Tuesday, June 2, 2009
The Art of Tea
I love Coffee & I love Tea. Over the years I have sampled all different kinds of both. Recently I have had the opportunity to sample the most amazing tea ever ~the good stuff
"Puer, what is that?"
"Puer is its own category of tea..."
Pu-erh, Pu'er tea, Puer tea or Bolay tea is a type of tea made from a "large leaf" variety of the tea plant Camellia sinensis and named after Pu'er county near Simao, Yunnan, China. Also grown in Taiwan.
Pu-erh tea can be purchased as either raw/green (sheng) or ripened/cooked (shou), depending on processing method or aging. Sheng pu-erh can be roughly classified on the tea oxidation scale as a green tea, and the shou or aged-green variants as post-fermented tea. The fact that pu-erh fits in more than one tea type poses some problems for classification. For this reason, the "green tea" aspect of pu-erh is sometimes ignored, and the tea is regarded solely as a post-fermented product. Unlike other teas that should ideally be consumed shortly after production, pu-erh can be drunk immediately or aged for many years; pu-erh teas are often now classified by year and region of production much like wine vintages.
While there are many counterfeit pu-erhs on the market and real aged pu-erh is difficult to find and identify, it is still possible to find pu-erh that is 10 to 50 years old, as well as a few from the late Qing dynasty. Indeed, tea connoisseurs and speculators are willing to pay high prices for older pu-erh, upwards of thousands of dollars per cake. (wiki)
Please note I am not a snob, and I sure don't have thousands of dollars to shell out for high grade sippin' tea.
A local vendor imports and sells these teas, and also sells tiny pouches of these rare teas. I was able to access it because of those samplers. It's hard to describe, but truthfully, this ain't no Lipton Tea. Although I have enjoyed a strong Chai with spices & cream, this tea needs no extras, it's pure flavor is meant to be enjoyed straight up. It brews up fairly light colored, but has it's own unique flavor, to be enjoyed traditional style - all by itself.
While unaged and unprocessed raw pu-erh is technically a type of green tea, ripened or aged raw pu-erh has occasionally been mistakenly categorised as a subcategory of black tea due to the dark red colour of its leaves and liquor. However, pu-erh in both its ripened or aged forms has undergone secondary oxidization and fermentation caused both by organisms growing in the tea as well as from free-radical oxidation, thus making it a unique type of tea.
This really is a rare & unique tea, and part of what makes it so is how it is handled after it is harvested. I recently saw a film about a "Tea Guru" who traveled to the region and met the farmers, sampled the tea, watched the post harvest process.
This is hand done, as many of these teas really do grow on tiered mountainsides at specific elevations. The handpicked teas are harvested, dried and then taken to a special fire/kiln area with giant woks where a "tea master" gently tosses and moves the tea in the wok, for a special temperature treatment. They are then pressed into disks or different shape, & dried in special humidity controlled zones, so they can then ferment properly.
There is nothing commercial about this. All elements are done with a first hand learning, passed on through the generations.
The purer "cakes" can be packed as fermented and sold "raw", but the most coveted is the vintage, fermented style.
Click here to read more about this tea, and see some of the different shapes the cakes are made in.
SPECIAL TEA DESERVES A RITUAL
Well sure, if this rare and wonderful tea comes your way, you might as well take it up a notch. I had scored a wonderful cast iron Tetsubin teapot. It has a stainless steel basket, and you first infuse the pot w hot water to get it heated and charged, then infuse the tea. With this tea, a little goes a long way. Although I heard a connoisseur say in China, they use a lot of tea, and a little water. But because this stuff is spendy I use it sparingly, with wonderful results.
One of the keys to this delicacy is to not overdo the brew time! Officianados go berzerk if you let the tea steep for more than 3 minutes. Another little trick is you can get a few infusions out of it if you don't oversteep it.
Steeping times last from 12-30 seconds in the first few infusions, up to 2-10 minutes in the last infusions. The prolonged steeping techniques used by some western tea makers can produce dark, bitter, and unpleasant brews. Quality aged pu-erh can yield many more infusions, with different flavour nuances when brewed in the traditional Gong-Fu method.
I have learned to set a timer to remind me to remove the infusion basket.
So here is the first step into this sampling.... taking the lid off the teapot (water should be *superhot* .... is the fragrance.
Oh -- it is sweet & floralish, but not overly perfume-y (I don't write tea reviews for my day job, OK?)
Anyway, without waxing too poetic here, the bouquet of flavor, and tea like I've never tasted before is smooth & delightful. If you have the opportunity to sample some, and that's your *cup of tea* per se, go for it.
HEALTHY SIDE EFFECTS
Drinking pu-erh tea is purported to reduce blood cholesterol. This belief has been backed up by scientific studies not only demonstrating experimental results of lowered LDL cholesterol in rats, but discovering specific mechanisms through which chemicals in Pu-erh tea inhibit the synthesis of cholesterol. Pu-erh tea has been shown to have antimutagenic and antimicrobial properties as well. So! You can avoid becoming a mutant & spar with microbial thingies while you enjoy your lovely tea!
Let me not neglect to mention that other perk-- this is a caffeinated tea, so you get a bit of a buzz.
Just for fun, I'm including a Caffeine Buzz comparison chart:
Espresso, 1-oz shot 40 mg
Coca-Cola, 20-oz bottle 57 mg
Red Bull energy drink, 8.3-oz can 80 mg
Brewed coffee, 12-oz cup 200 mg
Mountain Dew, 64-oz Double Big Gulp 294 mg
Purer Brewed tea, 8-oz cup 50 mg
WHERE CAN I GET THIS TEA??
The local vendor travels to China & Taiwan to purchase tea. J- Tea is my local source & yes you can order a small sample of this sought after tea. (I have no affiliation or ties to this tea merchant, I have only sampled the rare teas he has brought here to enjoy.)
In closing, I hope you have the opportunity to enjoy this rare tea. It is like none other I have ever experienced.