Guide to Re-steeping Japanese Green Tea

Photo Credit: Elbæk via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Elbæk via Compfight cc

Did you know that once brewed, you can still get more flavor out of your green tea leaves?

You do so by re-steeping. Basically, all you have to do is add more water and brew again. It’s a good way to save on expensive green teas.

Unlike other types of tea like oolongs and post-fermented teas, which can be re-steeped a high number of times, green tea leaves are limited by their delicate nature.

The basics of re-steeping

Let’s say that you wanted to fully extract the flavor from your tea leaves into your cup of tea. What should you do? Well, you can try boiling water and then steeping for a very long time. The problem is that the resulting tea is very astringent and bitter, basically making it undrinkable.

Since different compounds extract at different rates depending on water temperature, you need a certain balance to get the best flavor. That’s what steeping guidelines are all about, otherwise all green teas would be brewed in boiling water.

So then, how to fully enjoy the flavor of your green tea? The solution is to make multiple infusions.

After the first infusion, the tea leaves still have soluble compounds that you can extract. Although there’s a limit (at later infusions you can barely taste any tea), it’s fun to try the different flavors each time.

There aren’t any hard rules for water temperature and brewing time for multiple infusions, so it’s mostly a matter of preference.

For example, some people like to increase the temperature a little after each re-steep, others increase/decrease the brewing time as well, and some people just do the same as they did on the first infusion each time.

I recommend that you start with the 3rd option, and modify from there.

By the way, decreasing the water temperature won’t do any good, it’ll just take longer for your next infusion. The reason why people use a higher temperature is to increase the extraction rate.

Re-steeping Gyokuro

Gyokuro is usually re-steeped up to four times, although it’s common to stop at the third infusion. After the fourth, it tastes quite weak.

Have you noticed that the characteristic flavor of gyokuro (sweetness and umami) is almost absent after later infusions (at the same temperature and brewing time), and you begin to taste bitterness and astringency that weren’t noticeable before ?

To begin with, the amino acid content in gyokuro leaves, especially L-theanine, is low compared to the catechin and caffeine content. Furthermore, the standard way of brewing gyokuro is meant to maximize the extraction of L-theanine (sweetness) while minimizing that of catechin and caffeine (astringency and bitterness).

That means that after the first infusion, a good amount of the amino acids have been extracted but there’s plenty of catechin and caffeine left for later infusions!

I suggest that you don’t increase the temperature too much when re-steeping gyokuro, especially for the second one. I’d rather increase the steeping time, otherwise the delicate flavor may be ruined.

Re-steeping sencha

In Japan, sencha is rarely steeped more than three times. Of course, this depends on the specific sencha, and also your preferences.

I find that with a sencha that I like a lot, I’ll go up to the fourth infusion, but after that it’s not really worth it. The flavor is almost gone by then.

With fukamushi sencha, I find that a fourth infusion still tastes ok and the color isn’t that pale, only the aroma suffers. I believe it’s due to the small leaf particles present in this type of tea.

Re-steeping bancha

Re-steeping houjicha

Photo Credit: Christian Kaden via Compfight cc

Bancha and other types of tea made with it, such as genmaicha and houjicha, have a very limited number of infusions. No more than two in most cases.

In genmaicha it’s very hard to get past two, because the roasted rice gives off most of its flavor in the first infusion :-(

Also, since they don’t have much L-theanine content, they are brewed with boiling water. That means that all you can do is just use the same brewing time, or perhaps increase it for your next infusion.

Things to keep in mind

  • Keep the standard amount of tea leaves and use the same volume of water each time. If you get more infusions but you’re doing it with more initial tea and/or less water, you’re cheating :-)
  • Re-steep as soon as you can, leaving the tea leaves wet makes them prone to degradation.
  • If brewing on a teapot, serve each infusion until the last drop. Otherwise there will be liquid with the leaves still brewing between infusions, which will alter your results.
  • Keep re-steeping until you don’t enjoy the tea anymore. You don’t have to re-steep for the sake of it, it’s all up to you.
Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Guide to Re-steeping Japanese Green Tea

  1. Sergey says:

    I think you got that bit about Gyokuro mixed up. What I’ve been taught is that shading INCREASES theanine and DECREASES catechins, which makes sense since Gyokuro is prized for its greater umami and lower astringency. Here is also a link from a Japanese tea farm’s blog which supports this:
    http://obubutea.com/4269/what-are-the-differences-between-different-sencha-types/

    • Hello Sergey
      Yes, gyokuro has more amino acid content that other Japanese teas. However, the total content of amino acids in gyokuro is still only about 1/3 of the sum of it’s catechin and caffeine content.
      Sorry if I expressed myself poorly.
      Source: 日本茶のすべてがわかる本, year 2012, page 24

  2. Tea Galaxy says:

    Hi,
    Actually I’ve been having issues with my re-steeped sencha. It just doesn’t seem to have any of the flavor of the first brew. I’m thinking of raising the temperature since the time is already at 5 minutes. How high do you think the temperature can go without burning the leaves?

    • Hello, thank you for your comment.
      Perhaps you’re taking off most of the flavor in your first infusion?
      First, make sure you’re using the right brewing guidelines: leaf/water ratio, temperature and time.
      After the first steep, basically there are no hard rules. So if you want to increase the temperature all the way to boiling, and the taste works for you, go ahead and do it.
      Usually I keep the same or a bit higher temperature and increase the steeping time, but 5 minutes I think is kind of excessive.
      Note that the flavor isn’t the same as the first brew, but it should be enjoyable.

  3. Tea Galaxy says:

    Thanks for responding, Ricardo. I think maybe you’re right about taking away most of the flavor on the 1st infusion.

    The directions say to use 1/2-1 teaspoon per large cuppa tea and steep at 175 degrees for 3-5 minutes (not sure what large cuppa tea means).

    I have been using 2 teaspoons in 500 ml of water at 175 degrees. A few days ago, I thought I brewed it for 4 minutes on the 1st infusion and it tasted amazing, but then I did the same yesterday and it wasn’t strong enough, so I bumped it up to 5 minutes. I am sure it’s something simple I need to fix.

    • My re-steeping guidelines apply to Japanese-style brewing.

      My biggest yunomi holds only about 100 ml of water, and I use one teaspoon of sencha and brew for a minute.

      For the same results, I guess you should use more tea leaves, 1 teaspoon for 250 ml of water seems kind of low to me.

  4. Tea Galaxy says:

    Thanks for the tips and response!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>