Reader Question: Steeping Times

Vtknitboy posted a comment asking about steeping times for tea. I thought this was such an interesting and important question that I'll respond in a post, rather than simply reply to the comment.

Steeping time is only one of the issues you should look at in order to prepare a good cup of tea. Also consider the amount of leaves used, water temperature, and type and size of equipment (gaiwan, porcelain teapot, or yi xing teapot all affect the tea differently). Finally, the result you intend to achieve obviously affects the steeping time as well. For example, why would you want to steep your tea 4 minutes simply because someone told you to do so, if you enjoy the tea better when you steep it for 2?

The point is, tea is not an exact science and shouldn't be treated as such. As I told the OMG class on Sunday, don't be boxed into making a tea this way or that way. React to each particular tea based on the tea, your feeling at the time, and whom you are making tea with or for. Give it your best try and don't be afraid to fail. That's a learning opportunity!

So many customers have asked for it that we make brewing suggestions to help people get started and have a reference point, but I do not believe in exacting instructions when I make tea myself. To me, if you measure every time you're trying to recreate the same experience over and over, however, part of the enjoyment is to learn what you and the tea can achieve together in changing circumstances. For the same reason I don't believe in precise steeping times such as 3 or 4 minutes. Since each person is different, something that's perfect for someone else may not work for me at all. In my classes and my book I urge people NOT to follow step-by-step exacting instructions. Instead, learn from experience and at some point brewing tea will become second nature and you and your tea will make a connection that will be more rewarding than following someone else's prescription.

One final point I stress in my classes is that you are making the tea for youself and very few people know you better than you! So ignore the experts if the result doesn't suit you. Do it the way you feel it should be done and most of the time you will be more satisfied.