You may have noticed that a lot of vendors who sell premium teas, including us, will state in their steeping instructions that the leaves should be rinsed (some say “washed”) before the first infusion. Since the package label for most teas has to be fairly small and include and lot of other information about the tea, we can’t always include a big explanation of what this means, how to do it, and even why we recommend doing it. We have to rely on our web sites and blog articles like this one to give you such details.
What This Means
Rinsing (washing) the tea leaves is a process where the leaves are exposed to hot water for a short time and get a chance to “wake up,” that is, to absorb some water and be ready for a full infusion. Remember that most tea leaves are withered, removing a lot of their moisture, and later dried in ovens or in large woks or in some other method. Most of their moisture, comprising about 90% of their total mass, is removed. They are, to use a poetic phrase, quite “thirsty” and ready to get some of that moisture back.
How to Do It
The process is simplicity itself. Heat a little extra water than you need for the steeping. Put the tea leaves you will be steeping into the teapot, gaiwan, etc. Add in enough hot water to get the leaves thoroughly wet (for some of the more delicate teas, you will want to pour the water down a side and not directly on the leaves). Let sit a few seconds (I have see a range of 10-30 seconds, depending on the tea). Pour out the water. Now, steep as usual.
Why We Recommend Doing It
First, it’s a recommendation with no implication intended that it is required. You are, naturally, open to choosing how to prepare and enjoy your teas. This step is fairly traditional and has been done for centuries as a way to get better flavor from the leaves. Think of a sponge. When it is totally dry it doesn’t absorb liquid quite as well as when it is slightly damp, at least that has been my experience. You are getting those leaves slightly damp and therefore ready to soak up more moisture which, in turn, releases dry particulates in the leaves into the surrounding water in your teapot, gaiwan, or other steeping vessel.
You may want to try a tea both with and without doing this rinse/wash. Then you can decide which way works best for you.