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The Power of the Willat Effect: Rinsed versus Unrinsed Tea

Posted Nov 10 2012 12:00am

During my last visit to New York I bought a new black tea. I started drinking it a few weeks ago. I brewed it various ways (different amounts of tea, different steeping times, etc.) but had a hard time telling which way was best. This morning I decided I would learn how to  brew it by making paired comparisons (two cups of tea made the same way at the same time except for one difference). The fascinating thing, as I’ve said, about these side-by-side comparisons is that they produce hedonic changes. They change how much you like this or that. I call this the Willat Effect after my friend Carl Willat who caused me to notice it.

This morning I made two cups of the new tea. The two cups were brewed the same except in one case I “rinsed” the tea before brewing. Rinsing means I poured a bit of hot water on it and quickly got rid of the hot water. Rinsing tea removes from the final product whatever is transferred from the tea to the hot water in the first few seconds. In China, rinsing tea is common; in the United States, very rare.

I tasted the two cups (rinsed and unrinsed) side by side. The rinsed tea tasted much better. The unrinsed tea had something weird about it. Ugh, I thought, I can’t drink this. I threw out the unrinsed tea. Over the previous few weeks, I had happily drunk the new tea unrinsed many times. Now I found it repulsive.

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