Rinsing Your Tea Leaves vs. a Quick First Steep

Some tea experts say to rinse your tea leaves and toss the liquid, then go for the first steep. Others say to just do a quick first steep, go ahead and drink the liquid and then relax and do more steeps. The big question is: Which one is best? The answer lies in why you would want to rinse your tea leaves, which has to do with what “rinsing your tea leaves” actually means.

2002 Xiaguan “Bao Yan” Mushroom tuo Raw Pu-erh tea

A lot of times, rinsing something just means a quick wash off in plain water. This is meant to remove any loose soil remaining on the item being rinsed. However, rinsing tea leaves is a bit different, especially when looked at on a cellular level.

After tea leaves are harvested, they undergo a series of processing steps. The overall goal is to remove most of the moisture. The leaf cells start out as an exterior wall of cellulose filled with water and some other chemicals:

  • Inorganic components: potassium, calcium, phosphorous, magnesium, manganese, iron, sulfur, aluminum, sodium, silicon, zinc, and copper.
  • Nitrogen compounds: amino acids like theanine (unique to tea) and the alkaloid caffeine.
  • Carbohydrates: mostly pectins, plus minute amounts of sugars and starches.
  • Other items: pigments derived from chlorophyll and flavons, and vitamins B and C.
  • Enzymes and Polyphenols: polyphenol oxidase, Peroxidase, Catechin, Epicatechin, Epichatechin gallate, Epigallocatechin gallate, Gallocatechin, and Epigallocatechin.

Much of this remains in the tea leaf cells once most of the moisture (as much as 93%) is removed. Rinsing the leaves puts moisture back in and loosens up the cell walls to let some of these chemicals out.

This is where the “rinsing” comes in.

The rinsing process

  • Put your tea leaves in the teapot.
  • Heat the water to the appropriate temperature.
  • Pour enough water into the teapot to cover the leaves.
  • Let them sit a few seconds.
  • Pour out the water.

After this, you can steep the tea normally. The leaves are now “awake” — they have soaked up enough water to make them more pliable and able to take in more water and release those various chemicals named above. Each steeping means that more of these chemicals are released, thus changing the flavor of the liquid.

The quick first steep

  • Put your tea leaves in the teapot.
  • Heat the water to the appropriate temperature.
  • Pour the water into the teapot as you would for a normal steep.
  • Steep for 30-60 seconds, depending on the tea.
  • Strain into your chahai or cup and enjoy as usual.

Those among us who want to get every drop possible from our tea leaves will probably use this method of “waking up” their tea leaves. Just remember that this first steep may not be representative of the normal flavor profile for the tea you’re having.

Which you use is up to you. Just remember that, even if a tea vendor recommends a rinsing, you can do what you want. Love it!

About Janice and Stephen Shelton

Purveyors of Premium Teas
This entry was posted in Enjoying and Preparing Tea and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Rinsing Your Tea Leaves vs. a Quick First Steep

  1. Sara S. says:

    very interesting! Thanks for posting. I usually rinse my leaves, to ensure that they all open when I steep them.


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