After chatting with another tea lover today, I discovered that perhaps I was hasty in my Puerh judgment. To truly decipher the flavor, I should have re-used my original tea leaves and brewed the Puerh again. This second brewing would have unfolded additional flavors potentially hidden by the smokiness tasted in the first cup. Ironically, I am sure that I read similar techniques on the sites of several Puerh aficionados. Obviously, I was not paying enough attention. Thus began my search to uncover the appropriate brewing technique for Puerh…
Initially, I was unable to find conclusive instructions. Some websites/blogs stated the necessity to wash the Puerh prior to brewing, while others stated that Puerhs should be brewed like any other loose tea.
According to Wikipedia, Pu-erh is expected to be served Gongfu style, generally in Yixing tea-ware or in a type of Chinese teacup called a gaiwan. Optimum temperatures are generally regarded to be around 95 degree Celsius for lower quality pu-erhs and 85-89 degree Celsius for good ripened and aged raw pu-erh. 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.
If I rely solely upon the information found in Wikipedia, it appears that I made three definite errors: 1. water temperature – too hot; 2. steeping time – entirely too long; 3. number of infusions – only one. Gongfu style? Gaiwan teacups? Is it incorrect to brew and NOT use these techniques?
Still full of questions, I decided to continue my research efforts. The next site I visited was PuerhShop.com. Seeking additional clarification, it was here that I located the following Puerh brewing instructions.
How to prepare Pu-erh Tea?
Step 1: Pry 3-5g tea off the cake/brick/tuo with Pu-erh knife and add tea leaves to a Yixing teapot or Gaiwan.
Step 2: Pour boiling water into the teapot, give the tea leaves a rinse for up to 30 seconds. Then draining the water out, leaving only the soaked tea leaves.
Step 3: Fill the teapot with boiling water again, cover the lid. After steeping 20 seconds - 1 minute (according to your desired strength), the tea can be poured into a tea pitcher to be served.
Step 4: repeat step 3 for 5 or 8 times. Gradually increase steeping time for subsequent brewing.
I was beginning to see some similarities in my research findings. My inqusitive nature required that I seek out one more source. Because my Google search started supplying the same results over and over again, I decided to skip convention and seek out the blog of a well known lover of Puerh. Thus, my final stop was on Ancient Tea Horse Road, a blog dedicated to Puerh. The author of this blog is a die-hard Puerh drinker. Visit and watch a great video demonstrating the proper brewing technique for Puerh. Which I might add shows, the Gongfu technique.
Each of the sources above confirmed in glaring clarity my initial mistakes. While the Gongfu technique is preferred, thankfully it is not required. Currently, I do not own the tea-ware necessary to brew Gongfu style – which is now next on my list of tea accessory purchases. Armed with knowledge, I decided to brew the Puerh again.
I am now drinking my second infusion. With correct brewing, I noticed a significant reduction in the smoky taste. In addition, the floral undertones are definitely present. One caveat – the second cup left my mouth feeling very dry. Knowledge is certainly powerful! Time to finish my tea. Until I post again… Happy Tea Drinking!