Steeping is the process of unlocking the flavor within a certain kind of tea. Generally speaking, the steeping process is somewhere between three and five minutes depending on the kind of tea in question. The result is a hot, delicious tea of a huge range of flavors.
But there is the possibility that you can oversteep the tea. Perhaps something takes your attention away and you let it sit in the hot water for longer than required. This is what it means to oversteep the tea and it can potentially ruin the flavor of the tea.
A Bitter Taste
When you steep your tea, there are a lot of tiny particles that get released, they are called tannins. The tannins are what give each of these teas the astringency that it has. During the steeping process, the tannins will flow at a continuous rate from the leaves.
Tannins aren’t a bad thing since they make the tea quite healthy and they tend to be favored by people who enjoy a brisker cup of tea. The idea is to keep those tannins at a reasonable level by limiting the steeping process.
The thing is that oversteeping your tea can lead to the production of too many tannins. Think about any time that you have had a cup of tea that left your mouth dry and lacked flavor. This is indeed caused by those aforementioned tannins.
The tough thing is that each tea has its own unique and ideal steeping time. But the best rule of thumb is that it should be about four minutes for black tea, three for green tea, and two for oolong tea.
There is also a misconception about those tannins in your tea. That misconception is that they are the same as a compound that is found in wood stain. The latter is actually tannic acid, which is quite different from the tannins found in tea.
Yes, they sound the same, but they are quite different in every way.
Why Steeping Your Tea May Be a Good Idea
The purpose of steeping your tea is to unlock the nutrients that are found in the tea leaves. Steeping distributes those nutrients into whatever liquid that you are steeping the leaves in.
What may shock you is that oversteeping the leaves can actually have more flavor and nutrients to it according to a 2007 study.
While it might be a little bit of bitterness, you can combat that by using a proper temperature to brew the tea. For green tea, you can oversteep while avoiding bitterness at 106 degrees Fahrenheit; for black tea, it would be 200 degrees Fahrenheit.
More importantly, oversteeped teas can actually have some very rewarding properties that you may not have been aware of.
Health Benefits of Oversteeping
One of the most important health benefits of oversteeping your tea is that it has certain antioxidants in it, such as ECGC, that have shown properties of cancer prevention.
According to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, the research shows that green tea in particular can help to decrease the risk of cancers such as stomach, skin, and breast.
That is not to say that it will completely prevent cancer, but the antioxidants within can help keep it at bay longer than it otherwise would. That is why green tea is such a popular option and oversteeping that tea can actually further unlock the benefits.
Increased Mental Alertness
The primary reason that most teas are popular is because they contain caffeine in them. Caffeine is a natural energy booster that can also improve focus and mental awareness as well.
What you may not have realized is that by steeping your tea for longer, more of the caffeine gets imparted directly into the liquid for a stronger impact.
The reason that most people don’t oversteep their tea is because that extra caffeine can be bitter. If you can handle the bitter taste, you can get the extra benefits of the caffeine, giving you more energy and a greater mental focus.
Research from the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine shows that caffeine can drastically improve mental alertness and can even lead to an improved level of focus and concentration as well.
Students in particular can benefit from drinking tea to help improve their focus and give them the extra energy to study during finals week. In crunch times, oversteeping the tea can be majorly beneficial for energy levels.
If that weren’t enough to entice you, it turns out that tea has natural Parkinson’s prevention ability as well. The higher levels of caffeine can help to protect against the onset of Parkinson’s disease.
This is a neurological disorder that is most noticeable through slow movement, trembling limbs, and poor coordination.
Research has shown that higher levels of caffeine in steeped tea can lead to a greater increase in the preventative nature that it offers.
So, while steeping your tea for too long in the wrong temperature of water can lead to a bitter taste, the health benefits more than make the entire process worth it.
The way that you prepare your tea is important to the overall taste and quality. When it comes to certain teas, they have to be brewed in near-boiling water.
There is also a misconception that some of the more delicate teas such as white and green will require far cooler water. The reason being that the higher temperatures can potentially ruin the flavor of those teas.
While this isn’t necessarily wrong – certain teas need to be brewed specifically to control the release of tannins – it isn’t quite as simple as that.
There’s a pretty simple rule of thumb to follow: the cooler the water, the more mild and sweeter the taste will be. The hotter your water is, the more robust and darker the flavor of your tea.
The good news is that you can use this method for steeping your tea going forward without having to follow a specific steeping formula. You can even start by steeping a tea in boiling water and then cooling off the water wherever you need to, especially when brewing herbal tea.
The only big exception to that rule will be with Japanese greens. These benefit from a certain rigidity in the brewing process that helps to achieve a balance between the bitter and sweet flavors that a tea can have.
Likewise, there is the belief that black teas need to be steeped for longer than greens. Black, generally speaking, will require five minutes to steep while whites and greens will only require a minute or two. But that doesn’t take into account leaf size, amount of water, and the particular type of tea.
The best practice is to taste as you go. Keep in mind that brewing is simply another form of cooking. Like any recipe, blindly following a clock is rarely something that will work out well. Tasting as you go gives you a better idea of how long a particular tea requires.
When it comes to properly steeping your tea, it is all trial and error. Most guidelines are just that: guidelines. Finding what works for you is the only way to truly achieve the level of taste that you require.
I have a bachelor’s degree in construction engineering. When I’m not constructing or remodeling X-Ray Rooms, Cardiovascular Labs, and Pharmacies…I’m at home with my wife, two daughters and a dog. Outside of family, I love grilling and barbequing on my Big Green Egg and working on projects around the house.