How to Store Tea Leaves Between Steepings

by Tony Gebely 562 views14


This is a question that I see often on r/tea. After speaking with several people, I believe I can shed some light on this issue. What I think is happening is that the ideals of Eastern steeping methods are mixing with Western steeping methods. This is a huge generalization, but here is how the two stlyes shake out:

Eastern Steeping: The tea leaves are steeped repeatedly with very small amounts of water for very short amounts of time, traditionally in a gaiwan or a smaller yixing pot that holds less than 1 cup of water. Also the ratio of leaves to water is higher with Eastern methods than with Western methods. This is the foundation of gongfu styles of tea preparation.Eastern style vs Western style Tea steeping

Western Steeping: The tea leaves are steeped in a larger vessel that holds several cups of water once or twice, for longer amounts of time.

When you hear people speaking of re-steeping, or bragging about how many steeps they are able to get out of a single portion of tea leaves they are usually referring to Eastern methods and because you are only producing a small amount of tea liquor and because the ratio of leaves to water is higher, you can move through several steepings rather quickly and storing the leaves between brewing isn’t an issue, they just sit in the steeping vessel (after all of the water has been decanted) until the next steeping.

Where this becomes confusing is when people try to use these methods on larger vessels with lower ratios of tea to water – perhaps an entire English size tea pot meant to hold 4 or more cups of water, or an Adagio branded tool called an ingenuiTea which holds 2 cups . In this case, if re-steeping is to be attempted, the tea drinker may want to wait many hours or even an entire day before re-steeping.

What I’m saying here is that, even if a high ratio of leaves to water is used for steeping tea in large quantities, the amount of tea you are making is so great, that hours will pass until you are ready for the next pot.

The truth is, once you steep leaves once and several hours pass, there is no good way to store them without diminishing the quality of the liquor they will produce. I’ve put really expensive leaves in the fridge overnight to try the next day, I’ve tried to dry them out and re-steep them the next day… but as James Norwood Pratt says… doing so, you’ll end up producing a tea that “tastes like the tea has become a ghost of itself.” So if you think you are unable to use the tea leaves to their maximum potential in a single day, try this: throw them in some cold water and put the water in the fridge overnight, decant in the morning and you should have a pleasant iced tea.

Nevertheless — here’s what I do at work for steeping: I bought a finum steeping basket (the only tea steeping device you’ll ever need in my opinion) that takes up almost all of the inside of my coffee mug. I put 3-5 grams of ball-style oolong (Dong Ding, Tiequanyin, LiShan, etc)  in it, steep it for about 1-2 mins, put the leaves aside, drink it, then repeat it throughout the day, I am able to use the same leaves multiple times throughout the day, and when the day is done, I throw out the leaves. So I guess by the definitions in this post, my work habits are halfway in between Eastern and Western steeping methods.

What do you think? Is there a great way to store leaves between steepings, or is this simply Eastern ideals meeting Western methods?

Photo Credit: Black Pot | Yellow Gaiwan

Comments (14)

  1. Thank you for this post. I am a novice with loose leaf teas. I wasn’t sure the best way to store the used leaves between seepings. Now I will place them in the fridge instead of throwing them out! I absolutely love the white teas made as ice teas.

  2. I’m glad you wrote this post. I always hear you can brew good tea 4-5 times. Even with small cups (6 oz) I only ever want 1-2 cups per day, and then it feels like a waste to throw out tea that’s only been brewed once or twice. I’ve been sticking it in the fridge to use the next day. I guess I have lost quality, though I haven’t been able to tell very clearly (the 3-5 brewing is weaker anyway). I like the idea of using it for iced tea. I suppose I could alternate between hot and cold tea days. Looses some of the ritual though. I guess I should move to really small cups with less tea!

  3. I completely agree Tony, less is more with our drink. Little at a time. Although many have the same addiction some have with coffee, bless their hearts; we most know it’s about the experience. If you brew a huge pot of tea and don’t drink it, which I’m not saying I’ve overestimated myself before, then sure…save it to make iced tea. However I don’t think the leaf itself, once steeped, is necessary to use over and over again. Pick a robust tea and steep it all day, drink little at a time, and be happy. Just like we do where I come from. Steep. Sip. Bloom. :)

  4. Hi, Thanks for the article.

    I’m new to the world of GongFu tea brewing and just got my first gaiwan. With regards to re-steeping I still have a couple of things I’m unsure about. For example if I am drinking by myself and I do multiple steeps (eg. 8) then in a 150ml gaiwan I am going to get through 1.2 litres of tea which seems an awful lot in one session! Can the tea just be left covered in the gaiwan for a few hours for later perhaps? Or is there a way to make sure it doesn’t degrade too much?

