Blog 99: Why Can Aged White Tea Be Brewed But Not Over-steeped?
There are multiple ways to enjoy a white tea. In fact, white tea is the most versatile in terms of the tea experience.
White tea can be infused with a Gaiwan, brewed in a pot, or steeped in a mug.
However, not all white teas are suitable for all methods introduced above. For example, fresh Silver Needle can be infused with Gaiwan or steeped in a cup, but it’s not ideal for brewing. Aged white tea, on the other hand, can be brewed for a long time. But if you steep aged white tea in water, it’d soon become bitter and dry.
Take an aged Shou Mei tea for example - it can be pot-brewed with gentle heat for many rounds. But if we over-steep an aged Shou Mei, it becomes unbearable to drink.
On the surface, brewing a tea is similar to steeping one. Both methods keep tea leaves submerged under water. How come an aged white tea tastes phenomenal when brewed, but behaves completely differently when steeped?
The answer is WATER TEMPERATURE.
Brewing keeps the water temperature high. At a constant high water temperature, white tea leaves can release more nutrients.
In Shou Mei’s case, tea leaves are covered by a “wax layer” (see Blog 90 for details). Under this layer, tea leaves contain lots of high-boiling-temperature fragrance essences. The stable high water temperature allows an uninterrupted release of fragrances.
Although tea polyphenols and caffeine (they make tea soup taste bitter and dry) are released into the tea soup as well, the balance of the taste wouldn’t be affected because pectic substances and tea polysaccharides (they make tea soup taste mellow and sweet) are released into the tea soup at the same time.
Steeping, however, does not help the release of fragrances in aged white tea.
First of all, aged white tea’s broader and thicker leaves usually can’t produce flavors and aromas as fast as fresh teas. Aged white teas require a longer time in the water.
But unlike brewing, steeping cannot keep the water temperature. As soon as the steeping starts, the water temperature gradually drops.
The lower water temperature prevents the release of fragrances, but it doesn’t stop the release of caffeine and tea polyphenols, which only require low water temperature to release.
The unbalanced tea soup ultimately tastes weak, bitter and dry. Some tea lovers want to enhance the sweetness by steeping the tea even longer. Unfortunately, because of the low water temperature, the over-stepping only makes the tea tastes even worse.
Because of the rough appearance of aged white teas, many tea lovers mistakenly believe that aged white teas need to be steeped more.
However, whether a tea requires more “steeping time” is not up to its age, but its nutrient contents. Good quality aged white teas have a rich nutrient content, and it requires high water temperature to release these nutrients.
This is why an aged white tea can be brewed, but cannot be over-steeped. Not only over-steeping cannot make an aged white taste better, but also it destroys the balance of the tea soup.
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