Saturday, December 4, 2010

Tea at Tao's - what's Pu-erh all about?

When asked how best to describe the taste of pu-erh tea...  my brother replied: "Ever wonder what compost tastes like?"  Well, that would be what some poor quality pu-erh tastes like.  However, that was not the case of the teas that Tao and his friend Raymond presented for the pu-erh tasting last Saturday.  

First I should start by explaining how this ancient tea is different from most teas.  All true tea comes from the tea plant Camellia sinensis.  It's how it is processed that determines what kind of tea it becomes - green, oolong, black, white or pu-erh tea.  Pu-erh comes from the broad leaf variety (camellia sinensis var. assamica) of this plant.  This variety is found mostly in Yunnan province in southwestern China.  Pu-erh can be loose but best recognized as the compressed brick or round disk shaped tea that was traded along the Ancient Tea Horse Road centuries ago.

In this video, Jeff Fuchs who was the first westerner to traverse the entire Ancient Tea Horse Road, explains more about pu-erh for us. 

Pu-erh can be categorized as sheng (raw/uncooked/green) and shou (ripe/cooked/black).  Throughout history pu-erh was allowed to age naturally.  However due to popular demand for the vintage pu-erh taste, in 1973, manufacturers developed ways to artifically speed up the aging process ("cooked" or fermented) resulting in the shou pu-erh style.  Now instead of having to wait 20 or 30 years for the tea to mature, you can get tea with similar flavours out in the market in a matter of months!

Tao and his friend Raymond prepared four pu-erhs for us to taste which we will be exploring in the next post to come.  Yes... we will finally get to taste!

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