Here at Tea Trekker we have been experimenting with various steep times for several of our long leaf, China black teas (hong cha).
Of particular interest has been the wild and high-mountain-grown, older-variety leaf from Yunnan Province in southwest China.
We normally steep these teas twice, first for 4 minutes and then again for 4-5 minutes, depending on the size of the leaf and the amount of bud. We generally use this methodology also with the large leaf eastern China black teas, new Keemun Buds, and several other black teas such as Fenghuang Dan Cong Black and Yingde #9, as well.
Depending on the circumstances, we vary the steep times and the amount of leaf used. We always use a generous portion of leaf, as this ensures the hearty cup that we are seeking.
One recent afternoon in the store, Bob was steeping some JingMai Wild Arbor black tea, and was called away to answer a customer’s question. That leaf ended up steeping for almost 20 minutes before he had a chance to retrieve it.
He knew to taste it anyway, ‘just in case’, because the initial steeping water had been off-the-boil, as that is what he normally likes to use with Yunnan black teas. The steeped tea was absolutely delicious and very unusual – it had nuances of flavor that were shocking and there was not even a whisper of astringency or that over-steeped, ‘cooked’ flavor that a smaller-leaf tea would have exhibited if steeped that long.
He even decided to experiment with a second steeping (curiosity is critical in tea steeping!) and so used very hot water and a 5-minute steep and the resulting tea was quite drinkable, but light.
What was particularly noticeable in the long steep was the deep, woody, layered ‘forest’ flavor that is so unique to Yunnan teas, but doesn’t always show in a ‘regular’ cup steeped for a shorter time.
We use this experience to illustrate the necessity to ‘play with your tea’. We just never know what delightful experience we will have until this sort of ‘mistake’ happens.