What Is Steeping?
You may have heard the term ‘steeping’ in relation to e-liquids. If you have, there’s a good chance you’ve also heard some conflicting opinions about it.
Steeping is surprisingly a point of contention in the vaping community, with some vapers swearing by its use for every product, whilst others insist that it’s a waste of time.
So, what exactly is steeping?
A steeped e-liquid is essentially an e-liquid that has been aged. Although it is a rather straightforward process, there are several approaches to steeping that claim to help bring out the flavour qualities of an e-liquid in different ways.
This can involve everything from thoroughly shaking the e-liquid, to letting it breathe and then sit for specific amounts of time, to changing the conditions the bottle is kept in.
Plenty of misunderstanding exist around the idea of steeping, least of all because outside of vaping it has a variety of meanings. If you’re preparing food or hot drinks, then ‘steeping’ refers to essentially soaking something.
As more time passes, the composite mediums of the e-liquid, vegetable glycerine and propylene glycol, and the flavourings have the chance to blend together more thoroughly.
Steeping e-liquids therefore (in theory) results in a fuller flavour, just like aging a cheese or wine. Some vapers believe that steeping has very little measurable effect, whilst in other circles it’s held up as an essential part of using any e-liquid.
Certainly steeping is a key step in making your own e-liquids, as a freshly cooked-up e-liquid will be almost entirely separated from its flavour components, resulting in an extremely unappealing experience if you try to vape it right off-the-pot.
But what about pre-made e-liquids? And how do you even steep an e-liquid in the first place?
For a full idea of how to steep e-liquids and what it can do to help your experience, let’s get into it.
As we stated there are several different methods for steeping e-liquids, each one having been developed with the goal of finding a better way to intensify those flavours.
This variation notwithstanding, the core principle of steeping remains nice and straightforward.
To understand how to steep e-liquid in the most basic way, simply shake the bottle hard to thoroughly mix the liquid and then leave it upright in a cool, dark place.
This place doesn’t have to be particularly temperature controlled but a lack of light is essential, so an out-of-the-way cupboard or shoebox is perfect.
The amount of time you leave the e-liquid for will vary depending on who you ask, but in general fruity e-liquids can be left for 24-48 hours, whilst those more complex flavours like tobacco or desserts should be left for up to 2 weeks.
This is because the latter e-liquids have a much more complex flavour base than the former, needing more time for their flavourings to fully dilute into the liquid.
If a potential two weeks sounds like a little too long to you, some methods have been developed specifically to speed up the process of steeping.
Most of these revolve around the idea of using heat to help increase the rate of diffusion in the flavouring, the results of which can range from effective to disastrous.
Many vapers suggest using a warm water bath to prime your e-liquid before steeping, putting the bottles in a sealed plastic bag and soaking them in a bowl or tub full of warm water for a few hours, before going through the usual steeping process.
As a step-up from this, some vapers will use a slow cooker on its lowest setting, using the same plastic bag trick and being sure to shake the bottles frequently.
Some people claim that this trick can give the equivalent results of a few days of steeping in just a handful of hours, though opinion remains divided.
There are many other measures for speed-steeping out there that operate on this principle, using hardware that ranges from hairdryers to microwaves.
If you’re using one of these methods to cut down on your steeping time, we encourage you to be careful and use common sense.
Don’t use boiling water that could either hurt you or shatter a glass bottle, bear in mind what your bottle is made of and just how much heat it can take, and don’t crank up the power if it means blitzing your e-liquid in a microwave.
Aside from the danger to your own safety, this will also have a good chance of ruining your e-liquid beyond recovery.
Breathing & Streathing
The methods we’ve used for steeping so far are all variations on the principle of time, augmented by a little heat.
A few other approaches to steeping exist that use different principles to try to bring out the flavour of your e-liquids.
‘Breathing’ is exactly what you’d expect: using air exposure to bring out flavour, in the same way that you can aerate a bottle of wine.
In general an e-liquid is breathed by unscrewing the cap and exposing the liquid to the air, letting it sit for anywhere between 2 and 12 hours.
