Tag Archives: puer

Nan Nuo Shan

Another one of my samples from Jalam Teas was a lovely packet of Nan Nuo Shan (南糯山) Sheng puer. (Caveat lector: normally Jalam sends their tea in 100g cakes, but as I signed up late I received this sample.) I’ve been excited to try this one because I already have a fondness for teas from the Nan Nuo Shan range.

Photo Mar 29, 2 03 58 PM

I’ve tasted several teas from this mountain area in the deep south of Yunnan province and, although I don’t believe that there’s any real consistency for tea from a place, I’ve loved every one. There’s something very inviting about the flavors they exhibit. Some kind of “welcome home” sort of energy. And to be honest I haven’t even been that far south in China, so I guess it’s just the tea.

One of my first encounters with Nan Nuo Shan tea was in the market streets of Lijiang, an adventure which I’ve written about before.

These particular leaves have the aroma of mango: fruity, but not sugar-sweet. It’s intoxicating. Even though the leaves are a little broken, they are definitely consistent in size and rather large (even after shipping in a small packet, which is impressive).

Following the instructions on Jalam’s site, I made my first few infusions at 20 seconds and increased the time by about 10 seconds for each subsequent infusion from there. The results were delightful. The taste is something like pine, or like the flavor of eating a raw mushroom: woody with a savory and sweet quality all at once. This held consistently for about fifteen infusions, so I was not disappointed.

Bada Mountain Fermented Puer

I recently subscribed to Jalam Tea’s monthly deliveries, and since the current month’s bing was already sold out, I received a hoard of samples of previous puer selections. Last week I had a go at the Meng Song. Today I tried the 2012 Bada Mountain Fermented (it seems that Jalam refers to their Shou puer as “fermented” and their Sheng as “unfermented” or with no classifier).

Photo Mar 19, 4 56 37 PMFirst I love that Jalam has a whole page and several videos dedicated to each tea. It really makes learning about the tea and its origin a fun experience. Location and skill of the producer are really what sets different tea apart, especially with Puer, but it’s so difficult to learn about those things from even respected vendors, East or West. The best thing is to visit the producer yourself or taste a whole lot of tea to get to know a factory. What Jalam offers is a good compromise: inexpensive, decent amounts of tea from unique regions and a full page of info about where it came from. Stéphane at Teamasters offers a similar experience with tea from Taiwan (mostly oolong), although somewhat less formally. His packages always give the precise location and date of harvest, which is a rare treat.

This Puer really surprised me, which is not easy for a Shou. I did a double sniff-take when I smelled the damp leaves. The aroma was so unusual: really rich in a dark plum sort of way that reminds me more of a black assam than a Shou Puer. Certainly there’s the character of moss and peat that I hope for in such a tea, but this has something more intriguing.

Photo Mar 19, 4 58 43 PMAfter slightly bungling my last attempt with these packages, I resolved to make a more careful infusion. I used a gaiwan to ensure control and I used only 4 grams of leaf since the packaging of the samples caused a little more breakage than would have occurred in a cake. If I were making this from a bing, I would probably use my usual 6 grams and maybe infuse a little longer.

Photo Mar 19, 4 59 52 PMThe taste has some of the bite I associate with Assamica leaf, which makes sense since the cultivar used for Puer is a large-leaf relative of the tea grown in Northern India. But saying it tastes like a black tea is a inaccurate description; it’s not really astringency that I taste — which is what I imagined when I read about the “nice smooth bite” on the package — it’s more of a brightness or zing in the mouth. Even using that term is complicated, though. Usually when I speak of a bright assam black tea, there’s a kick of potency close behind, but there is no kick here. Like the label says, it’s smooth all the way.

After 6 infusions the flavors were still going strong. I could probably drink this tea all day. In fact, I picked it up several hours later and made about 4 more infusions before the taste began to plateau.

I’m not sure that I would head for this tea all the times that I’m feeling in the mood for a Shou Puer. It has fewer of the stomach-soothing properties than my other bings. I would probably enjoy it more as the package suggests, as a morning tea to wake up the mind and body without the potency of an Assam or Darjeeling. Altogether it has been quite a fascinating experience to taste yet another quality that Puer is capable of exhibiting. The world of tea is truly never completely mapped.




