfu-tea-ceremony.html

  • Lisa, just a reminder, we'd prefer that you explicitly disclose affiliation when you link to your site. It's totally fine to do if it's part of providing full context for an answer (like here), and I know the URL and your username match so it's kind of obvious, but we just like to make sure things are clear. Thanks for the thorough answer! – Cascabel Dec 14 '17 at 19:40
  • @Jefromi sorry for that. Could you explain more clearly how I need to disclose it? Because in my answer I say 'my site'. I fully intend to stick to the rules! – Lisa at Teasenz.com Dec 15 '17 at 22:38
  • No worries, sorry I was unclear! If you look at your answer's revision history (click where it says "edited yesterday" currently), I actually added the "on my site" when I commented. That's plenty disclosure, I just wanted to remind you to add a little note like that in the future. – Cascabel Dec 15 '17 at 22:40
  • Ok, got it! I'll do that in the future. – Lisa at Teasenz.com Dec 17 '17 at 9:14
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Thanks to the original poster and everyone who responded. This is a very interesting thread. I wanted to briefly share my experience.

I primarily use a small (6oz?) pot for oolong (sometimes pu erh) and frequently do four or more steeps. The delicate way the tea changes is delightful. I will start with 2-2.5 minute and maybe up to 3 minutes at the end.

I read on one site the idea of a very brief (30 second) initial steep for aroma only. I had a tea that I thought was a bit too sharp and tried this with success. The aroma of the initial "rinsing" steep was lovely and washed the edge off the tannins.

Finally, my family story. My grandmother in upstate New York always had a tea pot on the stove. This was a full size pot, from the Jewel Tea company, and I suppose the tea was probably Jewel - I know it was a green tea. She would start with a slightly weak brew. If she didn't finish it, it would sit on the stove, and she would reheat it on very low heat.. But when the pot was done she would add more leaves and hot water and repeat. After this pot was done, again more leaves and more hot water. Never adding water unless also leaves. This would go on potentially for several days, until finally the pot was full of only leaves, at which point she would finally throw it out and start the whole process over. We have a large family and there was always someone going to visit my grandmother. When you went to visit, you had no idea where in the cycle of tea brewing she might be. It was always different, but always good.

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I use a thermal teapot with a Finum infuser basket. Required amount of tea in the basket, steep to required strength, remove basket. All subsequent cups will be to the same strength

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