Although this principle can enhance alcoholic e-liquids, it has negligible effects on any tobacco or CBD that may be present. As for flavour, although anecdotal evidence suggests both effectiveness and lack thereof, no reliable proof exists for us to confirm it either way.
Plenty of people will tout the benefits of breathing, but just as many consider it a waste of time.
‘Streathing’ is a combination of traditional steeping and breathing, hence the name.
To streathe an e-liquid shake the bottle good and hard as you would when steeping, then run it under warm water for 5 minutes, before popping the cap off and leaving it in that cool-dark place.
After two hours, screw the cap back on and shake it again. The combination of shaking and warm water thins out the vegetable glycerine, making the liquid less viscous and allowing both the flavourings to diffuse more thoroughly and the air do its work.
As the two hours pass the vegetable glycerine slowly resettles, returning the e-liquid to its original consistency but with a better diffusion of flavouring and the benefits of aeration.
This is the method that many homebrewers use to test their e-liquids, letting them prime and then take samples of their e-liquid over time and keeping notes on how it develops.
Other methods of steeping exist, based around a much more thorough mixing using equipment like ultrasonic cleaners and magnetic stirrers.
There are plenty of guides out there directing vapers on how to steep e-liquid using these bits of hardware; but, with the cost of investment and time, not to mention the lack of any proven benefit, we don’t think it’s necessary to get into here.
Suffice to say if regular steeping, breathing or streathing doesn’t give you any noticeable change in flavour, odds are these fancier methods won’t either.
Can I Go Too Far?
How to steep e-liquid can be tricky to figure out due to the nature of steeping itself. It’s an imprecise process, with large differences in time based on what kind of e-liquid you’re steeping.
Even with the most simply flavoured e-liquids and the most straightforward steeping method, the variation between 24 and 48 hours is a significant one. So, is it possible to overdo steeping?
Unfortunately, the answer is a resounding yes. There are limits to how much flavour can be brought out in a single product, due purely to the practical limit of flavourings and how they are incorporated into the liquid itself.
It’s entirely possible to over-steep e-liquids and ruin the flavour. Although conventional steeping, the leave-it-under-your-bed method, is unlikely to ever reach this point unless you’re keeping it for more than two years, the use of heat and aeration can definitely go too far.
It is possible for excess heat to denature the vegetable glycerine and propylene glycol, ruining the consistency of your e-liquid, whilst too much exposure to air will risk spoiling the flavour.
e-liquids containing nicotine or CBD can also suffer from this, with excess heat causing changes to their chemical compositions that lessens their effectiveness and can potentially cause issues in flavouring.
Exposure to too much air can also result in this reduced effectiveness. Some studies suggest that excessive steeping may also limit the throat-hit of an e-liquid, though no solid evidence of this exists.
How to steep e-liquids is a straightforward enough thing to understand, but it comes with a wider comprehension of how e-liquids work and what to expect from them.
In understanding steeping, you’ll also gain a bit of an insight into the discussions that drive the vaping community, including the surprising - and sometimes worrying - innovations that people have come up with in the pursuit of ever more flavourful vapes.
So, should you steep an e-liquid? If you’re brewing your own, then it will without a doubt help. Few people will enjoy the taste of fresh e-liquids before the flavourings have had time to diffuse.
If you’re buying a conventional e-liquid from a shop or online, well then that’s up to you.
Most store-bought e-liquids have already been steeped just by virtue of being in transit and storage before they hit the shelves, whilst some manufacturers explicitly include a ‘steeping’ period before they ship their product at all.
Still, plenty of vapers prefer to let their e-liquids sit for a few days or even weeks before filling up their tanks.
No objective studies have given us a clear answer as to whether steeping really does work or not. The community remains divided over the matter; for some, steeping is an essential part of vaping.
For others, it’s little more than a waste of time. Some people will go as far as conducting blind taste-tests to try and answer the question once and for all, but the results are often inconclusive and rarely credible.
In all, knowing how to steep e-liquids is a useful thing for any vaper, even if you never intend to do it yourself.
Whether or not steeping is for you really is a matter of personal taste, though it is something we encourage you to try at least once just to help you find that perfect flavour.