Jalam Teas Meng Song Puer

I already have a delicious Meng Song (Bamboo) Puer from Stone Leaf Tea, so when I received this 2012 Sheng Meng Song from Jalam Teas it went right into my pot.

Photo Mar 09, 1 55 41 PMAs you shall see, my first impressions were less than stellar, but in this case it was my fault. I have a fairly small yixing pot I use for my Sheng tea, and it may be that 6g of loose leaf was a bit too much for the size, or possibly the leaves I used were just more broken than I expected (this came in a sample pack and not a cake). Either way, no matter how I tried, the pot poured like a sloth and the taste was chaotic.

The first infusion had the taste of pine sap and a bright yellow liquor. It had the feel of a lot of energy without much focus. The taste immediately dried out the tongue with the bite of ash and the dryness of a walnut.  Jeff Fuchs writes in the tea’s description,

It is a revitalizing tea that hits all points of the mouth and is a tea that isn’t a subtle tea but rather more of a tea that hits the palate with an impact.

“Well, that’s accurate”, I thought to myself, but I strongly suspected that this leaf could do better. Immediately I inspected the inside of the pot. A slow pour is never a good thing and can often be the sign of a poorly-made tea pot (yet another reason a Gaiwan is usually the best idea when tasting a new tea). I knew my pot was sound, so that meant that the leaves were just clogging the filter.

I tried removing a gram or two of leaves from the pot, particularly small sticks and very broken bits. I think this is a step that tasters often miss: if a tea is too strong, it’s easy to just take out some leaf.

It worked! The pour became much more fluid and fast. The fourth infusion began to exhibit flavors of cedar and packed much less of a punch. I pulled out a few more leaves.

At the sixth infusion there were definite fruit flavors appearing, which I had smelled in the wet leaves from the beginning: crisp (not sugary) peach or pears. The tea had gone from explosive to energizing and from brash to delicious!

As with many teas, the trick to finding the best flavor here was achieving a balance between steep time and leaf quantity such that the water has enough time to acquire the flavor of the tea without becoming too strong in the process. This is a tricky equation and often requires some experimentation. Too many leaves or too slow a pour can disrupt the balance. Once I found it, I easily got a tasty ten infusions from this tea before it lost its potency. I hope to drink this again soon, perhaps with a gaiwan to be more fair to the leaf.

What is Puer?

I’ve been drinking a lot of Puer tea lately. Possibly more than any other style. Back in the old days I wrote a post on Dobra Tea’s blog about Puer to help with demystifying this wonderful beverage. Since then there has been a lot more accurate information published on the Internet regarding Puer and Hei Cha in general, but I felt I may as well update and republish my version. So without further ado:


The six styles of tea would not be complete without the oft-misunderstood category called Puer (also Pu’er, Pu’erh, or Pu-er, but always 普洱). Just like White Tea, Green Tea, Black Tea, Oolong Tea, and Yellow Tea, there is also Puer Tea. Simply put, it is intentionally aged tea, but that description does it a disservice. The aging process has many nuances and cannot be used with just any leaf. It is a whole style of tea into itself and therefore, even though there are similarities, one can find quite a lot of variation between the tastes of one puer and another.

In China, Puer (普洱茶) is a regional appellation restricted (at least officially) to the region of southern Yunnan province near the border of Myanmar and Laos. If you get right down to it, It is actually a sub-category of the style of tea known as “dark tea” or Hei Cha (黑茶) which is any tea that has gone through a “post fermentation” process (a heavily misunderstood term on which I will elaborate below). Hei Cha is rarely discussed outside of China, however, as the popularity of Puer has far eclipsed the few other styles of Hei Cha that exist (Liu Bao, for example) just as the popularity of Champagne in the West has all but replaced discussion of “Sparkling Wine”, even though Champagne is only one region that produces that beverage.

