Ancient Maiden Puerh

February 10, 2012

Something about this time of year always brings on a craving for a dark and bold Puerh in me. Puerh is a unique type of tea that is heavily fermented, roasted, compressed into bricks, and then usually aged like a fine wine. There is also a raw or uncooked version which is greener and has an entirely different flavor profile. I usually go for the cooked variety and I prefer the wild/large leaf versions when possible which have a slightly different taste and seem to be a bit smoother.

Puerh prices are like a stock market unto themselves and the market has been up quite a lot in recent years with some old favorites fetching hundreds of dollars now that I used to pay tens for. Luckily, I have a small stash that I have been aging and I decided it was finally time to break into the last of my most prized selection which I haven’t touched in over 5 years now. It is an Ancient Maiden Puerh that is now aged for about 7 years. It’s incredible.

Ancient Maiden Puerh (stock photo)

I start with a 30-second “rinse” that is discarded to eliminate any potential mold or other unwanted extras. (did I mention Puerh is an entirely different animal from most standard teas? :) ) I then follow up with a brew time of around a minute for the initial brewing. I was hit with the smoothest aroma I have ever had from a Puerh! It actually had a whiff of a mango note which is something entirely new for me and this tea was carefully stored so it was not from any contamination from a flavored tea. I couldn’t wait to taste it, and I was so completely happy that the wait was worth it and produced a liquor that was every bit as mellow and smooth as the aroma hinted at! The usual darker, earthy/mushroomy notes of Puerh were heavily subdued and instead it did present as subtle fruity and sweet and carried through to the very end of the finish that had that small hit of earthiness. Wow! Then through multiple steeps the flavor really maintains and just grows softer slowly. Pretty much perfection, and as such of course I only have enough for one more brewing. I’m already dreading the day, but I’m also finding some great old leaf Puerh to put up again right now.

10 Teas to Start With

October 22, 2009

Now that we have covered some basics of brewing, we need to lay some ground work on determining just what teas to brew. There are thousands of types of tea and even within a specific type of tea there can be hundreds of variations, it can be daunting. Today we’ll try to compile a list of 10 teas that cover a wide enough spectrum that will quickly show you what types and characteristics of tea you, personally, enjoy and which you do not. This will allow you to explore with some confidence from that point without simply relying on luck. So let’s get to it:

1.) Ceylon – Smooth and generally mellow, this tea is probably the closest  to the standard teabag many are familiar with but a nice upgrade in flavor and quality. It is a fairly rich taste with a very slight bit of astringency and bitterness.

2.) Sencha – A Japanese green tea that is very light, bright, and refreshing. This is a true green tea in every sense of the word and miles apart from what is often sold as “green tea” in most stores.

3.) Long Jing – A very popular Chinese green tea with a bright and almost “nutty” flavor. This is a nice contrast to Sencha and showcases a different side of green tea. Also known as Dragonwell.

4.) Shui Xian – This oolong tea is often associated with tea served in Chinese restaurants. It is a nice basic introduction to oolongs and isn’t that radical a departure from many of the flavors of standard teabags, but the medium fermentation and roasting adds complexity. Also known as Shui Hsien, or water sprite.

5.) Tie Guan Yin – A greener oolong with a slightly floral aroma and flavor. The split in oolongs generally runs along the more roasted/fermented/fruity lines such as Shui Xian and the greener/floral ones like this tea. Again comparing this to the Shui Xian should yield a personal affinity towards one or the other, many enjoy both. Also known as Tie Kuan Yin, or Iron Goddess of Mercy.

6.) Silver Needles – White tea is often shrouded in mystery and mystique, but it is really just minimally processed tea leaf that isn’t roasted or fermented, just dried. It is delicate and often has a sweetness. Also known as Bai Hao Yinzhen, or Yin Zhen.

7.) Keemun – A black tea in the Chinese style which is rich, sweet, and full-bodied. This would be a great introduction tea for coffee lovers since it is not as subtle as many of the others. Some keemuns exhibit a smokey flavor which some may find desirable.

8.) Darjeeling – Sometimes referred to as “The Champagne of Teas” this Indian tea exhibits a wonderful array of flavors from sweet to nutty to grape-ish muscatel notes. Within this one category almost anyone can find at least one or two specific teas that matches their preferences. This type alone could be an entire lifelong pursuit, so try a few different ones in this category before making an assessment.

9.) Jasmine Green – I’ve included this option in the list to offer an idea of what flavored tea is really about. Almost all low-end tea and widely available tea is so heavily flavored and imbalanced that many have lost sight of the fact that the tea itself is the star. A delicate jasmine scent added to a quality green tea is a nice balance and gateway between the overpowered offerings in most cafes and the ultimate goal of the unadorned beauty of the leaf itself. Jasmine pearls are often the best choice in this type of tea.