    Thanks for any help.

    1. Hi James, thanks for the comment. I know 1.2 litres sounds like a lot but it really isn’t if you do it over the course of a few hours. The tea can absolutely be left in the gaiwan for several hours as long as the water has been drained out so it stops steeping. It will only degrade if you leave it so long it begins to dry out or if you leave it overnight. So the way to make sure it doesn’t degrade to much is to drink it all in one go, you’ll get the hang of it. Several hours in a gaiwan and it isn’t going to degrade too much. What styles of tea have you been experimenting with?

  5. Hello
    I would like to know if I put left over brewed tea in the fridge and reheat it the next day, is that still good?

    1. you could, i often do this with expensive teas that i don’t want to waste when a day comes to an end. it’s never as good the next day. storing it in an airtight container is key. but keep in mind, it will always lose it’s oomph if you store it overnight.

  6. Okay, I have to wonder where I fit in this scheme of things. I’m a complete tea neophyte who has recently discovered sheng pu’erh (probably not even the good stuff, since I bought the beeng for around $26) and have fallen in love with it. I use a 16 ounce ingenuiTea with enough carefully separated leaves from the beeng to cover the bottom in a roughly 1/4 inch layer of leaves and then fill it half way with water (after rinsing it) and steep for about 15 seconds. I tend to drink my tea fairly quickly while it is still hot (yes, I do inhale the steam and enjoy the aromas and taste), then I go back and heat water and pour another steeping for about 5 seconds longer. My time between steepings is roughly 15 – 20 minutes and I just keep the leaves in the ingenuiTea with the lid on. I use a larger vessel because I got tired of running back and forth to the kitchen every 6 minutes or so, plus I notice that I need more water as the leaves continue to expand and take up more volume in the steeping device. I tried one of those lovely little Korean ceramic cups with the little ceramic infuser, but that is what kept me running into the kitchen every few minutes.

    All of the above brings me to a question: is there a reason for using such a small teapot/infusing device if a person enjoys drinking that much tea? Does a smaller pot somehow enhance or concentrate the flavor if the amount of leaves is increased according to the size of the pot?

  7. I just leave the strainer sitting in a tea plate. When I’m ready for another cup, whether it’s that day or in a few days, I re-use it. The leaves may have re-dried but I don’t think there could be any harm done to them by leaving them sitting out. They’re exposed air, yes, and maybe even temperature fluctuations but not drastically. Maybe I’m a true minimalist or maybe I’m just plain lazy. Either way, I’ve been enjoying several cups a day, every day, for more than 40 years. “Make tea, not war”.

  8. When I’m dealing with an especially nice tea that I don’t want to waste, I employ a slightly different method than the one you suggest about putting the leaves in cold water in the fridge. I like to make an infusion or two as usual; savor and focus on the experience. Then, if I don’t have time to fully enjoy the subsequent infusions, I’ll brew and decant into my sharing pitcher 2 or 3 more infusions together. I’ll then divide those up into small, hermetic bottles and refridgerate. This methods works particularly well with sencha. By combing, you homogenize the attributes of the final infusions to ensure you’re getting plenty of mouth-feel and depth of flavor in each bottle (I like the 8oz bottles; they hold roughly one infusion from my 300ml yokode kyusu).
    This also combines East and West: I enjoy the ritualistic (Eastern) aspect of the tea; then, later, I get to chug (Western) some yummy iced “iced” tea.

  9. So if I re-steeping in a large pot I need to wait a whole day? That’s a lot of time but I’ll give it a try

    1. Christina, no you don’t have to wait a whole day, I was noticing that because people were waiting an entire day, they were misunderstanding the principles of re-steeping. Cheers!

  10. Good observation you have here.
    Yes…totally agree with Norwood.
    Have a good plan in advance, use the proper size of tea pot for different occasion to make tea right
    for the serving…instead of using one size for all.
    Most Taiwan Oolong we are suggesting to our friends:
    Make first and second infusions for great hot tea…
    Let the third steeping for a longer infusion and pour it over the ice to make nice and freshly brewed Gourmet Iced tea…
    Enjoy sipping.

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