“Post fermentation” is a difficult term to pin down. The real difference between Puer and its cousins is the aging process of the leaves. It is the only style of tea that gets better as it gets older (assuming ideal storage conditions). The processing of Puer is actually fairly simple compared to teas such as Taiwanese oolongs. First the leaves are sun-dried and withered, much like the beginning of a White tea. With the help of a short heating process, this “fixes” the leaf, stopping the oxidation process (note that the Chinese always translate tea oxidation as “fermentation”, even though this is an enzymatic reaction). The resulting silver-and-green leaves are called “Mao Cha” (毛茶) and are quite drinkable, infusing much like a Green tea.

Pressing Puer the old way.

Pressing Puer the old way.

Afterward, the Mao Cha is usually gently steamed, pressed into cakes or bricks, and then aged in dry or slightly humid conditions for a period of time determined by the tea master in that factory. During the aging process, microorganisms change the leaf and transform the cedar-like taste into the typical earthy flavors of a Puer tea, while reducing any sharpness that might be present. Over time (typically 10-30 years) the matured cake can produce a dark and comforting infusion with wonderful aromas. This kind of Puer is called Sheng Cha (生茶 — even if you don’t read Chinese you can see this on the label), meaning “raw tea”.

Before the 1970s, Sheng Cha was the only kind of Puer that existed. There was not much of an export market because of how long it took to produce a cake with an ideal flavor. Some young Shengs can be quite delicious, but it is generally thought that Puer should have a few years on it at least.

Both of these are actually Sheng! One is just much older.

Both of these are actually Sheng! One is just much older.

At some point, though, the tea masters of Kunming discovered a process being used in nearby Guangxi province that produced a rich and dark leaf within less than a year of aging. The secret was a damp pile-fermentation much like the process of composting, but very strictly controlled in temperature and humidity to prevent the tea leaves from rotting. The result was bricks of tea that were delicious nearly instantly after production. These teas were dubbed Shou Cha (or Shu Cha, 熟茶) meaning “ripe tea” and the process was quickly replicated in the factories of Yunnan province.

Shou Puer (sometimes mis-translated as “cooked tea”) still improves with age, but has different flavors that are more fresh soil-like than its Sheng counterparts. Theoretically, Shou Puer is just an accelerated aging version of the original Sheng style, so it’s possible to mistake an old Sheng for a new Shou. In my experience, however, there actually is a notable difference. Old Sheng (traditionally aged) Puer tends to be more smooth, more fragrant, and more gentle than its Shou counterparts. Of course, there’s plenty of poor tasting Sheng out there as well! The quality of the tea leaves originally used, the factory’s process, and perhaps especially the conditions of the Puer’s storage during its aging process all have significant effects on the final taste for either style.

Aside from the wonderful flavors of cedar and fruit that can pervade a well-aged tea cake (or 饼茶, bing cha), another advantage of the Puer leaf is that both types of this tea can be infused many more times than almost any other tea in existence. One chunk of good Shou Puer can make 15-20 infusions before losing its flavors.


If you haven’t ever tried a Puer, they’re much easier to find than they used to be, but be aware that the mass-market loose Shou Puer you may find in a coffee shop or a grocery store is going to be a far cry from what you can find online. The internet has brought out many reputable dealers of fine Puer tea, and many of them will allow you to buy a sample of a cake before committing the whole thing. And if you find a good Puer, don’t worry about ordering too much; remember, it only gets better.

The Tea House in Sarasota

While visiting family for Christmas outside of Sarasota, Florida, I naturally brought my own tea along. Even so, at one point I really needed to get out of the house. I searched the Internet for tea in the area, not really expecting to find much; maybe there was a coffee shop with a good loose tea selection somewhere around. Much to my surprise, I found a listing for a place called “The Tea House” that looked promising, on Foursquare of all places.

Confused that I didn’t see a matching entry on Yelp or anywhere else on the Internet, I called the number listed and spoke to a very nice woman who assured me that they did exist (and had for two months) and were indeed open. The few photos I saw on the listing showed some classy large Chinese tea tins, which made me hopeful, and supposedly they had some vegan snacks too, which made it definitely worth an expedition.

