Jeff here. Welcome to part 1 of our "Tea Tips" series, where we discuss the ins and outs of Chinese tea!
As with most teas, pu-erh is best brewed using a traditional method, whether using a gaiwan, yixing, ceramics, or a porcelain teapot.
No matter what your level of tea experience, you can easily learn to brew delicious pu-erh tea.
A few tricks that work for us:
1. When breaking off leaves from the cake, try to keep the leaves intact. If the leaves are broken, the flavor flows out from the broken pieces too quickly, resulting in murky or astringent tea. Use roughly 3-5 grams of tea for 4-6 ounces of water. It's best to check with the tea supplier and experiment for yourself.
2. Do not use boiling water, as this will scald the tea leaves. A high-quality raw can be brewed around 185 (+/- 10) degrees fahrenheit. Ripe or aged ancient arbor raw may handle water up to 205 to 212 degrees. Remember, you can always increase the heat of the water, but if you burn it on the first steep, your tea won’t release the depth and complexity of all its flavors correctly.
3. Make sure your water is clean—try to avoid unfiltered tap water. Tap water can contain minerals as well as fluoride, which may mingle with the flavors of the tea and mask the beautiful subtleties of pu-erh. As avid tea drinkers know, this advice extends into all other varieties of tea. Play around with an assortment of spring water, as each different spring water may fit a certain tea better than another.
4. After a quick wash, try shorter steeping times. At first around 5-10 seconds (depending on the particular tea), then work up to gradually steeping longer and stronger as you brew. This allows the multitude of its flavors to evolve slowly, rather than all at once.
5. Keep practicing. The first time I made pu-erh on my own it was absolutely terrible. It may take dozens of steeps to learn the best way to extract the beauty of pu-erh, but each pu-erh cake is unique in and of itself. Let the tea speak to you, for each individual cake has its own ideal brew method.
6. The nature of pu-erh is sensitive to the weather, the people making the tea, and the surrounding environment in which the tea is being brewed. Its profile will change slightly under different circumstances. So, if quality pu-erh tea does not taste perfect today, it will taste delicious tomorrow.
When we make tea, we have a pre-conceived notion about how it should taste, or how we want it to taste, and we try to force it to fit that ideal. However, every tea is different, and even the same tea can change on different days depending on humidity or temperature. It is best to view “making” tea more as a process of allowing the tea to release its own potential. This way it is a symbiotic relationship between tea maker and tea. We listen, in a sense, to what the tea is saying, and we make it accordingly.
It takes a patient, attentive listener, but it’s well worth it.
New to pu-erh? Try our pu-erh tea sampler.
Questions? Comment below!