Originally Posted by david_42
Ratios in mashing control eznyme concentration and pH. The amount of steeping & sparge water for specialty grains doesn't matter much because you are only extracting flavors, there are no enzymes to speak of and since there are no enzymes and no starch conversion, pH only matters for tannin extraction.
When I steep, I'll use lots of water. Typically 2-3 gallons. Once the steeping is done, I add the extract. If I'm doing a full boil, I add more water at this point.
I am fully aware of the fact that in the steeping of specialty grains there is no starch conversion occurring, only the dissolving into solution of the sugars that have already been converted during the roasting process, and the extraction of the colors and flavors of the grains. pH is still a factor though.
Steeping in too much water, or sparging with too much water, will cause the pH to be too high and that will lead to excessive tannin extraction. Steeping or sparging with water in excess of 170˚F will also lead to the extraction of excess tannins.
So as you stated, the steep and sparge water ratios are not important with regard to starch conversion or enzymatic activity in specialty grains, but the ratios are still important with regard to pH levels and excess tannin extraction, leading to astringency. That has been my experience, and Chris Colby wrote a great article about it in the May-June '05 issue of BYO magazine.
1-3 qts of water per pound of specialty grain is sufficient to accomplish the steep and still keep the pH low enough. .5 qt/lb sparge water or up to 2 qts/lb sparge water if added to the grain tea and the entire amount used to rinse the grains. This is just one of the many ways to make extract beers the best that they can be.