The complete guide to steeping your e-liquids

Everything you need to know about steeping your e-juice including what is steeping, why you should steep and how to steep your e-liquid.

What is steeping?

Steeping refers to the method used to improve the flavour of e-liquid through a process in which you allow the e-liquid to mature. Steeping allows the VG (vegetable glycerine), PG (proplylene glycol) and flavour concentrates to homogenise into a uniform mix. The process of steeping e-liquids is similar to the process of aging wine in order to produce an improved flavour. Allowing a bottle of e-liquid to steep helps evaporate, chemically breakdown and infuse the flavourings, PG, VG and nicotine in order to enhance the taste. Steeping helps reduce or remove off-notes, chemical tastes, harshness and balances out flavours.

When mixing e-liquid, the different components and ingredients have varying levels of density and thickness. VG has a higher viscosity to PG which means it is thicker in texture and more easily sinks to the bottom of the bottle. Due to this, shaking your bottle after mixing is necessary. Even after shaking, the liquid will need too steep for all the ingredients to homogenize and become uniform

Why you should steep?

The primary ingredients used in e-liquids are propylene glycol (PG), vegetable glycerine (VG) and flavourings containing artificial and natural flavourings. Steeping is necessary to blend these different properties together so the flavour is well rounded and doesn’t have any chemical notes or harshness.

What is streathing?

Streathing is the process of testing your e-liquids in order to determine the ideal steeping time of your flavours. You test the e-liquids at different stages in the steeping process while tracking tasting notes on a spreadsheet to identify the perfect steeping time for your flavour. You taste your e-liquids on a regular and consistent basis to determine the perfect amount of time needed to get your flavour to its optimum taste to vape.

Due to the process known as the Mailard reaction, as your flavour ages it gets exponentially slower at steeping which means there is in an optimum taste window of a few weeks to a few months where it is best to vape your flavour between.

How long should I steep my e-liquids for?

There is no set amount of time you should steep your e-liquids for and it is also dependent on which method of steeping you choose. Allowing your flavours at least 2 weeks to steep is generally enough time to deliver a dramatically enhanced change in flavour. The amount of time you allow your e-liquid to steep for is dependent on a number of varying factors:

The Flavour
Custard, creamy and dessert flavours generally take the longest amount of time to steep due to its denser components and the Mailard reaction. Fruity flavours tend to take the least amount of steeping time, while tobaccos, spices, drinks and teas are somewhere in-between. With this said, there could be a fruit flavours that take longer than dessert flavours to steep. The only way to be able truly know which flavours need the longest steeping time is by tasting your flavour as you are steeping until you are happy with that taste.

The amount of concentrates used
The more concentrates used in a flavour can often mean it will take longer to steep due more flavours needing to homogenise.

The VG, PG and nicotine ratio
Due to vegetable glycerine having a higher viscosity, e-liquids with higher VG ratios will take a longer time to steep as the added thickness of VG needs more time for the flavours to homogenise. It should also be noted if nicotine is added to the flavour, it will need an even longer time to steep.

The method of steeping If you are resting your flavour with the cap on the entire time, it will take longer to steep then if you were steeping by letting it breath. If you are water bathing your e-liquid it will take a significantly shorter amount of time to steep. A good guide would be: 1 week – 3 months steeping time for resting, 1 week to 1 month steeping time for breathing and resting. 1 day to 2 weeks steeping time if you are regularly hot water bathing your e-liquid (at least once every 72 hours for an hour or more). The only way to tell if a flavour is truly at its optimum steeping time is by tracking your flavour taste with streathing. The whole point of steeping e-liquid is it to get it to a point where it tastes best to you. For some people this could be as little as one week and for others this could be as long as 3 months.

What causes the change in taste and colour when steeping e-liquids?

Flavour homogenisation, degasification, evaporation and the mailard reaction are the four main chemical and physical reactions that are taking place when steeping your e-liquid. Degasification and evaporation only occur when the lid is off while flavour homogenisation and the Mailard reaction occur when the lid is on or off.

Flavour homogenisation 
E-liquids contain VG, PG and several flavour concentrates to make up a flavour. All these components have different viscosity’s (levels of thickness) and various chemical compounds that make up the flavour. The process of steeping allows the components of your flavour to blend together and this process of homogenisation takes time to occur. Before homogenisation takes place you may find when you first taste a flavour certain concentrates or components may dominate the flavour, steeping allows dominate flavours, harsh notes and off notes to smooth out.

Evaporation When you steep with the lid off, you are exposing your e-liquid to the atmosphere. This can remove volatile components used in the production of flavour concentrates that can have astringent or chemical odours. A good example of evaporation taking place is when alcohol is removed from wine when used in cooking. It should be noted that leaving the lid off for an extended period of time (normally 24 hours or more) will cause the nicotine to evaporate and degrade, so it is recommended to not let your flavour breath for over 24 hours.
Degasification Similar to the production of wine, carbon dioxide is an undesired by-product for most wines. E-liquids can contain similar by-products that can be released by leaving the lid off your e-liquid bottle when steeping.
The Maillard Reaction The change of colour and taste over time is caused by a chemical reaction between amino acids and reducing sugars. The Mailard reaction is accelerated at higher temperatures. A high temperature example is the change of taste and browning of potato chips as you cook them. The Maillard reaction also occurs at a slower rate at lower temperatures such as the aging of wine and balsamic vinegar. It is due to The Maillard reaction that the fastest method of steeping is hot water bathing your e-liquid as this accelerates the process. The Mailard reaction gets exponentially slower as it progresses and this is why when e-liquid first starts to steep you see the golden and browning colour forming over a few days while the colour darkening slows the longer you let it steep. Due to this, it takes a longer period of time to reach the full desired flavour and colour. The degree at which the colour changes in your e-liquid is dependent on the presence of nicotine and concentrates with colourisation. Some flavours won’t change at all or change by only a small degree and these are often referred to as shake and vape e-liquids.

