Updated: Oct 19, 2018
In our last blog, we briefly mentioned two terms in Gaiwan use: suffocative steeping and root saving. Both can be confusing and often mixed with another technique called “sitting the cup”. I hope after reading our last blog, you now have a better understanding of “sitting the cup”. Today, let’s focus on what “suffocative steeping” is, as well as the purpose of it.
Suffocative steeping, or by its original Chinese pronunciation Men Pao (Chinese: 闷泡) can be interpreted literally. The “suffocative” part means a closed, almost airtight space; the “steeping” part means keeping tea leaves in water. Any teawares or tea pots that have a lid (e.g. a Gaiwan ) can perform a suffocative steeping. A conventional suffocative steeping refers to pour enough water into a tea pot and close the lid for more than 3 minutes. Contrary to what most tea lovers believe, this is a rather extreme practice to force a tea to show its flaws and imperfections instead of bringing out the “good taste” of a tea. Since we’re at this, a good tea should present its best fragrances and tastes once it’s infused.
Some seasoned tea drinkers like to test a tea before trying a new tea or teas from a new producer. They make tea using suffocative steeping, then wait until it’s cooler; finally, they pour the tea soup out, and try to find its flaws in the taste. While intentional suffocative steeping is rare, unintentional suffocative steeping is common. Even I sometimes over-steep my tea because of some unexpected events such as a sudden phone call. This over-steeping could unleash the deepest substances that are usually unnoticed by most tea drinkers. However, over-steeped tea made with suffocative steeping is usually too strong and far from its real taste. It doesn’t help perfect your tea-drinking experience. We usually suggest against drinking it.
Some reader might ask: if we just use a smaller amount of tea leaves (e.g. 2g instead of the normal 5g or 7g) and a larger Gaiwan, can we keep tea leaves steeped in the water to make it as strong as a regular one? The honest answer is that it’s fine with green tea and most white tea, but NOT okay with other types of teas (e.g. oolong tea, black tea). While the results (the color of tea soup) might look the same, the aroma and the taste are significantly different. Except for green tea and white tea, over-steeping tea leaves is equivalent to suffocating them. When tea leaves are suffocated, they release a “dying breath” which has a very negative effect on the taste.
Each tea leaf is independent. Suffocating a leaf or 2 grams of leaves is no different than suffocating 5 grams or 7 grams of leaves. As long as tea leaves are over-steeped, the unpleasant taste cannot be avoided.
I hope you enjoyed today’s blog about “suffocative steeping”. In our next blog (coming this Thursday), we’ll continue our journey with Gaiwan use and discuss more about a technique called “Root Saving/留根”.
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