Hey, Tea, prepare thyself!?

I just watched the video from Verdant Tea where Wang Yanxin shows us how to brew her new Yu Lu Yan Cha Black Tea http://verdanttea.com/tv/wang-yanxin-brewing-yu-lu-yan-cha-black-tea/

I am a little embarrassed to admit this, but I don’t think it ever occurred to me to give the leaves a ‘gentle wake up call’ before the hot water comes on full force. At least, that is the impression I get as to one of the reasons why she ‘rinses’ the tea with cooler water before steeping it in boiling water (I imagine there may very well be other reasons, too). Does anyone know if this is a good practice with all teas that take boiling (or near boiling) water, like black teas, pu-erhs, and oolongs (I’ve heard of doing it with some oolongs and pu-erhs, but never with a black tea)? And, does doing the rinse actually have a noticeable (or measurable) impact on the taste, aroma, staying power, etc. of the tea? Or is it more of a custom to be practiced, say, out of respect for the Tea?

Regardless, I like the practice of treating the Tea with more respect (at least rinsing it in cooler water is more respect than I normally give it). To me, the practice makes the Tea seem more like a living, feeling organism, rather than just a bunch of lifeless (and so feeling-less) leaves. I know I appreciate gentle wake-up calls. Anthropomorphizing almost always adds so much more value to my interactions with the ‘things’ around me.

On a note related to how she brewed it, I noticed she leaves the lid to the gaiwan off while brewing. I always thought leaving the lid on was best when brewing with boiling water (to keep as much of the heat in as possible), but maybe gongfu brewing is different.

Anyway, any data, thoughts, philosophy, or otherwise about rinsing the leaves?

9 Replies

I typically do rinse the leaves when I brew Oolong and Pu-erh teas, and Lapsang Souchong. This helps to lighten the smoke with the Lapsang Souchong, lighten the earthiness of Pu-erh, and just plain make the Oolong taste better. :)

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Cody said

I’ve often wondered this myself. I nearly always rinse the leaves for everything besides green and white when performing gong fu. I tend to pour from a greater height/smaller stream and only hit the rim of the gaiwan for the wash, but that’s probably because it seems vicious to douse something with boiling water on some subconscious level to me. But for most oolongs, the water temperature should start off lower and then rise throughout steeps. It seems like it really depends on the type of tea and variety of the leaf, though. For example: http://www.teahabitat.com/store/index.php?main_page=brewing. This suggests the opposite trend. I’d like to know whether there is some guide for determining the temperature pattern based on the type/variety of the tea.

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I have so much to learn. Have never heard of rinsing tea before now. Do you hold it in your hand and rinse, or put in a fine mesh colander and give a light wash over?

Cody said

I suppose the terms “wash” or “rinse” are a bit misleading. The process is actually like a first steep, but normally shorter in duration, and the resulting liquor is discarded. Just pour the correct temperature water over the leaves in whatever your brewing vessel is, and then pour the liquid right out. After this you go through with your first real steep, which is drunk. It helps “wake up” the leaves, allowing them to heat up to the right temperature and unroll so that more flavor is released from steeps after the wash.

Thank you!! Great to know!

Cody said

You’re welcome! :)

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Excelsior said

The Taiwanese High Mountain Oolongs are often curled into small balls. I always rinse with hot water for 20 seconds to slightly unfurl the leaves. This leads to a more flavorful first and second steep. Rinsing also does not diminish the resteepability of the Taiwanese Oolongs. As for Darjeelings, I would never rinse as you would lose much of the flavor in the rinse.

Thank you for the info!!

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Thank you all for your responses. Excelsior, I was myself wondering how much flavor would be lost in the rinse of a black tea. It certainly makes sense for tightly balled oolongs to rinse them, as you said, to “slightly unfurl the leaves” before steeping, so to expose more surface area and consequently, allow more of the flavor to come out. Rinsing so as to temper the strong smoky flavor with the Lapsang Souchong makes sense, LiberTEAS (although I love Lapsang because of its strong smokey flavor and aroma—campfire in a cup!). And as you mentioned, Cody, I get the impression that rinsing is standard practice when performing gong fu, maybe because the steep sessions are so short, I don’t know.

I’m a “why guy” though, and I still wonder if the rinse is more of a ritualistic step when steeping some teas (other than ones that need to open up before it can release much flavor) rather than a step that has a practical reason. I could always try both side-by-side with the Yu Lu Yan Cha Black Tea to see if I perceive any difference in the flavor, but I don’t quite have the inclination to preform experiments like I used to (especially as the difference may be too subtle for me to pick up).

Still, I like the idea of gently waking up the tea before steeping it as it gives the overall experience of drinking the tea that much more meaning.

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