I sat down with Art of Tea owner and founder, Steve Schwartz for a lesson in re-steeping tea. One of the many benefits of loose leaf tea is the beauty of re-steeping the leaves. The Chinese typically prefer to re-steep oolong and pu-erh teas because they believe that only after multiple steeps, the true flavors and essence of the tea come out. However, you can re-steep most loose leaf teas multiple times. You may find that you prefer a tea’s tenth steep far more than its first. Re-steeping tea opens the leaves further, releasing different flavors, tones and aromas. Enjoy the best cup of tea one steep at time and receive more of its benefits as the leaves continue to unfold.
It’s an exciting adventure to witness how the flavors ripen and notice how your senses react to each steep. Follow our journey as Steve and I re-steep pu-erh teas divided into two parts. First, join us through our exploration of re-steeping a pu-erh cake. Stay tuned for part two, where we re-steep loose leaf pu-erh.
What is Pu-erh?
Pu-erh, (pooh-air) sometimes called dark tea, is mainly found in Yunnan, China. It’s the most consumed tea throughout the country. According to an article in Natural News, pu-erh has been used in Chinese medicine for centuries. Traditional uses include the removal of toxins from the body, weight loss, improving eyesight, reducing cholesterol, promoting blood circulation and reviving those who have over indulged in alcohol.
Pu-erh tea undergoes a unique fermentation process where microbes feed on its leaves, allowing natural mold and yeast to develop. This aging process enhances and produces the earthy flavors and moss-like characteristics of pu-erh. The darkened and dried leaves and buds of the Camellia Sinensis plant are then traditionally pressed into a cake or served as loose leaf. Similar to red wine, the older the tea, the better tasting and higher quality the tea becomes. Because of its fermentation process, pu-erh tastes and smells like a damp forest floor. It is engulfed with earthy tones, damp wood and dirt tastes and aromas. More men over women tend to gravitate towards this tea. The smell alone often hinders me from taking my first sip. But after much hesitation, I’ve tasted a number of pu-erh teas, and I can fairly say that I’m not a fan. Find out if re-steeping it swayed my palate.
In this venture, Steve and I decided to re-steep Art of Tea’s Pu-erh Tuo Cha. Tuo cha literally means pressed tea. In early China, tea was compacted into a pressed cake for easy transport during long trading voyages. Art of Tea’s Tuo Cha is pressed into a tiny bowl shape perfect for a single serving, which goes a long way with re-steeping. As the hot water hits the pressed leaves, they gently unravel into loose entities emitting their flavor.
First, we flushed the Pu-erh Tuo Cha for 30 seconds. We dropped the single bowl-shaped cake into our Gaiwan and poured boiling water over it. After 30 seconds, we threw out the water as if to clean and rinse the pu-erh.
*Tip: Flushing tea is an important step in re-steeping because it removes excess and external sediment naturally found on tea, especially pu-erh. A quick flush of 5-10 seconds awakens the tea leaves by opening and expanding cells within the leaves.
|Steep||Water Temperature||Steep Time||Flavor Profile|
|First||208 degrees||45 seconds||Tree bark with honey & molasses, very earthy|
|Second||208 degrees||1 minute||Dry, astringent, thick, bold tannins|
|Third||208 degrees||1 minute||Sweet but astringent|
|Fourth||208 degrees||1 minute||Thick, brothy and soupy, camphor-like, astringent, citrus- smelling|
|Fifth||208 degrees||1 minute||Sweet, grainy finish|
|Sixth||208 degrees||1 minute||Sweet-smelling, very light, beer-like aroma, barley/wheat-tasting, earthy, oatmeal flavor, watery|
|Seventh||208 degrees||3 minutes||Peppery, astringent, thick, but watery as you sip more and more|
Keep in mind that every experience is different, but this is just part of the mystery of each sip of tea. As expected, this pu-erh initially tasted very earthy and astringent. However, after five steeps, the flavor finally opened up to sweeter and lighter tones. The sixth steep surprised my taste buds completely. Although the sweetness started peaking in on the fifth steep, I did not expect the oatmeal and barley flavors to permeate. By the final steep, I was actually enjoying my cup of pu-erh! Join us next time as Steve and I continue our journey in re-steeping pu-erh.