P & T Teapology: Tea experience across its multiple infusions [Tea Knowledge]

The Moroccan people in Northern Africa have a proverb about the different extractions of tea: The first glass is as gentle as life, the second is as strong as love, the third is as bitter as death. What this beautifully illustrates is that tea changes with every infusion. It goes through a life cycle you can trace in every single cup of good tea.

Many people don’t know that you can infuse the same tea leaves several times. Instead, many novice tea drinkers waste leaves, which are still full of life and flavor, and dispose of them immediately after the first infusion. The many stages good tea goes through when infused shouldn’t possibly be missed, especially as different compounds are released every time. With every infusion, the tea leaves give different flavor notes to the water. The more complex a tea is, the more compounds it has, the more diverse the infusions become. 

As you know from our packaging, we always recommend at least two if not more infusions for all of our teas. And we will let you in on a little secret: It is highly likely that you can infuse your tea more times than what is recommended on paper. We officially only give a recommendation until we reach the very best cup, the bloom, but there are many more great cups after that peak to be enjoyed.

Think of your dried tea leaves as a flower. With enough water and care, the bud of this flower slowly begins to blossom and open, to reveal its colours and aromas, before eventually wilting away. Just like that, every infusion of your tea opens up your tea leaves a little more, too. Your tea blossoms release their full potential and then, slowly, they drift away. 

A good way to think about this is in stages. The first infusion is the Opening or Awakening of a tea, where the tea leaves get in contact with water for the very first time. Starting to rehydrate, this first infusion is very delicate, light floral notes are usually released. Often the texture is thinner and the colour a little subdued. There might be hints of sweetness. With this first infusion, sometimes the first two infusions, you wake up your tea. It is hence wrong to assume that the first infusion is the best. How well do you perform right after waking up? Give your tea the same time, you’d give yourself in the morning. In the Chinese Gong Fu Style of tea preparation, tea leaves are even washed before starting the infusion process. This first contact with water shakes the leaves awake, like a brisk morning shower in a sense, to ease the later opening.

After the Awakening, comes the Bloom. The leaves are now fully opened up, all parts of the leaves touch water, and we start to extract deeper, fuller flavors. Now, fruity notes will be heavy in focus. Intense colours and fragrances will fill your cup. Within the bloom, a tea reaches its peak flavor profile. This is why the second infusion is often the one that tastes the best. As it is just between the awakening and the bloom of a tea’s journey, you can trace the lighter vegetal notes and the fruitier summer intensity of both stages simultaneously.

After the Bloom comes a stage you could call Maturation. In some teas like Pu Erhs, more spicy notes are present now. With Green teas you often reach more vegetal rather than the earlier grassy notes at this point. The maturation phase is a warming comforting cup, where the floral aromatics have faded away to give room for a bouquet of spices and dark honey. What it lacks in complexity, it makes up with dessert like full texture and deeper colours.

As a rule of thumb, you can expect a green or black tea to have a minimum of three really good infusions in them. Oolongs and Pu Erhs, which have a more complex production process, often go up to eight or even fifteen. Dark teas in general, which are fermented and aged, have developed more aroma compounds which are released only slowly. 

Take our WILD & RAW N°602, a  young fermented Sheng Pu-erh with a brisk character, for example. Despite the recommended four extractions, why not try to extract it ten times. We invite you to experiment and expand the phases. Can you trace the transitions between the different blooming stages? WILD & RAW N°602 starts off with fresh flowery notes, there is astringency and a sense of birch forest. The more often you infuse this traditional, raw Pu-erh, the rounder and softer the aromas become. Eventually, the fruity notes subside and you enter a mushroomy heavier phase. How far can you go? 

Our Oolong FOUR SEASONS OF SPRING N°402 is another candidate for many infusions. With many rolled teas, the leaves will take a long time to rehydrate and reshape into their original form. Watch the tightly rolled Oolong leaves unfurl. With each infusion the water reaches new parts of the tea leaves, gradually taking all their flavour compounds. The FOUR SEASONS OF SPRING N°402 start with bright flowery notes, reaching a fruity bloom of peach and apricot, before ending in a creamy, buttery maturation phase. 

But not only Oolongs and Pu Erhs should be given the treatment of several infusions, many blacks and greens have much potential to be explored. Our black tea from Sun Moon lake in Taiwan, RUBY OF FORMOSA N°920, has a fascinating arch when repeatedly infused. The beginning is pure freshness, almost like entering into an eucalyptus forest. Later you encounter  liquorice notes and deeply dark chocolate aromas. Also our limited harvest SNAIL'S PACE N°917, a tightly rolled green tea, begins its evolution with a soft touch of fresh dew and matures into a sweeter agave nectar and fruity nectarine tea.

There is another phase. Very few people venture that far. We would invite you to enter the twilight zone. Be brave. How many infusions can you get out of the same leaves? Five? Seven? Ten? Your tea will have very few compounds left to release so you get a light, maybe more plain cup, like a memory of what was there. But would you really want five very intense complex drinks? Or would a softer, lighter cup in the evening not be a beautiful alternative, where you can still enjoy the same tea but get a little less caffeine. In the end, it is about appreciating the different cups a tea gives you. It is an act of mindfulness, to choose a tea to accompany you throughout the day. And as your journey changes, so does the journey of the tea. Pay attention to what you’re drinking. Every cup has something to offer. It’s the same tea leaves. But it’s not the same tea.

 

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