One thing that is frequently debated in the tea world is whether or not you should rinse tea leaves before drinking. I thought it was time to tackle this topic here on the blog.
Why do people rinse tea?
This might be a foreign concept if you’ve never made tea in what is called gongfu style. Basically, the leaves are briefly washed with hot water. Some do this to open up the leaves. This is particularly the case for heavily compressed teas like puerh. The same goes for tightly rolled oolongs like Tie Guan Yin. Others rinse their leaves in an effort to remove dust and impurities.
The efficacy of rinsing tea is not something that has been studied much (at least outside of China). What this means is that we have very little proof that rinsing tea will actually do much to protect us from any harmful substances. Thanks to Eric Scott, I did find one puerh focused study. They recommend discarding the first brew for safe drinking.
I’ve seen a lot of talk on forums about rinsing to remove pesticides. I think it is important to keep in mind that not all pesticides are created equal. Some are not water-soluble. Others are absorbed into the plant and are not present on the leaves. If you consider the process to remove pesticide residue from fruits and vegetables, it becomes pretty clear that a quick dip in hot water will not accomplish very much when it comes to tea.
Should you rinse your tea?
I did an informal poll on Twitter and the results were very interesting. The majority of people said that they do rinse but there was definitely a small contingent of folks who do not.
When brewing gongfu style, do you usually rinse your tea?— Nicole Wilson – Tea for Me Please (@teaformeplease) January 6, 2020
This may not be the answer that you are looking for but there is no right or wrong way. Everything is a personal choice. Do what works for you and do not let anyone tell you otherwise!
In my personal opinion, you are throwing out the baby with the bathwater if you rinse white and green teas. The tender buds are covered in tiny hairs called trichomes. These affect the mouthfeel and add a surprising amount of sweetness to the cup. Seriously, try brewing them on their own if you ever have the chance! The one exception to that rule might be compressed white teas, particularly if they are aged.
I’m on the fence when it comes to oolongs and black tea. A first infusion without rinsing first might be light but it can also be fun to see how the tea progresses as the leaves open up. When I first started, I religiously rinsed all of my compressed teas. Over time that habit has definitely become more relaxed. Nowadays I only rinse if I think the storage was questionable.
The type of tea you are drinking is a big factor here. It is not a common practice to rinse tea when brewing in a western fashion. It also not typical to rinse teas from regions outside of China, like Japan or Darjeeling.
Do you rinse your tea leaves? Let me know why or why not in the comments below!