Pu-erh tea's preparation:
Pu-erh tea belongs to a compressed tea category with certain unique characters that require additional attention.
Breaking the cakes and storage:
- Use a Pu-erh tea knife or pin, or equivalent (no sharp edges to cut or crush the leaves), to break the tea leaves loose from the edge of the tea cake. Look for the space between the tea leaves to insert the knife/pin to avoid crashing or cutting the tea leaves - preserve the whole leaves as much as possible.
- Only break a small amount each time and store the remaining cake in a cardboard box at a place where it is cool, dry, no direct light exposure and lack of foreign odours.
- Store the broken off loose leaves in a tea canister under similar conditions to be used.
- Only break off the cake further when needed.
Waking Pu-erh tea:
As strange as it sounds, it is an important step of making a good pot of Pu-erh tea.
'Tea waking' refers to a mechanism to bring teas, specially aged compressed teas back to live after being stored away for a long period of time. When teas are stored away for decades, although the internal fermentation continues, the surface is often covered by dust and becomes inactively ‘sleepy’. The ‘waking’ process is to spread out the aged leave, remove the dust if possible and allow maximum contact with fresh air to facilitate the internal aroma to resurface.
There are three ways of doing so:
- Dry waking: This is to break up a cake or brick and spread out the leaves for them to be fully aired for a few days. (Cover the leaves with some tissues if necessary.) The tea leaves are then stored in a unglazed clay canister (ZiSha or none-ZiSha where the leaves can breathe though the micro cavities in the wall) for about 1-3 moths. This is the most gentle waking process. It allows the teas to wake up in its natural pace to release its aged aroma and mellow taste.
- Men-Xiang (闷香 Sealed aroma waking): Warm up a Zi-Sha teapot with hot water, empty the teapot and put the leaves in the teapot for about 1 minute before brewing.
- Wen-Run (温润 warm and wet method) Add tea leaves to a Zi Sha teapot or Gai-Wan, pour about 60oC warm water to the leaves from the edge to the centre and drain the water immediately before brewing. This is believed to be the most abrupt, but quickest waking method to bring the tea leaves to the awake state, most suitable for well aged teas or teas made of predominately mature leaves.
Brewing Pu-erh tea:
- Quantity: Use 2 teaspoon tea leaves per serve (for up to 5 people) into the tea vessel.
- Use freshly boiled water (100oC), thoroughly rinse the tea leaves without soaking for up to 5 seconds:
- rinse once for young teas
- rinse 2 times for aged teas
- Add freshly boiled water to start brewing and serve without delay
- Ripened Pu-erh (pre-fermented Pu-erh) has a relatively darker colour. Due to its pre-fermentation nature, the flavour is easy to draw and colour of the tea brew becomes dark quickly in comparison to raw Pu-erh teas. We recommend about 10 second for the first brew and increase brewing time for about 10 seconds with each additional brew.
- Raw Pu-erhs are more similar to certain Oolong tea. We recommend the following brewing time: up to 20 seconds for the first 1-2 brews and increase the brewing time for about 30 seconds for any additional brew.
- Pu-erh teas, especially pre-fermented (ripened) Pu-erh teas have a relatively darker colour. Prolong brewing could result in tea colour being deep dark (like soy source) and take on a medicinal like flavor.
- Repeat infusions: Pu-erh leaves can be used repeatedly for up to 10-20 infusions by simply topping up with freshly boiled hot water.
- We recommend to only break a small amount of Pu-erh tea leaves from a cake at a time, eg. 50g. Pu-erh tea has a unique nature which is post-fermenting. (Similar to some premium wines in this aspect: quality improves with the length of time after its production.) The compressed cakes facilitate this fermenting process. It is therefore better to leave as much tea leaves in a cake form as possible.
- Similar to all premium Chinese teas which are hand handled, we always recommend rinsing the tea leaves for up to 10 seconds before brewing. Due to Pu-erh tea's unique aged nature, we recommend to rinse the aged Pu-erh teas a couple of times before brewing to avoid the potential dust contamination during the long period of storage.
- When adding hot water into tea vessel, pour along the vessel wall if possible to allow the tea leaves to infuse without excessive disturbance. This will ensure tea brew being clear, bright and smooth. Excessive disturbance of the tea leaves could result in tea liquid being cloudy with a rough taste.
- If you notice any additional odour (especially for aged cakes that have been stored for many years) after the water is added, remove the lid immediately to diffuse the additional ‘age’ odour.
- Recommended tea vessel: a good Zi Sha teapot is the best for a good Pu-erh tea. Alternatively, a Gaiwan or one of the authentic Chinese tea sets will serve all your needs.
- Pu-erh tea is notorious for being contaminated by foreign objects due to its rural and family based production nature, from plant products such as grain husks to the less desirable ones such as human hair or animal feathers. While work is being done to reduce these contamination, it is believed as long as the objects are removed and the teas are 'rinsed' before brewing as advised, they do not necessarily impose health risks to the tea consumers. We therefore strongly advise the tea consumers to carry out a thorough inspect of their teas and remove any visible foreign objects before brewing (a device called Cha-He as shown in the image is ideal for this purpose).
More blog article on Pu-erh tea preparation: Optimal tea accessories for pu-erh tea
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