Posted by: ben | March 13, 2009

puerh leno


(title with apologies to both Royksopp and our readers)

Ben: After the success of the Ceylon black, we conveniently forgot about the Tesco T furore and continued onwards. More black tea! We decided to go for a properly esoteric choice this time: a puerh cake, specifically Jing’s 1998 Cooked Mini Tuos.

Note before proceeding: the tasting resulted in Dan calling Ben insane.

The wrapped cake

The wrapped cake

This is a real oddity. I’ve had stale teas before, leaves I’d thought were badly stored or left exposed to air but I’d never even heard of intentionally aged tea. Some background reading suggests that puerh (pronounced ‘poo-air’ – thanks @chachatea and @MerkabaTea!) was the traditional way to store tea long-term, allowing it to be traded and sold in faraway markets. At times blocks of puerh were used as currency – there are examples of rather ornately embossed puerh scattered in museums worldwide.

Its aging process gives it a prestige not found in other teas; like fine wines, certain vintages from certain areas have an immense value. Jing recently reported that 354g of a fifty-year-old puerh of theirs recently sold for £18,000!

Dan: First, a clarification. The packet with the Tuo Puerh cakes gives the following directions:

1 tuo/cup or small teapot, infuse for 30-60 seconds. Re-infuse 5-7 times, reducing infusion time as tea unfurls fully.

The dry cake, unwrapped

The dry cake, unwrapped

This doesn’t mean brew it for a minute, take it out and brew the same cup again 7 times with the same cake. It means brew it for a minute, remove it, drink your tea, and you can use the same cake up to 7 times more in the future when you want some more. So there, now you won’t be as confused as I was. It’s only a small example of poor wording, but that’s all it takes to derail me. I like clarification. So, after figuring this out, I brewed a cup!

As I said above, I did this by infusing the cake for 60 seconds (An approximate time, as I got distracted. It was about right, though), and then removed the infuser, letting the tea drain out. The tea was removed from the infuser into a sieve, then placed on the infuser, so that it could dry out for further use. It all happens very quickly, so you need to be on the ball. When the water is added, the cake will bubble, and shed leaves like there’s no tomorrow. After 60 seconds, the tea is definitely ready, as the water has turned to a golden tea colour, and the smell is quite strong.

Ben: Brewing this tea was an absolute joy. Remember when I sampled teapigs’ Earl Grey and scattered leaves everywhere? That’s not a problem with a tuo – just unwrap, put in a mug and add boiling water.

The cake and soggy remnants in the infuser

The cake and soggy remnants in the infuser

Pouring on the water is magical. The tuo starts bubbling from within, releasing lots of little leaves as it goes. It’s a spectacle akin to watching the jasmine pearls unfurl, though here speed is very much of the essence. Whereas other teas take a few minutes to brew, puerh requires thirty seconds to a minute. Mesmerised by the bubbling, it’s easy to forget the time. I removed the tuo after about forty seconds or so, filtered the brew to remove the leaves that had spumed forth, and took the cup to my computer.

Why to the computer? Dan and I decided to taste the tea simultaneously and discuss its merits over instant message. We are so cutting edge. Here’s the result:


Ben: How amazing was that?! Did your tuo

Dan: It did! It lost a lot of leaves amazingly quickly.

Ben: I did mine for just over forty seconds.
The bubbling resulted in loads of leaves
rising out of it gently like ash from a volcano.

Dan: I did mine for the full 60 seconds.
It practically exploded. The dry cake
smells very deep and strong.

Ben: Like after rainfall. And the brew itself?

Dan: Very deep, rich and very, very
earthy. It has a hint of something I can’t
quite put my finger on at the moment.

Ben: It’s got a decomposing bark aroma,
certainly. It also reminds me of sushi seaweed
wrap, a slight saltiness.

Dan: A little.

The dark tea itself

The dark tea itself

Ben: Now to taste. Ooh! It’s very light!

Dan: Yes, and yet still earthy.

Ben: Tastes a lot like rice, that same starchy

Dan: If you say so. It’s reminding me of
the popcorn tea now. It has that same
smacky aftertaste.

Ben: I’m not getting the wheaty aftertaste
at all. Oh wait, there it is!

Dan: It seems to develop the more you drink.

Ben: To me, it has more of a taste of
uncooked rice. Ever put uncooked rice grains
in your mouth and rolled them about?

Dan: No, I’m not insane.

Ben: Go and do it. I shall wait.

Dan: Did I mention I’m not insane? Oh, it’s
much stronger now, quite muddy. I still can’t put
my finger on what the smell is reminding me of.

Ok, I’m going to rate this on a par with the popcorn
tea. It’s good, but not something for me.I can’t
imagine ever getting excited about having a
cup of it. It’s nice but it’s not strong enough for me.
Too transient.

Ben: I really like it. Despite the strength of
smell the taste is quite subtle and cleansing.
Although it’s a black tea it’s more like a green
to me. Refreshing, too.It’s a bit of a pricey tea
to enjoy every day. I think I’ll be
supplementing my green tea drinking with
the occasional cup of this.

Dan: It has a nice golden hue though. I shall try
again with further infuses, but I can’t see me
changing my mind too much. At least it’s fun to watch.


Ben: We sent one of these tuos to Mike to try as part of his evolution experiment. His current podcast includes a tasting as well as a cringe-inducing guest spot from me to introduce the tea. Have a listen!

Ben and Dan were drinking Jing’s Puerh 1998 Cooked Mini Tuos, available from £6.50 for 50g (about nine cakes) or or as a part of their Tea Explorer set.



  1. […] on March 13, 2009 at 4:15 pm puerh leno « teatunes […]

  2. Oh, this is a lovely bit of tea writing!

    Pu-Erh is definitely an acquired taste, but well worth it. I find it to be just the thing in the winter.

    I also like ginger pu-erh, though some regard it as blasphemy. The ginger and the pu-erh seem to compliment each other perfectly!

  3. Haha very nice dialogue going on there, but wow pu erh from 1998 is something to sneeze at, awesome stuff, keep up the great work!

  4. i love pu-erh, it has a nice smooth flavor and another good thing about it is: it will help you lose weight, very efficient.

  5. […] also reviewed one of our Puerh teas and the resulting dialogue/MSN conversation is too detailed for me to go into here but you can take my word for it that it’s an […]

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