There are a few different schools of thought about rinsing teas in gongfu style. The biggest reason is to “awaken” the tea. All rolled oolongs and compressed teas, including cakes, bricks, minis, have less surface area than their loose leaf tea counterparts. Since only the exterior gets the hot water, it results in the first infusions having very little flavor. A rinse gets the compressed tea loosened first, so there is more surface area touching the water allowing for the tea to expand. After a rinse, the first infusion will be much richer in flavor and darker in color, so you get to taste the tea sooner.
Another school of thought uses rinsing to clean the tea. Rinsing can remove any perceived dust, foreign matter, surface mold or impurities in your tea. If you do not trust the origin, cleanliness, or storage of a tea, discarding your rinse is advised to be on the safe side. There is also an opportunity to inspect the opened leaves after a rinse before drinking.
Rinsing can also remove a layer of storage or fermentation notes. Often these less desirable flavors of aged or fermented tea are on the surface, and a rinse will flush them out.
As always, preheat your teapot or gaiwan with boiling water before adding your tea of choice. Preheating your teaware will ensure there is less temperature drop, resulting in excellent infusions. These rinses are flash or very fast infusions (10 seconds or less in most cases). From there, discard the tea rinse over a teapet, tea tray, or waste water bowl.
What temperature is best for rinsing tea? Boiling water. Boiling water is the most effective rinse water temperature. The short infusion time isn’t enough time to scald the leaves into bitterness, but enough time to start unraveling the tea. After a rinse, take the time to enjoy the scent of the warmed up leaves.
There are times when a single rinse is not enough. You may rinse a tea and it is still holding the tight compression and not giving off much flavor. As mentioned earlier, a Puer tea or heicha may have excessive unpleasant storage, smoke, or fermentation notes. A second rinse will remove even more undesired flavors and smells, as well as help ease tight compression teas.
For example, if you find your brand new young shu cake is too funky for your tastes, it could benefit from double rinsing. The extra rinse will remove more wet pile notes but also get into the rich flavor quicker.
If your cake or brick has tight compression, your options are to shatter the leaves or rinse more. Breaking up the leaves will make the brew stronger or more bitter, so rinsing is best. Do a rinse, if the tea looks un-phased, go for another rinse. You may also wait a few minutes with the teapot lid closed and let the residual heat steam open compressed teas. For teas with very tight compression, elongate your boiling rinse as necessary. A rinse in excess of a minute or two might be ideal if a tea is very tightly compressed.
Contrary to popular belief, rinsing does not remove caffeine from the tea. Tea needs to be infused for much longer for any note worthy removal of caffeine. There will still be plenty of caffeine extracted in subsequent infusions with any tea (camellia sinensis) so keep that in mind if you're sensitive to caffeine.
Generally, green tea and loose leaf young white tea does not need to be rinsed. In addition, our rock oolongs (also called yancha) have a very delicious rinse that we'd rarely waste. These teas do not benefit from being “awakened”, are more delicate, and release plenty of flavor from the get go. However, a compressed white tea, especially those with tight pressing, such as our 2017 Turtle Dove Brick, greatly benefit from a rinse or two.
Keep in mind drinking your tea rinse will not harm you. Without a rinse, your tea will taste lighter and the gongfu session takes a bit longer. Say you splurged on a cake of White2tea 2021 Lucky Puppy or something expensive. Drinking every tea infused drop of liquid gold to get your money’s worth is completely understandable. As with all things tea, your main goal should be personal enjoyment, so follow your own taste and preferences.
We recommend always rinsing shou Puer tea twice using boiling water. Due to how shou Puer is pile fermented, especially for those made in particularly rural conditions in Yunnan province, a double boiling rinse is a great way to wash away impurities and dust that may be on the tea. This is especially true of freshly made shou Puer, where the first infusions may be turbid and unpleasant.
In addition, aged teas could always benefit from a rinse. Teas that spent much of their life in a warehouse may have a bit of dust or debris on their surface that a rinse can wash away. A boiling rinse also helps to awaken aged teas and remove any off putting surface aromas that they might have acquired in longer term storage.