HOW TO INFUSE A POT OF CHINESE TEA
1. Choose your tea. Tea has been made in China for thousands of years. Kylie Kwong, in her cookbook titled My China, describes the process. “White, green, black and red tea all come from the same plant (the Chinese Camellia tree), and the differences are due to processing; for green teas, the leaves are minimally fermented for a few days before being dry roasted; red or semifermented teas are left to ferment for a little longer before the drying process; and in black or fermented tea the leaf is allowed to fully darken (about 2 to 4 weeks) before being dried.” Although the ratio of dried tea leaves to water in a pot of Chinese tea varies according to type of tea and taste of consumer, you will need about a teaspoon of dried tea leaves for every 6 ounces of water.
2. Pick a pot. Many Chinese brew their tea in small, ceramic (often unglazed clay) pots. Lidded glass cups, called zhong in Chinese, also are popular, especially for green and white teas, so that the leaves can be observed as they absorb water and fall to the bottom of the cup. In recent years, black cast iron pots have gained favor for their beauty, durability and heat retention, especially for brewing black teas. Cast iron pots should be lined with enamel, however, to prevent rust and assure that they can be used for lots of different teas without impacting flavor (interior glazing in pottery pots performs the same function).
3. Place tea leaves in pot and add water. It is commonly believed in China that tea is best infused with water from its place of origin, impractical advice, even in China. But chlorine laced tap water, or even bottled water with high mineral content, can affect the taste of tea. Some advise against heating water for tea in a microwave for the same reason. Fill a large kettle with freshly filtered water and heat it until just boiling, then let it cool to the appropriate temperature for the tea you have chosen (110* to 160* for green tea, 175* to 195* for white tea, 195* to 210* for semifermented tea and 210* for black tea).
4. Fill your teapot ¾ full of hot water, then pour it off immediately and discard. This washes away any dirt or dust from the leaves, starts the leaves opening so they will release their full flavor upon infusion, and warms the pot.
5. Refill the teapot with more water at the same temperature and let it steep (1 to 5 minutes for green tea, 1 to 2 minutes for white tea, and 15 to 60 seconds for semifermented or black tea). Obviously, the longer tea steeps, the stronger it will be, so let you taste buds be your guide.
6. Carefully pour every drop of the first infusion into the cups (or into another vessel if the cups aren’t adequate) and prepare to reinfuse. Green and white teas will yield 2 to 3 infusions and semifermented or black teas will yield 5 or more, although later infusions will require longer steeping.
NOTE: Store tea in a dark, well ventilated area with less than 70% humidity at temperatures below 77*. Keep it in the paper or fabric that it comes in, not in plastic, and keep it away from odors and fragrances, especially spices.