Updated: Mar 15, 2022
Some teas need extra time getting out of bed. Some of them need their first cup of tea before their first cup of tea ;-p
You can give your tea a wake up call in the form of a discarded ‘flash’ brew: pour boiling water over the tea as if you were brewing it, but then immediately pour it out - into a pitcher or cup, over a tea boat or tea tray, or right down the drain. After that, continue brewing as normal.
What teas need waking up? Teas that are heavily twisted or rolled during shaping, such as oolong teas, and any tea that was pressed into a cake or brick, such as most pu’er and some aged white teas. Our Brewing Tips section on each tea in the shop will specify if a tea needs waking up.
Waking up the tea is especially important in gong fu style brewing, where a lot of leaf in a small pot means very short brewing times. The short brewing time means the leaves won't fully open during the first brew (or even the second). As we know from "Room to Grow", the amount of surface area of the leaf exposed to water impacts the resulting brew.
What happens if you skip this step? The first brew will likely be weak or the flavors won’t come through, that's all. By the same token, it won’t ruin anything if you wake up a tea that doesn’t need it.
Waking up the tea is often called ‘rinsing’, but that can lead to the impression that the leaves are dirty, or that ‘clean’ leaves don’t need it. In fact it’s nothing to do with cleanliness. There’s a long tradition in the Chinese tea ceremony (gong fu cha) of pouring out the first brew, just because it’s markedly inferior to the brews that come after.
Waking up the tea can also serve as a shortcut to ‘warming up the wares’ - warming up the pot, pitcher, and cups before serving. Simply pour the 'wake-up' brew from pot to pitcher to cups as needed before discarding.