So many fabricated stories and theories try to explain the art of tea rinsing among Chinese. Some people link the art to the removal of contaminants resulting from the application of pesticides and herbicides during farming. Conversely, some tea legends associate art with other practices that cropped up to enhance the flavour of popular brews in the land. Today, we are going to take you through the myths about Chinese tea rinsing before going ahead to demystify the cardinal purpose of this practice.
What is tea rinsing?
Tea rinsing is a term that has been in the Chinese tea industry for decades. The term was coined from two words from the Chinese language (xi3—rinse/wash) and (cha2—tea). If you have been keen on popular methods of tea preparation such as Gong Fu cha, you may have seen the host wash their tea leaves with hot water before going ahead to steep them. That is all tea rinsing is about—pouring hot water over the tea and quickly emptying it out after 2-5 seconds.
Tea rinsing is pretty much the same as an infusion. Only that it takes place in a short period. On the other hand, you can only pour the resultant solution rather than gulping it down the throat.
Explaining the myths behind Chinese tea rinsing
Around the planet are theories and beliefs that lack scientific facts behind them. Popular beliefs include:
1. Removal of chemical contaminants
There is a popular belief that Chinese teas are contaminated. And that, rinsing helps with cleansing the pesticides and herbicides previously used on the leaves when farming. Of course, that is a fallacy. Pest infests the green teas of China during summers or late spring when the weather is warmer. Across the spring, tea leaves remain overly healthy hence there is no need to spray them.
During the whole period of summer and late spring, the plants absorb these chemicals into their cells. By the time the leaves are ready for harvesting, almost all the stored chemicals are used up. This leaves a negligible amount to the risk of consumers.
Narrowing the argument, a negligible amount of the remaining chemicals are deeply embedded in the cells of the leaves. Therefore, just some physical kind of washing will do less to remove them and wipe them out.
Every brand of tea is made of a caffeine chemical associated with Camellia Sinensis. To make a decaf drink, processing companies usually remove the caffeine components from the tea leaves.
Over the decades, Chinese tea enthusiasts believed they can remove the caffeine component from the leaves through steeping the leaves for 20 to 45 seconds. However, this is not very true as far as scientific research on the matter is concerned.
45 seconds is less to remove the caffeine components, leave alone altering the chemical makeup of the leaves. According to research, you can only alter the tea’s caffeine level by infusing for about 5-6 minutes. However, when you do this, you will immensely bury the taste of the resultant tea.
Why then do the Chinese rinse their tea?
Chinese rinse their tea for only three yet important reasons.
1. To spread out the tea
Tea types such as oolong and Pu-erh comes in the form of rolled leaves. Whereas the Taiwan oolong comes in a rolled ball shape, the Pu-erh comes in a brick shape or a hard disc. By just immersing the balls and discs into your vessels to steep, you will come up with inconsistent taste.
When you rinse the leaves, they absorb the water and unroll. This creates a space where every single part of the leaves will effectively “breathe” and come into contact with water hence resulting in a regular and high-quality taste.
2. For hygiene purposes
During the storage and transportation of tea, the leaves are likely to get dusty and dirty. You will, therefore, need something to spice up the hygienic aspect of your brewing session. Rinsing washes off the dirt and dust from surfaces of the tea leaves being used.
Gong Fu, one of the most popular methods of tea brewing in China demands that the host prepares brews in the presence of the guests. Therefore, the host must keep the focus on the cleanliness of all accessories and ingredients used. Rinsing saves the hustle.
3. To keep the brewing temperatures at par
Brewing a high-quality tea demands that you keep focussing on both the time and temperatures. If you brew longer or shorter than the recommended period, you will come up with bald and bitter tastes respectively. When you brew under low and high temperature, the result is bald and bitter taste respectively.
But, in real life, you do not have advanced equipment to keep your temperature at boiling point throughout the brewing journey. By immersing dry leaves direct from a can, the leaves will absorb some of the boiling water temperature hence leading to its drop. By rinsing, you are heating the leaves. Therefore, the resultant drop in your working temperature will not be immense.
4. To achieve an excellent taste
Tealeaves consist of strands of a chemical called phenol oxide. This chemical is what brings the savoury taste in a fermented tea. Extracting phenol oxide is usually an uphill task. It has less affinity to water hence calls for the use of higher temperature that is regular.
When you boil tea leaves at a temperature higher than the boiling point, you will risk denaturing beneficial enzymes. On the other hand, using a lower temperature will not activate phenol oxide. The rule of thumb here is to steep your tea as swift as possible in a higher temperature. If you steep the leaves longer, they will boil instead.
Rinsing activates phenol oxide in teas. It gives the leaves a chance to steep at boiling temperature without denaturing other beneficial components of the leaves.
Should You Be Rinsing Your Teas?
Rinsing is the heart of Chinese tea brewing. It determines whether you will come up with a high-quality tea that is overly hygienic. Gong Fu method of tea preparation demands for rinsing not only the leaves but also the vessels.