What flavours should I steep and why?

Due to the vast amount of different flavours on the market it can be difficult to determine which flavours need to be steeped and how long you should steep them for. It is always best to apply as much science and testing behind steeping as possible and this is why streathing is an important part of the process. There are a few general rules you can follow to help you to determine which flavours need to steep and for how long.

Some premium e-liquids come pre-steeped and this is what can warrant such a high price tag on many premium flavours as you can vape them right away and can enjoy them at an optimum taste point. On the flip side, some premium e-liquids do not come pre-steeped and these e-liquids can have a higher amount of concentrates used in the liquid, which means it needs more time for the flavours to blend together.

Creamy flavours have a tendency to require a longer a steeping time, while fruity flavours tend to steep quicker but have a higher amount of initial overpowering sharp notes. Flavours with spices, tea’s and other similar notes can take longer to blend as well. There is no real science behind this as there are several factors at play, it really boils down to testing to determine what really works. General rule of thumb though is the more concentrates used in an e-liquid the longer it will take to steep as more flavours need to homogenise. Flavours with a higher VG percentage can take longer to steep as VG has a higher viscocity than PG, therefore it takes longer for flavours to mix together due to the denser, thicker liquid.

If a flavour has a harsh or chemical taste, these can generally be eliminated by steeping for longer. Ultimately, if you like the taste of a flavour and notice no off notes, its well rounded enough and good to vape. If a flavour has any distinct chemical tastes, harshness or a flavour that shouldn’t be overpowering that seems to be overpowering the flavour, it is generally a good indicator that the flavour can yield benefits from steeping as these properties can be removed from steeping the flavour.

The colour of the liquid can also be an indicator if a flavour needs to be steeped or not. This is especially the case if the flavour contains nicotine. If the flavour contains nicotine and is quite clear, this is an indicator that the flavour can yield positive results from being steeped. Nicotine changes the colour of the e-liquid over time to a slightly more yellowy browner colour. However this rule isn’t 100% reliable as some flavours have brownish or yellowish colours in them that you can confuse for it being the nicotine blended.

There are 3 different methods of steeping your e-liquid:

Resting
Keep the e-liquid in a cool, dark place and allow it to rest, occasionally shaking the liquid. This method takes the longest amount of time but is the recommended method for someone new to steeping as it involves the least amount of effort. Your e-liquid may need to rest anywhere from a day to a few weeks. Generally, the longer you rest it, the better the liquid will taste. Streathing is recommended to determine when your flavour is at its optimum taste to vape.

Breathing
Similar to resting, but with the lid of the container removed to allow excess aroma molecules from the flavours to escape. Breathing can however mute the flavours and oxidise the nicotine if done too much/for too long. It is recommended that you let your flavour breath for 12 hours with the lid removed, then 72 hours with the lid on. Repeat this process until your flavour reaches its optimum level by streathing your flavour.

Breathing is the recommended method to use if you want to achieve an optimum level of flavour as it allows your flavours to go through the evaporation and degasification process. For the lazy and forgetful, let your flavour breath for 12-24 hours with the lid off, then let it rest with the lid on the during the rest of the steeping process. This will still allow the flavour to go through the evaporation and degasification process while not having to monitor your flavour every few days.

Water Bath A water bath is placing the e-liquid bottle into a heated container of water. This heats up the liquid to help speed up the steeping process. Water baths can be done in slow cookers, ultrasonic cleaners or a hot bowl of water. While it does help homogenize the liquids, it can degrade the flavourings and nicotine if the temperature is too high. If you are in-patient and want your flavour to be ready to vape faster, water bathing is recommended, however, it is the most complex method. The reason it speeds up the steeping process is due to heat molecules moving faster allowing the flavours to homogenise quicker. This is similar to how a tea bag disperses quickly when placed in boiling water vses cold water. For a simple water bath place your bottle of eliquid in a bowl of water between 50-70 degrees celsius for up to four hours. If there isn’t a heat source keeping the temperature at a constant rate, you will need to frequently replace the water to ensure the water stays heated as tempature quickly degrades when left unheated. It is highly recommended that you use streathing with this process as water bathing dramatically accelerates the steeping time. Several hours of water bathing can shave off days to weeks worth of steeping time in comparison to the resting and breathing methods. I recommend tasting the flavour every 30 mins when steeping via this method.

What is the best way to steep my e-liquid?

The best method of steeping is dependent on your outcomes. If you have the time, breathing is the best method to use, while water bathing would be the best method to use if you want to be able to have your flavour ready to vape quicker. To get the best of both worlds. You can accelerate the process while maintaining a optimum taste by following these steps

  1. Let your flavour breath by taking the cap off for 6 hours
  2. Water bath at 60 degress for 1 hour
  3. Rest your flavour in a cool dark place for 24 hours

Keep following the above process until you have achieved your optimum flavour taste. This process usually takes 3 days - 2 weeks of steeping time to achieve the desired result.  

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