There is one thing that almost everyone learns first when first learning how to brew loose leaf tea — dump out the first brew! We do this by pouring hot water over the tea leaves we are about to brew. Then, immediately pouring it out. We also refer to it as “rinsing” your tea, “washing,” or “blanching” it. However, do we always need to rinse our tea?
How To Brew Loose Leaf Tea: Why Do We Rinse Tea?
Some believe that dumping out the first brew is something that we should do with all loose leaf teas. However, this is not quite the case. Rinsing the tea leaves isn’t a necessary part of gong fu cha. Only some tea leaves should undergo a rinse, while others left untouched. It is a matter of purely getting the best possible taste out of each tea.
While certain Chinese teas can benefit significantly from blanching, we wouldn’t consider or recommend blanching most Japanese teas. For example — sencha, with its small broken-up leaves, is better left un-rinsed.
When washing a tea, don’t infuse it for any more than a few seconds. It is better to keep the infusion time short to preserve most of the flavor. On the other hand, you can rinse post-fermented or aged teas up to two times. This only improves the quality of the brew to come.
Which Tea Varieties Should I Rinse?
Teas where the tea leaf is minimally processed.
Think white and green teas. Certain white tea varieties, like White Peony and Silver Needle, have tea leaves that go through minimal processing. This means that the tea leaves aren’t broken down. Furthermore, they both have the iconic “white fuzz” on the tea leaves. These factors act as a sort of protection, making it harder for the tea leaf to infuse as quickly. Giving the tea leaves a quick rinse with 185℉ water will help the tea infuse faster by it going through that initial “break down” — the rinse.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, we have rolled or even torn/broken teas. Generally, when the surface of the tea leaf has been punctured more, it is easier for the tea leaves to infuse in the water quickly.
Compressed teas. These include all compressed teas. For example, pu-erh (both ripe and raw), compressed white tea, and tightly rolled oolongs or tea pearls. Even though the surface of the tea leaves is fairly broken up as a result of post-fermentation (i.e., for pu-erh teas), these teas still require a good rinse to loosen them up from their compressed shape, releasing all the flavors.
Comparing a rinsed pu-erh side to side with a non-rinsed one, it is easier to see the benefit of the rinse. Both the tea’s aroma and flavor will open up.
Heavy Baked Oolongs. Certain heavy baked oolongs, like Wuyi oolongs benefit from a rinse. The taste becomes cleaner and sharper.
What Other Teas Should We Rinse?
- Teas which you believe may have some debris. The most common teas are — yup, pu-erh varieties! This is not to say that pu-erh tea is dirty. However, because farmers store it in large warehouses during the fermentation period, it is not uncommon for it to accumulate dust and other small debris. When buying pu-erh from untrusted vendors, or pu-erh cakes that are suspiciously cheap, it is not so uncommon to find bigger “garbage.” We can usually detect this while breaking up the tea brick. Pu-erh is probably the tea we would say absolutely requires a quick wash or sometimes even two.
- Teas with higher caffeine content. Some people wash their teas to get rid of some of the caffeine with the first brew. Studies have shown that some (but not most!) of the caffeine comes out with the first infusion. It is important to note that this is not a way of making your own decaffeinated tea, and the tea leaves will still release caffeine in subsequent brews. It can, however, slightly reduce the caffeine content.
When brewing teas you don’t plan on rinsing, it is essential to preheat the brewing vessel beforehand. We can otherwise skip this step, as the rinse acts as preheating itself.
How To Brew Tea GongFu Style