Time between steeps?

Semi-oxidized tea
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Rickpatbrown
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Location: Baltimore, Maryland

Tue Jun 25, 2019 8:15 am

I'm curious how most people manage time between steeps.

I like to let them cool slightly, to avoid stewing the leaves. But, I also want to keep heat in them so that the next infusion isnt too cool.

If I'm focused on the tea, I will brew in pretty quick succession. I would estimate 1-2 minutes between each steep.

I also tend to remove the lid briefly to let the steam escape. Depending on the tea, I may put the lid back on at different times.

I like to think about it as the rest notes in music. The silences between the melody are just as important as the notes themselves.
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Baisao
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Wed Jun 26, 2019 1:00 am

I generally have fitting music playing while enjoying tea and have even noticed that some types of music, not always what I would expect, have a wonderful effect on my tea. I think it helps with rhythm and putting the mind at ease.

At the risk of sounding like an ascetic, the following is how I pour.

I am a strong adherent to the notion of brewing with intuition, mindfulness, and right intention. These 3 are connected and you can taste when tea has been brewed with poor intention or lack of focus, even when it seems all parameters are the same. I can’t explain it but I certainly sense it.

I don’t use a timer. I don’t think about time. I let my hand decide when to pour.

Sure, I evaluate a tea before I steep it and make some practical judgments based upon experience from the outset. I’ll select a teapot and general approach. I then let my hand decide. It almost always knows, “almost” because new teas present their own requirements. But then my hand makes those adjustments intuitively, like applying more or less pressure to the accelerator of a car: you don’t think about it, you just do it. There’s not much thinking going on. In fact, I eschew thinking in favor of flow.

Of course it wasn’t always this way but it comes with experience. I followed rules and traditions. I would keep a timer or decide on a time and count it off in my head. I would always do this or that. Eventually, I stopped being in control and just let my hand decide.

Depending on the tea, sometimes I keep the lid on and sometimes I keep the lid off. Sometimes I dry pour and sometimes I wet pour. Sometimes I pour water vigorously and other times I pour gently. Sometimes I pour water in a circle, other times I pour at a single point. All these things depend upon the needs of the tea and equipment. These decisions are not haphazardly made.

I didn’t know this concept until yesterday, though it’s precisely what I do with tea. It’s called mushin.

Here is a quote from the Zen master Takuan Soho that best explains mushin:

“The mind must always be in the state of 'flowing,' for when it stops anywhere that means the flow is interrupted and it is this interruption that is injurious to the well-being of the mind. In the case of the swordsman, it means death.

“When the swordsman stands against his opponent, he is not to think of the opponent, nor of himself, nor of his enemy's sword movements. He just stands there with his sword which, forgetful of all technique, is ready only to follow the dictates of the subconscious. The man has effaced himself as the wielder of the sword. When he strikes, it is not the man but the sword in the hand of the man's subconscious that strikes.”
Last edited by Baisao on Wed Jun 26, 2019 10:08 am, edited 1 time in total.
carogust
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Wed Jun 26, 2019 7:08 am

To add to what baisao said, I think not making everything be so scientific puts us in a nicer mental state to enjoy tea. When you count how long you brew, you risk getting too wound up in evaluating the brew. You might think "I should've brewed 5 seconds longer because x taste is too weak". I don't think that kind of mindset has a lot to do with enjoyment.
I've kind of found that almost no matter what you do, the "core" or essence of the tea stays the same. I mean how else, with very varying waters, brewing styles and teaware do we all agree that a good tea is good?
Not to say that you should brew randomly. I think good, careful and aware brewing does not only make a good cup, but also puts us in a mental state to enjoy.
When doing comparisons you should of course brew everything with the same ratio.
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Rickpatbrown
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Wed Jun 26, 2019 10:30 am

Yes. I agree. The more that I get comfortable brewing, the less reliant I am on measuring things.
Of course, this was NOT the case when I was new to tea. I had no idea what the right time and amounts were, so I had to measure them. I guess you could learn to brew without the use of these aids. It might allow you to proceed faster, actually. It's like learning to ride a bike without training wheels.

Baiso's method is very appealing. Music can elevate everyday tasks to a form of expression. Unfortunately, most of my tea drinking is done at my desk at work; not the most ideal environment.

That being said ... you all must have some ideas or guidelines. I can't believe that everyone is divining their way through brewing tea by channeling the spirits of the ancient tea masters.

Do you ever steep back to back to back? Ie. immediately refill the pot after decanting?
Do you ever let so much time pass as to have cool leaves? How do you reheat them? Do you just let it steep longer or do you do a flash rinse to heat things up again before a normal extraction?

For rolled oolong , I find that it's only the first 3-4 steeps that I have to be careful not to push the tea to hard. This can cause overly extracted tea. Later infusions require less attention. I can let them steep for longer periods.
carogust
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Wed Jun 26, 2019 11:26 am

Yeah, I could've said it more clearly. I think I more meant that as long as you have the basic idea down, I don't find that things like steeping times matter much (I think that has actually to do with the maximum solubility of water, but that should be another topic).
And learning your preferred ratios is pretty much just trial and error, and not fearing under or overbrewing.
Doesn't mean that they don't have a difference. I just think the intrinsic quality is not lowered or heightened by focusing on the details.

But more on the actual topic.
I do feel that brewing steepings back to back is a little different from letting the leaves rest, lets say for a minute or two. I almost think that it lets the leaf open up more, kind of like a glass of wine or whiskey does. I don't know for certain why I think so. Maybe longer rest periods of 5-10 minutes could have more of an impact?

I also feel that there is a certain rhythm and balance that you kind of maintain between the brews and rest periods. Like not letting the pot cool down too much, but still giving the leaf enough time to recover.
I've seen this interesting "double steeping" method for aged teas described by varat. It's described on his blog as well. General idea is having two steepings, one to heat up the pot, and another right after to do a heavier extraction. However the negative of that method is the fact that you're brewing a diluted infusion due to the temperature drop.
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Baisao
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Wed Jun 26, 2019 1:47 pm

When I teach I tend to give a series of times per steep up to six steeps, placing emphasis on these times being a display of how the times relate to each other rather than being actual working times. I could do it as ratios or percentages but giving them as units of time and emphasizing the relationship seems to work best. It feels like teaching dance steps. I realize that neophytes will use timers but my goal is to give them the tools they need to steep without a timer should they want to. I also stress that there is no "one size fits all" approach to tea.
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