Can You Re-infuse Black Tea?

Can You Re-infuse Black Tea?

No.*

End of story.

*Okay, two, maybe three, exceptions

150-montage-rev

Really?

Basically, yes. I’ll get to those exceptions—but first let me repeat:

most black teas—even high-quality loose leaf teas—cannot be satisfactorily re-brewed

Yes, I know that you can get something out of those leaves. Maybe even something drinkable.

But good? Nah.

Stick to the greens and whites and oolongs for re-brews, to the teas that actually improve with re-brewing.

Why Not?

So here are some reasons why black teas are a one-time thing.autumn-spice-wet-frame-2

Many of the black teas are CTC, which means they are small pieces of leaves, with a lot of exposed surface area. They release their flavor in the first few minutes of brewing and that’s pretty much it. To put it another way, many of the substances that contribute both flavor and health benefits (like those polyphenols we always hear about) are extracted quickly.

Which brings up a related point—about doing a first brew to extract the caffeine and drinking only the second infusion. Really bad idea.

First off, in studies of tea bags, it takes over five minutes of brewing to remove 80% of the caffeine. Which means the second brew still contains caffeine but has very little flavor or health benefits left (because those were extracted quickly). A circular argument.

With whole leaf green, white, and oolong teas, the flavor—and the caffeine—is maintained over multiple infusions. For those teas that have been shaped into pearls or rolled, each infusion will unfurl the leaves more fully, releasing additional caffeine and flavor.

The Exceptions to This Inviolable Rule

So this brings us to those black tea exceptions. One example is Hong Cha Java, a whole leaf tea that leans toward the oolongs, which can (and often should) be re-brewed.

Another candidate is Black Gunpowder. Because this tea is so tightly rolled, it takes awhile to open up, which means that when you add hot water a second time, the leaves will continue to yield flavor as they fully unfurl.571-wet_0478

And there’s China Yunnan Golden Downy Pekoe.

During brewing, the tightly rolled curls open into full leaves—and even something akin to art as seen here with this beautiful birdlike bud set.

So I re-brewed it, and got what looked like a decently dark infusion. It even tasted not bad—

—until I compared it to the first brew.

All those notes that make this tea a complex and rewarding cup are gone. Yes, the second brew is drinkable, but that’s about it.

What to Do, What to Do

Easy. Savor that cup of black tea.

Then toss the spent leaves into the compost bin with a clear conscience.


Teas pictured: (top) montage of Assam FTGFOP1 Mangalam, black classic; (middle) Autumn Spice, black aroma, brewed leaves; (bottom) China Yunnan Golden Downy Pekoe, black classic, brewed leaves. All available from teahouse.com.

8 thoughts on “Can You Re-infuse Black Tea?

    1. Of course tea is totally about personal preference, and I know lovely people who re-brew all tea 🙂

      In the examples I gave of good black tea candidates for re-brewing, they are whole leaf (loose leaf) teas, which will still release flavor. However, they will not quite compare to the first brew in quality and complexity, unlike oolongs, white, and some green teas, whose second brew is superior to the first. (I measured my leaves per European-trained tea sommelier instructions.)

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      1. By any chance does that mean your using a gaiwan using the Eastern method rather then Western? I know that the Eastern method is much praised for tasting a difference in each infusion and also turning out smaller amounts of drink at one time. Which if you were doing would explain why you would have complaints against certain teas, as tasting a difference or it getting better would be expected, rather then in the Western method where only returning the same tea as the first is expected. In which case the wording suggesting that reinfusing black tea is usually a bad idea would be more understandable as a different cryteria for the tea is being used.

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        1. I think we have several issues going on here, and you make a really good point that I didn’t specify how I was brewing the tea.

          Generally I am assuming that my audience is brewing western style because my posts are mostly geared toward people who have had less exposure to many of these teas, with many Americans still drinking supermarket teabag tea. I have found that many people don’t really know much about tea, so they are my target audience, along with people who are interested in tea industry issues, history, etc. I don’t go very deep into tea tasting because I am not trained as a sommelier, and because there are other bloggers who are much more qualified than me to do this. They are also the ones who are more likely to brew eastern style.

          In western style brewing, each brew with the same leaves will also give you a difference in flavor. My point was that with CTC blends, the leaves release their flavor so quickly that a second brew won’t give you anywhere near the same flavor. With whole leaves, however, you will still get an acceptable brew, but not to the same quality as the first. This is very unlike brewing green, white, or oolong tea. Even with western-style brewing, the second brew of a milky oolong, for example, will be superior to the first brew.

          What I’ve said I think in other posts is that when re-brewing tea, it often helps to lower the brew temperature around 5° so that a bit less of the caffeine (bitterness) is released, but this is again one of those personal preference things.

          Does this help? Do you usually brew western style? While I very much appreciate the multiple flavor nuances and mindfulness required of eastern-style brewing, I more often go for a giant cup of tea brewed western style!

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          1. Yes I do Western style. Although I normally don’t drink black as I normally go for green I do have some for my partners preference. I buy loose leaf from a tea store so I probably havnt been exposed to the quality of tea your talking about. I also know that I’ve seen a lot of people talk about black tea resteeping more times then green does. Knowing that your typical audience would be less educated on the matter makes things make a lot more sense. I not only spend time reading up whatever I can find talking about tea I also spend time on the tea subreddit, so I’m definitely not your target audience.

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          2. Where do you see people talking about resteeping black teas more than green? Just curious because I usually see the opposite. Or is it because many people are simply more familiar with black tea over green? Hmmm.

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          3. The tea subreddit. Maybe I’m mistaken but I believe I’ve read people say that typically a black tea will resteep more times then a green. General consensus seems to be that green gets 2-3 steeps and black can get 3-5.

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          4. There is no way you can get 3–5 steeps from most black teas; from the other types (green/white/oolong), you definitely would! With eastern-style, you would also get multiple brews from green/white/oolong plus some select blacks. I also use the tea subreddit and it’s really a mixed bag. You have to be careful with the information you get—there are some true experts posting, and then there are some people who have no idea what they are talking about.

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