Photo Dec 27, 4 35 15 PMI’m very happy I went! The owners, Jill and Tony, have created a wonderful oasis of tea in a old house in what appears to be a cool little corner of the city (there’s a handful of other independent shops around the area). They even have a cushioned platform seating area complete with a slew of moroccan lamps. It’s the kind of place I feel instantly comfortable just walking inside. Soft lighting, candles, and pleasant music drifting around the worn wooden furniture. Their menu is really filled with options, and although more than half of them didn’t appeal to me (tea snob that I am), I had definitely seen three bing of Puer when I came in that I was dying to know more about. Also, just seeing Puer displayed at all is, in my opinion, a really really good sign when visiting a teahouse in the West since there’s plenty of places that don’t even know what it is. There were also small cloth bags filled with mini tuo cha (small bowl puer) and some matcha whisks. Clearly there was more going on than I could discern from the items on the menu (The Tea House has opted to list all their teas with English names only, which all-in-all is probably a better way to lower the bar to entry into tea knowledge).

Photo Dec 27, 4 35 37 PMThe menu listed only a couple of Puers, without a lot of identifying information, but it turns out that asking questions was the right direction to go. I discovered that, although the Puer I saw on display was not available for drinking in-house, they had recently acquired a case of various bing (cakes or 饼茶) and zhuan (bricks or 砖茶) from Yunnan that hadn’t yet made their way onto the menu. I opted to try a 2007 (or maybe 2009; my notes are not the best) Shou bing (熟饼茶) that came highly recommended by Jill. It had a rich, thick body and a hint of fruitiness that made me think oddly of oranges, although that could just have been the knowledge that I was drinking Puer in Florida. I examined the leaves ahead of time and they looked medium-sized and consistent. I really need to improve my reading of Chinese, so unfortunately I wasn’t able to discern any more information from the label.

Photo Dec 27, 4 10 14 PMWe were given plenty of leaf and extra hot water (in the cutest elephant pot I’ve ever seen) to easily sit for an hour or more. Jill apologized for the lack of a sharing pitcher (we ended up using another teapot) and explained that they had been ordered but not yet arrived. I have a feeling that I was one of a very small number of customers that would want one anyway. After we had enough infusions and had started to feel at home, my wife and I ordered a pot of a 2012 Sheng (生茶) whose leaves looked quite beautiful. Again, I didn’t get a ton of information about the cake, but I can at least write about the taste. It was surprisingly mellow for a young Sheng, without much of the cedar aroma that I usually associate with such tea. Instead there was a dry woodiness that made me think more of a green tea or perhaps a mao cha than an aged Sheng. It was good, certainly, but I suppose it probably needs a few more years on the shelf.

Photo Dec 27, 6 22 16 PM“The Tea House”, by the Sarasota Tea Company (it turns out they do have a Facebook page) is definitely somewhere I’ll visit again when I’m in the area. From what I heard while there, some local tea aficionados are already regular customers and have started private tastings of some of the mini tuo cha they sell. I think Jill and Tony’s already large selection will continue to grow and evolve as the good folks of Sarasota and Bradenton learn more about the mystery of the leaf. The US needs more good tea houses, so I hope if you’re in that corner of Florida, you’ll stop in and sample a cup yourself.

2006 Fengqing Sheng Tuocha Puer

Twice now I’ve had the wonderful experience of tasting this Sheng puer, another sample sent from TeaVivre. Both times I’ve been very pleased with the result. This tea held a special interest for me since I’ve visited tea factories in Fengqing before, but never one that produced Puer. The city is known mainly for its Hong Cha (black tea).

Even though it was delivered in a sample pack, the leaves were noticeably from a Tuocha, one of the traditional shapes of Puer cakes. I’ve tried to translate Tuocha (沱茶) many times, but it doesn’t really have a literal translation. It apparently only has meaning when referring to this particular bowl-shape of tea. From what I understand of Puer aging, it’s important for all the leaves in a pressed tea to remain near to the air, so you’ll notice that in all cakes intended for drinking there are no sections thicker than about 3  to 4cm. I say, “intended for drinking”, because there are many decorative cakes out there which are made to look nice and are not really for consumption (the “ingot” and “melon” shapes, for example). This allows all the leaves to continue to benefit from the fermentation processes that make Puer what it is. If a section is too thick, the leaves inside would either dry up and cease to age or possibly retain too much water and start to rot. If I’m right, in a Tuocha, the bowl shape allows for a fairly sturdy and compact construction, like a ball, but without overly increasing the thickness.

