Puerh Tea 普洱茶

from: http://www.redcircletea.com/blog/

Most puerh 普洱 tea is grown in Yunnan Province 雲南省. Some are grown in Hunan and Guangdong provenience too. It comes from the big leaf varietal called camellia sinensis sinensis. Puerh comes in many brands, formulations, shapes and sizes. Puerh tea is a very mysterious tea because there are not a lot of books written in English about the subject. Even if you can read about it in Chinese, everyone has their own theory about it too. I want to talk about the basics of Puerh tea. After three years of study and researching in China, and after reading several Chinese texts on the subject, here are my opinions and learnings. I appreciate your input too, so please read what is here and let’s start a discussion.

1998 cooked  CNNP puerh

1998 cooked CNNP puerh

In the past a wealthy grandparents would buy raw cakes puerh for their grand child at birth. He would buy enough for his/her consumption for that child’s lifetime; at least 30 years. He would keep this puerh until his/her 30th birthday. The child, upon reaching adulthood would receive the puerh as a present. The child was grown, the tea would be ready to drink. This is called “green” puerh because it was green tea that has been fermented through the years. People used to called this type of puerh “old” puerh when it was aged.

In Hong Kong, people loved aged (“old”) puerh and they cannot could not get enough to satisfied the demand (ie. Tea houses that served dim sum). In the late 70’s Hong Kong developed a way to artificially “age” the puerh, because the demand for “old” tea was high and the supply was not enough to satisfy the demand. They would put the loose tea leaves in a pile and added water and bacteria (ie. aspergillus niger, penicillium). The temperature and humidity would then be controlled in a room. The leaves would be mixed every few days to get it to ferment uniformly. After they succeeded in perfecting process they taught the factories back in Yunnan, China and today this type of puerh is available every where. Today this type of puerh is called “cooked” puerh.

Lucky Yiwu 2004-11

The traditional way of processing puerh tea is as follows. Tea leaves are picked and left to wither. The kill green process can be performed: by 1) drying it in the sun or 2) steaming the leaves or wok kill green process. The next step is to crush the tea leaves by hand and let it them rest. This step is like kneading dough on an uneven drying weaved bamboo rack. Drying the leaves is the next step and it can be achieved by being sun drying or heat drying. The leaves are then separated into different grades according to the size of the leaves. The leaf size goes from grade 1 (buds) to grade 13 (28 cm long leaves or greater). The last step is select the shape of the puerh tea and shape it.Puerh tea can come in many shapes: tuo, loose, bricks, cakes, or 1.4 meter sticks (called one thousand tales of tea). The following information are general rule of thumb from the past,because modern puerh can have special blends of leaf grades or be from different mountains or use different processing. The formula and the puerh shape: cake, tuo, or bricks determines the leave size and blend. Tuo cha usually use lower leave grades. Loose puerh tea can come in all grades. Usually it is a 50-50 blend of grade 6 and 7 leaves unless it is otherwise specified. Bricks are a blend of 8th grade leaves on the surface (20%), 9th grade in the middle (30%), and 10th grade on the back (50%). The seven sons cake is a blend of 3rd grade leaves on the surface (10%), 7th grade (20%), 8th grade (30%), and 9th grade (40%). The 1000 tales tea can vary.

Xia Guan 2003_3

Some puerh cakes and bricks comes with a code consisting of four numbers (ie. 7542 ). The first two numbers are the year that a formula is created. The third number is the size of the leaves that is used in the puerh. The last number tells you about the factory that it is made in. Kuming Tea Factory is 1, Menghai Tea Factory is 2 and Xia Guan Tea Factory is 3. The top three are always used for those factories but numbers 4 through 9 can vary in name depending on the year of production. The variation comes from factory changing name- or just not being in business. Another brand that is famous is called “Chong Cha” brand. This brand is auctioned off every year to the highest bidder for the name. One year the Kumming factory can produce these cakes while the next year can be the Xia Guan Factory, but they are called “Chong Cha Pai” with the wrappers looking the same.

When you taste puerh there are a lot of possibilities in taste, aroma, and sensation on the tongue. The following is a list of tastes that are associated with puerh : sweet, sour, bitter only, bitter that turns sweet, no taste, smooth, and thick. The aromas that one can find in puerh: “old” – like the smell of old cabinets, orchid, lotus leaf, camphor, “light”- green, and dry longan. All these are naturally occurring. Puerh is similar to all so we have to be careful where we store it. If we store it next to the dried shrimp, then it will smell and taste like dry shrimp tea; which is not my favorite.

Menghai Cooked 1996

The Old six famous mountains are 古六大茶山:Yōulè 攸樂、Gedeng 革登 、Yibang 倚邦、Mangzhi 莽枝、Manzhuan 蛮砖、Mansa 漫撒. Another famous mountain today is Yiwu 易武.
We believe that puerh tea from 2003 and earlier has better potential to age well, because in 2004 is when the puerh boom began. The quality of the tea went down because of the over farming; which was a result of the high demand from the puerh boom. A good beginners puerh is the 1996 Menghai loose coked puerh; a good transition tea for a new collector is the 1998 CNNP cooked cake; a good collector’s tea is the 2004 Lucky Yiwu Cake.

80's Baoyuan Brick

The last thing that we need to determine is how to store the tea. Puerh, like all other tea, will incorporate all smells that surround it. You will need to pick a place that is more airy and has minimal aromatics.


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