Made up of a simple saucen bowl and lid, whose underside is used for inhaling aromas, the zhong is a Chinese container in which tea leaves can be infused in a small amount of water in order to concentrate the flavors. This method of infusion, introduced in China during the Ming dynasty (1368-1644) is still used today by the general public as well as by tea enthusiasts. In addition to concentrating the flavors, it allows the same leaves to be infused several times so that slight differences of flavor are revealed with each infusion.
Although the zhong can be used with all kinds of tea, it bring out the aromas of more delicate teas, such as white or green teas, particularly well. (It is also very effective for wulong and Pu er teas.) Traditionally, the liquid is drunk directly from the zhong, and the lid is used to hold back the leaves. However, to control the infusion better; it is preferable to use a cha hai, or reserve container; into which the liquid is transferred when it is ready.
Here are the main steps of the tasting process using a zhong:
• Heat the zhong using hot water. Although this step is not absolutely necessary, it prepares the zhong for the infusion stage and, symbolically, as in many rituals related to tea, it is part of the purification of the utensils.
• Place approximately 1 heaping teaspoon (5 ml) of tea in the zhong. The quantity of leaves used can vary from 1/2 to 2 teaspoons (2 to 10 ml), depending on the type of tea and the strength desired. As a general rule, the more leaves used, the shorter the infusion should be .
• Pou「water at the required temperature over the leaves. Make sure that all the leaves are fully soaked with water by stirring gently with the lid.
• Leave the tea to infuse as long as necessary. Because of the large amount of leaves used in relation to the volume of water; the first infusion should be short (15 to 45 seconds). If you would like to check the progress of the infusion, pour a small quantity of the liquid into a bowl and taste it.
• When the infusion is ready, transfer the liquid into a separate cup or pot, holding back the leaves with the lid. Tilt the lid to keep all the leaves in the zhong, then pour off the liquid completely to prevent any leftovers from affecting subsequent infusions. Use the saucer to get a better grip on the zhong.
For the subsequent infusions, repeat the same steps, lengthening the infusion period each time. There are several methods for preparing an infusion in a zhong. Some recommend several short infusions, while others stop after two.
If you are having difficulty getting the water to the right temperature for green or white teas, use a small amount of cold water (about a quarter of the zhong) and top up with water at just under the boiling point.