Photo Dec 02, 6 49 26 PM

The aroma of the orange infusions was deeper than I expected, bringing to mind oak more than the cedar scent that I often find with young and middle-aged Sheng (I consider any Sheng Puer less than 5 years old to be “young”, and more than 10 years to be “old”). This was the first sign that I was getting a tasty cup.

Photo Dec 02, 6 54 51 PM

Starting with about a 10-second infusion, the flavor was very smooth and round with more of that oak character. It had a dryness to it that pervaded the mouth, but it was a pleasant dryness, akin to the feeling of a Bordeaux wine. The taste reminded me actually of another one of my favorite Sheng cakes, coincidentally from the same year: the 2006 Lao Shu Bing Cha from Dobra Tea (alas, no longer available in that year).

Infusion after infusion produced quite lovely aromas and taste. I wasn’t counting, but I believe that I made around 15 infusions of 5 grams of the leaf before it devolved into a yellow broth. Occasionally I detected a strong punch of astringency when I infused the leaves for a bit too long, but that’s true of nearly any Sheng Puer, and is a good reminder to pay attention to the timing of my tea.

Photo Dec 02, 7 05 00 PM

When the tea was spent, I found that the leaves were very small and fairly broken. In other styles of tea, this can be a sign of a lower quality, but Puer is a special case. Firstly, there was a consistency in the leaf sizes. Puer manufacturers occasionally will cover the outside of their cakes with nice large leaves and fill the inside with tiny pieces to make the tea more marketable. This tea was honest with its leaf size, an excellent sign that allows the tea brewer to judge how best to infuse based on sight alone. Secondly, Puer is “graded” by leaf size, and unlike their non-fermented cousins, smaller leaves don’t necessarily mean less pleasant tea. I have a feeling that the pressing process itself has a lot to do with this phenomenon, as the leaves are much less likely to “bleed” away their flavors while in the air or in the pot.

Photo Dec 02, 11 41 22 PM

I may order some of this tea for myself for a later date. That’s one of the great benefits of Puer: being able to save it for a rainy day, and it will only get better as it waits.

How Much Tea?

With all of these posts about my tea making process, I realized that I hadn’t ever said much about the amount of tea that I’m using. Time and Temperature are very important factors when making tea, as well as the tools you are using. But the amount of leaf in your pot can have just as much of an effect on the finished product and the steps you take to get there.

My general guideline for a 150-200ml pot or gaiwan is about 4g of leaf. Ah, but what if you don’t have a scale? In fact, I almost never use a scale myself, so not to worry, with some experience you can make a pretty good guess.

The first rule of thumb is to just cover the bottom of your brewing vessel with a layer of leaves until barely any of the surface is showing. This is almost always an accurate measure for a gaiwan (of any size!). Secondly, you need to think about the tea leaves themselves. This is the part that trips up even the seasoned tea devotee.

Why the difficulty with this measure? Because different teas are dried differently. A full leaf white tea takes up about 5 times the volume of a rolled oolong. And a small chunk of Puer can weigh as much as a whole package of black tea. A finely cut Japanese green tea can weigh twice as much as a green Chinese leaf.

To help with this conundrum, I’ve taken photos of different teas, each measured to 4g for comparison.

Tai Ping Hou Kui, a "Fluffy" Green

Tai Ping Hou Kui, a “Fluffy” Green

The key to getting the right amount of leaf is just considering the density of a tea before you brew it. These are the density categories I use: Fluffy, Fine, Twisted, Rolled, and Dense.


Bai Mu Dan, a "Fluffy" White

Bai Mu Dan, a “Fluffy” White

Full leaf white tea, many full leaf Chinese greens (except Liu’An Guapian), some Chinese (generally Yunnan golden needle) black tea, a few oolongs (Bai Hao).

Use more leaves than you think.


