A Reader Asks About Rinsing Tea; Roy Responds

A reader asks about the practice of rinsing tea prior to the main infusion: "I just read your note about rinsing Da Hong Pao in the July Newsletter and realized that I've never been rinsing my tea. I read somewhere, or was told, that it was an old-fashioned custom, but was no longer necessary. I guess I've been making a mistake. In general, which teas should I rinse? All of them? I think I've seen someone at the teahouse just pour hot water over the leaves in the pot to cover them, then pour off the water immediately. Is that right?"

Roy responds: Rinsing is a personal choice; it's not a must unless you have a reason to do so. Some of those reasons are as follows:
  • To remove dust-like material, broken particles, or broken leaves that are the result of packing, transportation, etc.
  • To moisten the tea leaves and release the aromatics. I enjoy smelling that aroma and the aromatics give me much info about how the tea is processed (high or low fired, fresh or not, etc.). This information helps me decide how I may want to adjust my steeping techniques.
  • In the case of the Da Hong Pao, it helps to remove some of the strong firing aromatics.
If none of the above is important to you or you really know the tea well, you don't have to rinse just because other people may do it. I rinse the tea by pouring water from the kettle from a moderate height into the teapot, making sure the flow of water moves and circulates the leaves inside, which allows loose particles to float up. Then the water is discarded.

After pouring off the rinse water I gently shake the pot so that the leaves are loosened and form a small mound in the middle of the pot. Then I start my brewing by pouring water again, this time in a circular motion around the mound of tea leaves until they start to float. I then continue to pour water in a circular motion over the pile of tea until the pot is almost full. I replace the lid (if the teapot is completely filled with water, when the lid is replaced it will displace some water through the spout) and let the tea infuse until I decide it's time to decant into a service pitcher to be shared.

I don't flush fine green tea due to its delicate nature, but sometimes I flush big-leaf green teas that are covered with fur or tea such as Silver Needles that's large and fur-covered. The common sense approach works every time.


Virginia said...

I became a little more attentive to rinsing after a visit to puerh country (Xishuangbanna) last year. As we hurtled along the back-country dirt roads, kicking up enormous clouds of dust, I was surprised to see tarps and blankets laid right by the roadside, covered with freshly picked puerh that was drying in the sun...and no doubt picking up a nice coat of red Yunnan soil in the process. As Roy says, especially for the full-bodied teas, a rinse can improve, rather than detract from, the flavor and aroma. Don't avoid rinsing out of fear of "washing away the flavor."

WillCH said...

Completely agree with this assessment of rinsing. I too have seen the dusty stalls of Yunnan, though my main reason for rinsing PuErh (brick, not loose), is to loosen up the leaves to ensure they brew evenly and the full flavour is released. It starts the breakdown of the leaf structure, so that the first brew can be shorter and better balanced I find.