6 Reasons to Rinse your Loose Leaf Tea
Depending on how long you’ve been drinking tea, or how deep you’ve immersed yourself into tea culture, you may or may not be familiar with tea rinsing. Submitting your tea leaves to a quick rinse is a fairly common practice among loose leaf drinkers, but if you are new to the world beyond teabags, or only hearing about this for the first time, you might not know why we rinse our tea.
1. It can Remove Impurities that aren’t Tea
Tea is a plant. Even the fanciest of packaging and processing shouldn’t distract you from this very basic fact. Tea is a plant that it is grown in the dirt, picked, processed, and packaged before being sold to you for your drinking enjoyment. Much like fruits and vegetables you buy from the supermarket, rinsing your tea can remove foreign items that you’d prefer to not consume. Dirt, dust, and even potentially pesticides can all be present on the tea leaf. A quick rinse can remove these undesirable substances, and prevent them from effecting the flavor of your tea.
If pesticides are of major concern for you, try to buy certified organic teas, as many pesticides are not water soluble, and the rinse may not be enough to sufficiently remove them from the resulting beverage.
2. Rinsing Tea will Bring up the Temperature of the Leaves
Brewing great tea is primary about time and temperature. Part of the problem of brewing in a room temp cup or infuser, with room temperature leaves, is that the water you use will be immediately cooled by several degrees when added to the vessel. Depending on the tea that you are drinking and what your desired brew temperature is, this may or may not be a problem. Ultimately though, through rinsing the leaves, and the use of a temperature controlled kettle, you gain a lot of control over the brewing process, and can keep your water temperature much closer to it’s starting temp.
3. It can Improve Flavor and ‘Awaken’ your Tea Leaves
Many kinds of tea, especially oolongs, involve twisting or a rolling the leaves in order to breakup the cell walls and speed up oxidation of the leaf. These tightly wound or balled leaves can benefit with brief exposure to heat and water, allowing them time open up or ‘awaken’ prior to steeping your first cup. The leaves will immediately begin to unfurl and allow the next infusion to really get into the leaf and bring out more of the flavor. If your first infusion is only 30 seconds to one minute in length, starting with opened leaves will certainly make a difference. Rinsing the leaves can remove bitterness, and bring a mellower, deeper flavor to the resulting brew. Take a look at these Alishan Oolong pearls and you can see just how tight they are bunched up. A quick immersion in hot water for 3 to 10 seconds will open them up nicely.
4. Rinsing Tea can remove the ‘stink’ of fermented varieties like Pu’Er
Have you ever made broccoli in the office microwave? Boiled eggs at home? Cooked seafood? Sometimes delicious foods and flavors can put off some truly offensive smells. Fermented teas are no exception. Some people may find the smell of Pu’er and milk oolong teas incredibly offensive. It is important to keep in mind here that the final taste of the tea is not necessarily going to be the same as it’s smell. These teas have often been stored or aged in a small air tight container, meaning the odors have built up over time, and are likely to be very strong. A quick hot water rinse of the tea leaf can wash these smells away, and leave you with a much more pleasant and nuanced aroma. When you open a good bottle of wine or scotch, depending on the variety, it may need to breath or be aerated before drinking. This is tea’s version of that process, and can turn a bad olfactory experience into a delicious beverage.
5. It gives you something to feed your Tea Pet
If haven’t yet purchased a tea pet, it’s one of the best parts of the tea hobby. Over time, you feed you feed your pet tea, so that it may grow a soul. Typically you don’t want to feed your tea pet the tea that you are consuming, because you want to drink it! The waste water for tea rinses is perfect for our small clay friends, and bring about luck. Make sure you grab yourself a tea tray with a catch before feeding though, so you don’t make a mess that needs cleaning later. (I use this bamboo tray from amazon).
6. The tea rinse is a step that can be added to your meditative tea practice.
I’ve detailed in another post how brewing and drinking your tea can be an effective meditative practice. Part of the reason I like tea for reflection and meditation is that it is a methodical process. Each step becomes a movement in the process that can be repeated and reflected on. Rinsing your tea is not only good practice, but becomes yet another step within your session that can be thought on. If seek symbolism in your actions, perhaps ask yourself, what do I rinse away in my own life? How do we warm ourselves up in life, both physically and mentally, to get the most out of ourselves or our day?
One bonus reason to not rinse tea leaves
One of my fascinations with tea is that in America, we seem to reject tea in favor of it’s faster-stronger-hype-brother coffee. Tea seems to be sidelined unless it is an over sweetened herbal variety, or directly beneficial to health in some way. That being said, one of the other reasons I think tea often gets left behind is due to inconvenience. Whether the inconvenience is due to quality tea is not readily available, or not having the proper space or equipment, creating additional barriers to tea drinking is not high on my list. For that reason, if you don’t have the time, space, or interest in rinsing your tea, then don’t rinse it! It isn’t a required step to a great cup of tea, and should be considered an optional step that you can integrate into your tea practice for greater control and experimentation. Ultimately, you should do what you find best for your own palate, and for your own tea journey.
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