Note: As I was preparing for the “Multiple Infusions” class I’ll teach on May 7 at the Midwest Tea Festival, I realized that we don’t have a post about the topic here on T Ching. So I’d love to have you join me for the live version if you’re in the Kansas City area. We can finally sip some tea, share some classes and celebrate together again.
What does the term, Multiple Infusion mean?
The general meaning of Multiple Infusions is that the tea drinker controls brewing variables to produce more than one cup of tea with the same tea leaves. These variables are: amount of tea, amount of water, temperature of water and length of time that the tea is infused. It is the basis of the Chinese tea ceremony, GongFu Cha.
Teas often come with brewing suggestions to control brewing variables, suggesting that there is one “perfect” cup of tea in each batch of leaves. This is seldom true. Even with teabags, there is potential to make more than one cup of tea from each bag. Of course, two cups would both be lighter. (I’ll add additional “teabag” comments below.)
But the amazing truth to making tea is that there is no single brewing instruction to making a good cup of tea. The best flavors and the most value that can be experienced from a single set of leaves is completely in control of every idividual. And you don’t have to be a tea expert with years of experience to find the best cup of tea for you. It just takes understanding how layers of flavor have been preserved inside the leaf during production and learning to manage the four elements of brewing.
Note: Two exceptions to multiple infusions are ground teas like Matcha and flavored teas where the main source of flavor is liquid flavoring sprayed onto tea leaves.
What are teas known for multiple Infusion? Why are they more expensive?
Most tea sellers do not suggest using techniques of multiple infusions for all teas. But some premium teas are sold as being good for these techniques. When we see the potential for multiple infusions in descriptions of whole leaf tea that suggest three things:
- It is a handcrafted, artisan whole-leaf tea where skilled tea makers took great care to keep leaves from breaking during the entire process from field to packing dry tea.
- A higher price would be reasonable for this labor-intensive craftsmanship than for broken leaf.
- It has the potential to be brewed in a way that the tea drinker can have a more incredible sensory experience.
What happens in Multiple Infusion with whole leaves?
The TieKwanYin Oolong tea leaves in the image on the left shows that the leaf was rolled into a tight ball during processing and was then restored to something simiar to its original form with repeated infusions. All three leaves are from the same original 3 grams of tea used throughout six infusions. The bottom leaf began to open after the second infusion. The middle leaf is the same size leaf but has opened more after four infusions. The top leaf is fully open after the sixth infusion.
Multiple Infusion using 3 grams of tea and 6 oz. water. Use the same leaves, completely draining the brewed tea each time but then adding the same amount of water.
- Temp 190 degrees F for 30 seconds. The first infusion is sometimes called a “wash”. This is not because the leaves are dirty. It is more because the outer layer of flavor drawn from the leaf is not the best.
- Temp 195 degrees F for 1 minute. The second infusion is often the favorite. As the leaf rehydrates, more of the true flavor profile is revealed and tends to be sweeter and have more favorable mouthfeel benefits.
- Temp 200 degrees F for 3 minutes. More of the unique characteristics of this tea are revealed in the third infusion. And this might be another favorite. Though it may be a softer brew than the second infusion.
- Temp 212 degrees F for 5 minutes. Using hotter water and longer infusion times draws out most of the flavor as well as the health benefits.
Note: This example is a guide, not a rule. Your own infusion schedule will vary for every tea. Don’t be afraid to experiment. Between each of these stages could easily be several more variations on time and temperature.
Why bother with Multiple Infusions?
Value: Being able to customize your cup by adjusting the brewing variables gives you more cups of tea throughout the day from one batch of leaves.
Controlling Caffeine: Tea that is infused with cooler water for shorter amounts of time draws out less caffeine. So the same 3 grams of leaves that gave you a strong cup in the morning with a more invigorating caffeine boost, can also be your evening cup (after a couple of afternoon brews) that doesn’t disturb your sleep.
It’s Fun: Multiple Infusions can be shared with the tea lovers in your family and groups of friends. Everyone can manage their own infusion protocols because there is no right or wrong.
Increase Sensory Awareness: Practicing Multiple Infusions with tea will also increase you awareness of other foods. This can hugely increase satisfaction with food.
Increase Awarensss of the Art of Handcrafted Tea: Practicing Multiple Infusions helps us understand the real skill of the tea master in the field and in the tea factory.
Increase Awareness of the Art of Brewing Tea: There’s so much more to enjoy with tea and the way we share it. Multiple Infusions can be casual or elegant. But it’s much more than dunking a bag into a mug of hot water. And that is also a great value.
Multiple Infusions with teabags
Even though this technique is used for high-end, premium teas, some of the same variables and benefits apply. Even though you’re probably not going to get more than two cups of tea from a single teabag, you may develop an appreciation for a lighter flavor. Some teas that taste bitter when the the teabag has been left sitting in the cup too long are naturally sweet with cooler water and a limited amount of time.