10.) Puer – This is the single-malt Scotch and cigar of tea. It is highly prized and often aged for many years, and has a dedicated following of devotees. If you like earthy, smoky, and oaky flavors in your wines or enjoy the aforementioned Scotch and cigar, this may be a tea for you. If this doesn’t sound like your style you can skip this one altogether or at least try one to say you experienced it. Again, this is a complex group and requires quite a bit of initiative to dig into properly, there are a number of great resources on the web for those interested however. Sometimes spelled puerh or pu-erh.

These 10 teas certainly won’t show you everything tea has to offer, but it will cover a very wide breadth of styles and flavors that will act as a springboard to further exploration and enjoyment. Feel free to ask questions and post comments and most importantly, Have Fun!

Update – Long Jing Huang Pao

October 19, 2009

It’s not often I update a tea that I so recently covered for the first time, but this is an exception. My recent foray into some new black/red teas didn’t produce much to excite me, but there had been this one oddball. With a fairly mysterious past filled with intrigue and adventure such as 300 year-old, lost, recipes recently uncovered and diligent reproduction of it resulting in a tea that has been brought back from the sands of time and now can be in your cup for a few sheckles. These kinds of tales always fail to impress me and normally I steer clear of wild claims like this, especially since there is just one source and one manufacturer… but I tried a sample purely out of curiosity. It was strange, with an over-ripe fruit taste and some characteristics of puer along with a sweet/sour kind of note that permeated the whole thing. I know that it might not sound all that alluring, but initially the oddness caught my attention. It ships in small 3g packets from the manufacturer which is also kind of weird.

I can’t vouch for the story behind it all, but I can say that this tea has grown on me quickly. Something about that flavor sings to me, regardless if the story surrounding it has a shred of truth to it or not. I wish this tea was available in some other format than just buying multiple tiny 3g plastic packets which is actually my main issue. I’d like to store some to age and also to not have to open tiny packets for larger brewings. Hopefully this will change or a new source will be found where it can be bought in a normal quantity. But things can’t be all bad if my main issue is getting my hands on more! This strange tea is worth a try for anyone who likes puer or a bit of a walk on the wild side of tea.

Pu-erh Loose Jia Ji – Upton Tea

May 5, 2009

I recently unearthed a box full of Upton samplers from late last year that had gone unopened. Upton’s is rarely a top choice of mine for almost anything these days simply due to the fact that there is better, fresher, tea available elsewhere for about the same price. Occasionally they have a rare gem or a good deal on some sort of teaware, but outside of that I normally point my web browser somewhere else.

I grabbed one of the sealed foil pouches containing “ZH65 Pu-erh Loose Jia Ji” as this is one of their upper-level puerhs and claims to be mellow and respectable. Out of the packet my hopes diminished a bit because it consisted of small bits of broken medium brown leaf almost entirely. It brewed up to a nice medium brown though that didn’t have any harsh notes in the aroma. A very mild earthy quality, but nothing like a dank, mushroomy, potting soil earthy… instead it was light and inviting. The first sip put a lot of my uncertainty to rest as it was quite good! It followed through with a very mellow/mild earthy tone as described on the packaging and it didn’t exhibit any of the unpleasant hallmarks of young or lower quality puerh. It wasn’t overly strong, brewing up to a super dark liquor as some do (and as some, not me, may prefer), but just right on all accounts.


This was a welcomed exception to the rule and a nice little find for a slightly chilly Tuesday morning, hopefully that box continues to produce more like this one.

Yunnan Bo Nay – FooJoy

December 15, 2008

I know, I know, I’ve been covering a lot of low-quality stuff lately but for one reason or another it has been in my cup. I bought a box of FooJoy Bo Nay, Puer, today as part of a gift to a family member who likes Thai iced tea. I didn’t need the whole box for the gift so I sampled some. I steeped the basic teabag in boiling water for about 2 minutes. The aroma was very reminiscent of quality cooked puer, and amazingly the flavor was also very close! It isn’t as bold or strong and it isn’t overly complex but all of the basics are there and even a bit more. It has a lightly earthy base and some hints of camphor which is a sought-after characteristic of very good puer.

Yunnan Bo Nay

Yunnan Bo Nay

It is very enjoyable on its own and it makes a great Thai iced tea with the addition of some simple syrup and good shot of half and half. Quite possibly the best inexpensive puer you can buy so rather than buying those horrid little mini-tuo cha or even larger $1 Asian market tuos hoping to find a winner this is a sure thing.