Ping Shui Ri Zhu, a "Fine" Green

Ping Shui Ri Zhu, a “Fine” Green

Japanese greens, any broken tea (a damaged full leaf tea or tea bag tea no matter how high quality the bag supposedly is).

The trick here is to use more leaves than you think but brew them very gently. Use cooler water around 70c or lower and keep infusion times very short (5 seconds to 1 minute).


Bao Zhong, a Twisted Oolong.

Bao Zhong, a Twisted Oolong.

A few Chinese greens (notably Liu’An Guapian), many Oolongs from southern China and Taiwan (not rolled into balls), some full leaf twisted black tea (notably no. 18, Sun Moon Lake, Qi Men, Dian Hong, Darjeeling first flush). I also put loose Puer in this category.

A medium amount of leaf, just covering the bottom of your infusing vessel.


Ali Shan Jin Xuan, a Rolled Oolong.

Ali Shan Jin Xuan, a Rolled Oolong.

Most Taiwan oolong (except Bai Hao and Bao Zhong), a few Chinese greens that are rolled into balls (except Zhucha/gunpowder).

A small amount of leaf, not quite covering the bottom of your infusing vessel. These teas tend to expand a lot (I’m always surprised how huge they get) and if the leaves become so packed that the tea cannot move around, the flavors will be blunt, strong, and boring.


Lao Shu Bing Cha, a Dense Sheng Puer

Lao Shu Bing Cha, a Dense Sheng Puer

Brick Puer, gunpowder green (Zhucha).

While it’s certainly possible to use a small volume of leaf for these teas and steep for 2-3 minutes, I prefer to use a medium amount and do very fast infusions (5 seconds to 1 minute).


As you might be able to tell from my notes, the more leaves (by weight), the faster and stronger the tea will infuse. Using lots of leaves just means that you may need to decrease the infusion time (or the temperature) to keep the tea from becoming overly strong. If you steep a tea for 10 seconds and it’s unpleasantly bitter (something that happens to me all the time), then you really just have too many leaves in the pot. Similarly, if steeping a tea for 3 minutes gives you no flavor at all, you may want to add some more leaf.

As with any “rules” surrounding tea brewing, keep in mind that these are just suggestions based on my experience. Your taste may vary considerably and so it’s vital that you experiment to find the time, temperature, and quantity that fits you best.

Puer is always appropriate

There’s very rarely a time when I’m not interested in drinking some puer. This is not true for other styles of tea. There are definitely days when a green tea seems out of place or a black tea too bold. Puer (good puer, anyway) seems to meet every situation with just the right amount of comfort and energy.

For example, this 2007 Shou Bing from the Meng Hai factory served to help my digestion after lunch, then brought me peace and relaxation in the evening, and I even made a few pots more the next morning to get my day going. If only I were so adaptable!

PS: I believe I picked this up in Kunming, but I don’t precisely remember the shop. I need to start taking photos of merchants with their tea when I buy it.

Engagement Cha Xi

Yesterday my excellent friends Ben and Sarah joined my fiancée and I for an outdoor tea session to celebrate our upcoming wedding. The weather cooperated and we spent around four hours talking, sipping, and taking pictures.

Now normally when I get together for a long tea session like this one, we blast through as many infusions as we can make, savoring the contrast between each cup before moving on to a different tea. This time we only drank one tea, and although it made us a good 20 infusions, they were often spaced apart by 15 minutes or longer. The reason for this, besides various photo-ops, was the tea stove.


The tea stove and accompanying kettle are things of beauty hand crafted by a potter I cannot praise highly enough, Petr Novak. When my partner and I decided we wanted a tea ceremony as part of our wedding many months ago, I asked Petr to make this set for me. Our wedding will be outside and I felt that it would be a good touch to have a real brazier heating the water we would use. So, after much back-and-forth about the shape, size, and style, the tea stove arrived at my home to great fanfare. The only problem was that it was too cold and too rainy out to use it.

So for months I’ve been keeping my thoughts on the stove, waiting for just the right time to inaugurate it. After all, I’ve never used a charcoal anything before, let alone a small clay burner such as this. So when yesterday arrived, and we had set up the stove next to a handy pile of kindling and charcoal, the real adventure began.

