Updated: Oct 18, 2018
One of the biggest misunderstandings among tea lovers, including the majority tea drinkers in Asia, is that you need to “wash” your tea before you drink it. To be more specific, many people believe it is necessary to dump the first infusion and only start drinking from the second infusion. Despite being wrong, this misconception gained popularity on the claim that the second and the third infusions have the best taste. Of course, this claim is quite the wishful thinking. Most good quality teas produce the best flavor and aroma at the beginning. So, why would people have such a distorted view? Today, let’s discover the background and reason behind “washing your tea”.
In the realm of tea culture, the standard name for “washing tea” is called the mild infusion (Chinese: 温润泡, pronounced: wen-ryun-pao). “Washing tea” is the superficial understanding of the mild infusion. The mild infusion is a technique to make tea taste better. This technique is also associated with a tea-making process called “the rolling”. To understand the mild infusion, we need to first understand “the rolling” in tea-making.
The rolling is a tea-making process to adjust the shape of tea leaves. For example, for Wu-Yi oolong rock tea, tea leaves are rolled into a long and thin shape; for Tie Guan Yin, tea leaves are usually rolled into a sphere ball-shape. During the rolling, some “juice” in the leaves would be squeezed out. After the drying, the solid part of the“juice” would stay on the surface of the leaves. Once tea leaves get infused, the “juice” part will quickly dissolve in the water and the dry tea leaves would absorb the water and expand. This is how tea gain the thickness in the taste.
Because of the rolling in tea-making, some teas’ leaves are rolled tighter than others. For example, many oolong teas (e.g Tie Guan Yin) and compressed pu-er teas have very tight leaves that would make the “juice” harder to dissolve in the water. Therefore, tighter leaves make the first infusion taste plain. For these types of teas, professionals would use some hot water to do a preliminary “mild infusion” to make all leaves expand slightly. This way, they can have a greater control over the thickness in the taste. Although the purpose of performing a mild infusion is to make tea taste better, it does not mean all teas would taste better with a mild infusion. For good quality teas that produce flavors quickly, doing a mild infusion is possibly equivalent to dumping the best one.
Many visitors to my tea events told me that they’ve been told by tea store owners that “washing tea” is a standard and necessary procedure to make better tea. Personally, I believe that is unintentional ignorance. The concept of “washing tea” does seem to make a lot sense. But it is the nature of tea that dictates how we should brew it, not the other way around. Usually, the existence of a brewing technique is related to one or more tea-making processes. Unfortunately, many tea lovers and tea reviewers “invented” their theories just because they think it should be like that. Without knowing the details of tea-making and understanding why, tea lovers could easily get trapped in their own subjective views and believes. I hope this blog can help my fellow tea lovers access the world of tea-making and better understand the details of it.
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