Blog 108: Pre-soaking Your Tea?

Occasionally, we get the following question from our tea lover community:


Do your teas need “decanting/waking/pre-soaking/Xing Cha/醒茶?”


(By the way, the quick answer is NO.)



To some readers, this question might sound familiar and strange at the same time.


For what we know, wine decanting is quite common. If you go to a fancy restaurant, wine is often served from a decanter. Besides the aesthetics, wine decanting also serves a practical purpose of helping open up the aromas and flavors of a young wine.


So what is “tea decanting”? Do you need to pour tea soup into a decanter like what we do with a wine?


The answer is NO.



Actually, tea decanting is a term borrowed from wine. In the world of tea, tea decanting is called “Xing Cha” (Chinese: 醒茶). The literal meaning of Xing Cha is “waking up the tea”.


In practice, decanting a tea is really “pre-soaking a tea”. People commonly pre-soak the tea with hot water; then, they dump the first infusion and start drinking from the second. Sometimes, this practice is also called “washing tea/洗茶”. As the name suggests, pre-soaking a tea helps “wash away” moulds and dust on the surface of leaves.


In short, the purpose of “tea decanting/pre-soaking” is the same as wine decanting. It helps tea leaves release its aromas and flavors better.


However, just like wine, not all teas need “tea decanting/pre-soaking”. In fact, pre-soaking tea is rare, and it shouldn’t be applied to most teas.


White tea, oolong tea, and black tea don't need pre-soaking.

By now, I hope you’ve understood why some teas need “pre-soaking”: 1. to get rid of unpleasant smells; 2. to open up the flavors.


If a tea naturally doesn’t have any unpleasant smells, it doesn’t need to be pre-soaked. Among all tea categories, green tea, white tea, oolong tea and black tea don’t require pre-soaking. The only tea category that needs is dark teas such as Pu’er tea.


The reason dark teas like Pu’er need pre-soaking is the result of its unique tea-making process. Dark teas are post-fermented, which involves using moisture and temperature to develop fungus to keep “fermenting” tea leaves.


It’s not uncommon that Pu’er teas acquire a moldy smell during the tea-making. Therefore, dark teas like Pu’er require pre-soaking to clear all unpleasant smells tea leaves acquired during the post-fermentation.


For white tea, oolong tea and black tea, DON'T dump the first infusion!

Most other major tea categories are not post-fermented, and they don’t need pre-soaking. If a tea doesn’t have a bad smell, pre-soaking can only take away good flavors and aromas. Furthermore, if we dump the first infusion, we’re basically wasting one of the best infusions for nothing.


For tea lovers who learned Pu’er tea first, it’s common that they practice pre-soaking on almost all other teas. This is an unintentional mistake. When we’re learning something, we tend to apply the same solution to all situations.


But different teas can’t be generalized. They have different tea-makings, and they should be enjoyed differently. For both casual and serious tea drinkers, it’s always a good idea to learn more about a tea’s characters before deciding wether to pre-soak it. ( And it usually doesn’t need pre-soaking.)



We hope you enjoyed today’s blog. As always, if you have questions or suggestions, please leave a comment, tweet us @valleybrooktea or email the author directly at zhang@valleybrooktea.com. Please also follow us on Instagram @valleybrooktea and join our mail list to get our daily tea updates and our latest promotions!


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