First we got a small fire going with kindling and a little paper, then we added small chunks of charcoal over that, allowing the burner to heat up to a temperature we could use. The challenge, I suppose, was that the actual area where the charcoal sits is quite small, probably about the size of a cupped hand, so we had to tend the fire carefully. Naturally we made many mistakes, but eventually our first kettle came to a boil and began a series of really wonderful infusions.


To that end, I should mention the tea! Ben had provided a piece of a Red Mark (Da Hong Yin) Sheng Puer from the 1950s. What a treat! I think a little smoke taste had accumulated in our first cup, because we all thought it tasted a little like firewood, but after that the infusions were smooth and earthy with an aroma a little bit like dark cocoa powder. The color of each infusion was a transparent reddish brown that only started to turn yellow around number 10. Other than the first, the taste was also remarkably uniform and satisfying.


It’s important to have sessions like these to remind oneself that young flaxen sheng cha eventually matures into rich old cakes that could be mistaken at a glance for a shou puer. But of course, that’s what shou puer is often made to mimic in the first place! The real thing can’t be compared.


It turns out that I really enjoy tending a fire for making tea. Even though it took quite a while (especially when the fire died down) to boil the water each time, it made the whole experience more rich. I was always adding a little wood, some coal, and listening for the singing of the water. And it wasn’t without help! I am humbled to have such friends and such tea in my cup. More tea stove adventures to come!

2006 Shu Laos Xiao Ye from Camellia Sinensis

I originally wrote this post for Cha Xi Collective. I’ve just copied it here for record keeping.

The mid-winter sunlight streaming in through my living room window practically begged me to set up some tea. I chose a puer that I haven’t opened yet, purchased on my last trip to Montreal.

This tea is a shu (熟 or ripe) zhuan cha (砖茶 or brick tea) made in Laos (who knew they made hei cha?). The name means “small leaf”, and indeed it appears that the leaves on this brick are quite small. Not necessarily different from the leaf size used in most zuan cha, though.

The brick itself was wrapped in plain white paper (of the standard puer style), unmarked except for the date stamp (a little worn, but I believe it read “2006年3月” and then something I can’t make out but which looks like “L8日”). The paper was then wrapped inside a bamboo wrapper of the kind that usually wraps a tong (筒) of bings. I had to damage both, unfortunately, in order to get inside, as the bamboo cracked easily and the paper was glued shut. Luckily I took photos of each before I began.

I’m unsure what kind of storage this has had, but the leaves came apart quite easily with my puer pick. The advantage of a small leaf cake is that it’s easier to pry whole leaves from the surface without cracking too many.

The aroma of the warmed leaves is surprisingly sweet. It first brings to mind cherries but with the definite musk of age. The taste of the first infusion reminds me similarly of dark cherries, perhaps a little amaretto on the tip of the tongue. The sides of the tongue still detect that this Shu is nicely aged. Still, it’s not so old that there are any qualities of leather or musty books. I think that the musk taste might eventually evolve into that, but for now it’s just a subtle note.

The liquor is quite dark at 20 seconds, as I’d expect, but it’s not just inky black. There’s a red glow of energy in there, which is probably another good sign as far as the quality of this tea.

While I think it’s possible to infuse this tea many times, after my fourth or fifth infusion there wasn’t much nuance remaining and the taste was one of a pretty standard shu cha. At the seventh infusion, I let it go for 2 minutes and the result was mostly puer-colored water.

After removing the spent leaves from my pot, I took a look at them as well. Although mostly mashed up, there were only a few bits of twig and I did even manage to find a few full leaves. About what I would expect.

My conclusion is that this zhuan cha is an average puer, definitely good for everyday drinking (and certainly better than much loose shu puer that I’ve had), but with a life of around six infusions, not something worth a serious gongfu session. I seem to remember a friend who explored tea in Laos saying that although they’ve had tea for many years, the production of “quality” tea is only a recent phenomenon. It’s likely that the producers of this puer don’t yet have the skill to make really nuanced tea or the trees are just too young to produce it. That said, this is an interesting find and I’ll be curious to see how it ages.