Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Don't Dump that Tea!

The other day a customer asked how long the first rinse infusion should be. He mentioned that he had read that it was supposed to be about one minute. I let him know that one minute is a hearty infusion. However, that is because I am always brewing tea at a high tea-to-water ratio in little unglazed teapots that retain heat like a son-of-a-gun. This particular customer was brewing out of a bigger pot and using less tea. So I recommended that he add just enough water to fully cover the leaf, maybe a tiny bit more, and then pour this off immediately. This is long enough for a rinse infusion. I mentioned that some people even drink this first infusion. For those of you who see pouring out the first rinse akin to dumping tea into the Boston Harbor, there is also hope for you. Some tea masters even encourage consuming this first rinse. Maybe this will make sense as I explain that the first infusion is not as much of a rinse as it is a waking of the leaves.
As a warm infusion comes to an end - Photo by Andrew Hess
My goal for the timing of the rinse infusion when brewing the old fashioned gong fu way is to pour the liquid from the brew pot as quickly as humanly possible while refraining from appearing rushed. There are several steps that need to be taken when doing a rinse infusion. After bringing a freshly drawn pot of water to a boil, pour water from the kettle into the small yi xing pot, replace the lid to the small pot, return the kettle back to its home and pour the out the liquid from the small tea pot. It's ok to use both hands. The right hand can be doing one thing while the left is doing another. And, like a yoga routine, knowing what you are going to do next with your left hand, with your right hand, makes the process more fluid and thus quicker, speeding the whole process up a bit, while maintaining a sense of even pace and calmness. Practice makes perfect. Or in this case, because tea people are so much more humble by nature, practice makes better.

In Chinese, the technical term for this first rinse infusion is referred to as 溫潤泡 (wen1 run4 pao4) “warm infusion.” This is something I've only seen done with gong fu tea. People think that the point of the warm infusion is to rinse the tea leaves. You might have heard me say, “Tea is an agricultural product. Just like fruits and vegetables, before eating them, it is a good idea to wash them.” Now I just say, “hogwash.” The previous statement is hogwash. Whether or not tea needs to be rinsed, I am not sure. When people steep their PG Tips in a brown betty, is there a rinse involved?

The point of the warm infusion is to “wake up” the tea leaves. If you wake them up, they will be better suited to wake you up. Is that true? No... Waking the tea leaves means that you get them to open just a bit. Why do we need to do this? My current favorite reason is that it gets everything positioned in the pot just so, so that the next infusion, the first drinking infusion, will come off without a hitch. The water will pour smoothly from the pot without getting clogged. Does this always work perfectly? No, but when it does, the feeling is sublime. It takes a bit of practice, and this part of what makes the reward of well steeped tea so sweet. 


  1. It's a great summary! (And I often drink the rinse.)

  2. Hehe, good to know Steph, are there any other rinse drinkers out there?