The black teas of India and Ceylon require 3 to 5 minutes of infusion, except for Darjeeling First Flush, which needs 2 to 3 minutes, as do African black teas.
Chinese green teas are left to infuse for 2 to 3 minutes while Japanese teas vary greatly depending on the quality: for some 30 seconds are sufficient, for others no less than a minute and a half or two.
For Oolong teas, infusion time is between 2 and 6 minutes, while white teas require 2 to 4 minutes.
Today as ever, to prepare a perfect cup of tea it is essential to have quality raw materials, and the correct tools and techniques necessary to turn them into an exceptional drink.
The water used for brewing plays a very important role in determining the quality and flavour of the tea. It is important to ensure that it is pure, colourless and odourless, ideally with a pH of 7. The components of the water such as minerals, chemical additives (such as chlorine and fluoride) and the quantity of oxygen all affect the final taste of the tea. Not surprisingly, there are legends that have been handed down of emperors of ancient China who had water brought from faraway, inaccessible places in order to ensure the perfect infusion.
The water temperature is also important when considering the quality of the tea. A kettle that regulates temperature allows one to obtain the perfect temperature. Too high temperatures may destroy some aromatic components of tea, however those that are too low prevent the leaves from release their aromas.
Without doubt, the teapot is the emblem of tea. Enamel or porcelain teapots are ideal for delicate tea while terracotta ones are perfect for tea with a strong aroma because their porosity preserves the taste of previous infusions. In time, they are enriched with perfumes and aromas, which are then transmitted to the infusion. Today we find teapots fitted with removable internal filters, generally made of steel or porcelain, and even those made of glass or transparent perspex. There are also beautiful cast-iron Japanese teapots, which apparently release substances beneficial to our body when brought in contact with heat.
Their function is to filter the infusion to ensure that the leaves do not brew for too long, thus giving the tea too strong a flavour. They are generally made of metal or porcelain mesh with holes, but may also be made of bamboo, cloth or chlorine-free paper.
The English believe that the best container for drinking tea is their mug because it keeps the tea hot for a long time. The Chinese prefer small porcelain cups. The ideal cup is however a light, thin cup of one colour (white, jade green or china blue) to allow the infusion to draw. In the Far East today the ideal cup is of white porcelain. The gaiwan, the flared, covered cup from China, comes in various sizes and is used as a teapot for the preparation of the infusion.
The best must be sealed and not transparent. Whether they are made of tin, steel or, even better china, they must guarantee the perfect conservation of the leaves, avoiding both the loss of aroma and dehydration. The opening must be sufficiently large and convenient to extract the tea without waste.